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Title: Of Six Mediæval Women - To Which Is Added A Note on Mediæval Gardens
Author: Kemp-Welch, Alice
Language: English
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                         OF SIX MEDIÆVAL WOMEN
                                 WITH
                      A NOTE ON MEDIÆVAL GARDENS


                      MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
                      LONDON · BOMBAY · CALCUTTA
                               MELBOURNE

                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                      NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO
                        DALLAS · SAN FRANCISCO

                   THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.
                                TORONTO


[Illustration: _Bib. de l’Arsenal, Paris._

POET DECLAIMING TO ACCOMPANIMENT OF VIOL.

_Frontispiece._]


                         OF SIX MEDIÆVAL WOMEN
                           TO WHICH IS ADDED
                               A NOTE ON
                           MEDIÆVAL GARDENS


                                  BY
                           ALICE KEMP-WELCH


                  WITH INTRODUCTION AND ILLUSTRATIONS


                      MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
                      ST. MARTIN’S STREET, LONDON
                                 1913


COPYRIGHT



AUTHOR’S NOTE


The Author’s acknowledgments are due to the Editor of _The Nineteenth
Century and After_ for his kind permission to reprint such of the
following studies as have already appeared in that Review, and also to
“George Fleming” (Miss Constance Fletcher) for her rendering, on page
146, of four verses of Christine de Pisan’s poem on Joan of Arc.



CONTENTS


                                                                     PAGE

INTRODUCTION                                                          xi

A TENTH-CENTURY DRAMATIST, ROSWITHA THE NUN                            1

A TWELFTH-CENTURY ROMANCE-WRITER, MARIE DE FRANCE                     29

A THIRTEENTH-CENTURY MYSTIC AND BEGUINE, MECHTHILD OF MAGDEBURG       57

A FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ART-PATRON AND PHILANTHROPIST, MAHAUT,
  COUNTESS OF ARTOIS                                                  83

A FIFTEENTH-CENTURY FEMINISTE, CHRISTINE DE PISAN                    116

AGNES SOREL                                                          147

A NOTE ON MEDIÆVAL GARDENS                                           173



ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                               FACE PAGE

Poet declaiming to accompaniment of Viol                _Frontispiece_

Roswitha presenting her Poem to the Emperor Otho I.,
  the Abbess of Gandersheim standing at her side.
  A. Dürer, 1501                                                     1

Cover of St. Emmeran Gospels. 10th century                           7

Marriage of Otho II. and Theophano. Byzantine, 10th century          7

Lady playing Harp. Add. MS. 38117, Brit. Mus.                       32

Add. MS. 10293, Brit. Mus.                                          34

Boat with Knights and Lady. Add. MS. 10294, Brit. Mus.              49

Glaukos and Polyeidos in Tomb. Greek Vase, Brit. Mus.               52

Statue of Mahaut in Abbey of La Thieuloye, near Arras, now
  destroyed. From a Drawing, now in Brussels, made in 1602          99

Marriage of Charles le Bel and Marie of Luxemburg. Grandes
  Chrons. de France. Bib. Nat.                                     100

Thirteenth-Century Treatise on Surgery, in French.
  Sloane MS. 1977                                                  103

Banquet, with Minstrels playing, and Room hung with
  Embroidery. MS. Romance of Alexander, 14th century.
  Bodleian, Oxford                                                 104

Harl. MS. 4425, Brit. Mus.                                         105

Christine de Pisan                                                 119

Lady in Horse-Litter, returning from Tournament.
  Harl. MS. 4431, Brit. Mus.                                       132

La Cité des Dames                                                  138

Setting out for Poissy. Harl. MS. 4431, Brit. Mus.                 140

Tomb of Agnes Sorel                                                158

Book of Hours of Etienne Chevalier                                 162

Book of Hours of Etienne Chevalier                                 163

Book of Hours, French, 14th century. Brit. Mus.                    176

Harl. MS. 4425, Brit. Mus.                                         177

Flemish Master, 15th century. Stephenson Clarke Collection         181

MS. Romance of Alexander, 14th century                             183

Rhenish Master, C. 1420, Frankfort Hist. Mus.                      185

Harl. MS. 4425, Brit. Mus.                                         186



INTRODUCTION


The recent researches of scholars and students have brought the study
of mediæval times within the range of almost any one who cares to live
in imagination in the past. No part of this study has been more
advanced and made more informing to us than that which regards the
individual. This is specially true of womankind, of whom we have
learnt somewhat, in some instances from their own writings, and in
others from allusions to their work in those of contemporary and later
writers, and also, incidentally, from the vast storehouse of didactic
literature, which is so suggestive in itself, reflecting through
successive centuries, as it seems to do, the standard of conduct of
the large majority. But on this subject--a very large one, and only
partially explored--light can only be thrown gradually. For this there
are various reasons. One is that, until comparatively recent times,
the small details of everyday life which go so largely to make up a
woman’s life, have generally been taken for granted by writers. Then
the few mediæval historiographers and chroniclers were principally
engaged in recounting the deeds of kings and feats of arms. Then
again, although probably many MSS. of the time still lie undiscovered
in libraries, those that are known to us are scattered far and wide.
Furthermore, self-advertisement was not a mediæval fashion. It is
perhaps difficult for us nowadays to understand a spirit of
self-effacement. Self-esteem, which may develop for either good or
ill, has perhaps always existed in the human breast, but certainly
since the time of the Renaissance, when it seemed to have its own
special revival, it has grown apace, and is to-day like unto the
Mustard Tree of Holy Writ. But it is not proposed to contrast this our
modern attitude with the impersonal one, if so it may be called, of
the Middle Ages, because, whilst there were many humble, zealous
workers then, just as there are now, it is possible there were other
and perhaps more potent factors to account for this apparently humble
attitude. In mediæval days, the subject of a narrative or didactic
work was considered so important, that an author would scarcely
venture on any independent treatment of a theme for fear of incurring
censure for a contempt of authority, or, if he did so venture, he
would probably deem it wiser to do so anonymously, or by ascription
to some departed celebrity, who was obviously not in a position to
gainsay him. The writer was of much less interest than his ideas and
sentiments. Then again there was the intense localisation of life.
Localities were very independent of one another. Each was complete in
itself, and within it there was no need for self-advertisement. It was
the same in the wider life of associated religious communities, such
as Benedictines, Cluniacs, and Cistercians, who had so much to do with
the building of abbeys and cathedrals. Within a fraternity, the
specially gifted craftsman was known, and wherever work was going on
within the Order, was made use of as needs be, not as Brother This, or
Brother That, but simply as scribe, or as artificer in Madonnas or
gargoyles, or whatever else was wanted. The glorification of the
community as a whole, and not the advertisement of the individual, was
the desired goal. This self-effacement was not so much humility,
though of course that too existed, as the special form which communal
feeling took at that time. Now if this suppression of the individual
was true of men, how much more true must it have been of women, who
seldom ventured beyond town, or castle, or convent walls. In truth,
women hardly appear on the scene, and English women least of all. It
is only women who were prominent through their high official
positions, either political or religious, such as Blanche of Castile,
or St. Catherine of Siena, or the Abbess Hildegarde, or women like the
Blessed Angela of Foligno,[1] or Julian, anchoress of Norwich,[2] or
some other of the devout women of mediæval Italy, who interpreted the
mysteries of divine love to mediæval society, having in fact, as it
were, religious salons, from whom the veil has been withdrawn, and
even amongst such as these it has sometimes been only very slightly
lifted. With these saintly and political women must be mentioned the
women doctors of Salerno--Trothula, Abella, Mercurialis, and
others--who played so important a part both as professors and
practitioners when this school of medicine was at its zenith in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries, and who left behind them, as evidence
of their learning, treatises which are of interest to-day as showing
mediæval methods in medicine.

    [1] _The Book of the Divine Consolation of the Blessed Angela
    of Foligno._ The New Mediæval Library.

    [2] _Revelations of Divine Love recorded by Julian, Anchoress
    of Norwich, 1373._

Still, even so, the records are scanty. In order, therefore, to form
some idea and estimate of women generally in the Middle Ages, we must
perforce fall back on reasoning from the known to the unknown, and,
by studying the few who are recorded in written history, judge of that
great majority who, though nameless, have yet so largely helped to
make up the world’s unwritten history. Just as many a flower blooms
and dies unseen, so many a woman must have lived her life, serviceable
to her special environment, but wholly unrecorded. Just as, in the
course of ages, the seeds of some humble plant have been carried by
wind or water from some lonely region to one less remote, and made to
serve a purpose by adding to the sum-total of beauty and usefulness,
so the thoughts and deeds of many an unremembered woman have doubtless
passed into the great ocean of thought, encircling us to-day, and
influencing us as a living force.

Thus we have the women who figure in history, and whom we must take as
types of the influential woman of the time, and the women whom history
has not so honoured. Of the former, even when only portrayed in
outline, we can learn something, but how are we to learn anything of
the latter, whether living in the seclusion of religious houses or in
the world? Of those living in religious houses, we know from records
that, besides attending to their own spiritual and mental education
and tending the sick, they conducted the cloister schools and taught
in them needlework, the art of confectionery, surgery, writing, and
drawing. They also wove, and embroidered, and added their mite to the
sum-total of beauty by transcribing and illuminating MSS. of the
Gospels and of the lives of the Saints. But sometimes such a limited
sphere of activity was enlarged, and it is to an anonymous Anglo-Saxon
nun of the eighth century, to whom the experiences were related, that
we owe one of the earliest and most interesting accounts extant in
Northern Europe of a journey to Palestine.

To learn something of those living in the world, who were the
inspirers, the helpmates, and the companions of men in everyday life,
we must turn to the poems and romances. These form the key to the
domestic life of the time. Though ordinary life may be somewhat
idealised in them, still it is ordinary life on which they are based.
Moreover, many of the MSS. in which they are written down contain
miniatures--a legacy of exceeding worth to the student. But if we seek
some knowledge of mediæval life from miniatures, it is not necessary
to confine our researches to MSS. of romances. Transcripts of the
classics, of the moralised Bible, and of other religious works also
supply many pictures of everyday life, adapted quite regardless of
incongruity, for one of the characteristics of the Middle Ages was a
profound incapacity to picture to itself anything _but_ itself, or to
reconstitute in any way, as we do to-day, times and scenes not its
own. This was owing partly to its vitality and its youthfulness, which
grasped at anything and everything without discernment, and partly to
its lack of reliable material. The whole aspect of life, too, was
changed and enlarged, and for the moment over-charged, for the
flood-gates of the East, hitherto only partially opened, had been rent
asunder by the traveller and the crusader.

Before we attempt to arrive at some idea of the manner of life of the
women of the Middle Ages, it will be well, if possible, to modify what
seems to be a general and perhaps a distorted impression of these
women of bygone days, as regards their want of loyalty in their
domestic relations, and all the deceit and cunning such a want led to.
Without attempting to justify what is fundamentally wrong, let us go
if we can into the region of fact, and in that region there is quite
enough romance without introducing it from outside.

In the first place, so much more, as a rule, is heard of vice than of
virtue. “La voix de la beauté parle bas: elle ne s’insinue que dans
les âmes les plus éveillées.” Then the standard of life in those days
was very different from what it is to-day. Manners and customs which
were accepted facts of everyday life then, would strike us as
strangely rude and repellent now. Take, for instance, the attitude
towards his queen of a king we have all been taught to revere--Arthur,
the semi-saint, and the so-called pattern of courtesy. When Guinevere
deserts him, and some of his knights are slain, his remark--not
whispered into the ear of a confidant, but uttered aloud in the
presence of all around him--is, “I am sorrier for my good knights’
loss than for the loss of my fair Queen, for queens I might have
enow.” Such a sentiment, expressed in public, does not seem quite up
to our modern standard of courteous, or even civilised, conduct, and
yet here we have the sentiments of the Prince of Chivalry, as
conceived by the poets of the thirteenth century. So it is obvious
that before passing judgment upon the standard of life of the mediæval
woman, we must endeavour to arrive at the truth by thinking and living
in imagination on the same plane, as near as may be, as she did.

Then again, it is largely owing to certain stories in the Middle Ages
that the women of those times have been defamed. If we consider the
sources and the transcribers of these stories, we shall perhaps find a
reason for their distorted outlines, filled in with so much
imperfectly understood detail. Many of these tales originated in the
East, and particularly in India, where the conditions of domestic life
led to and favoured intrigue, and many of them also were mere
allegory, in which the Eastern sought to hide great truths. These the
less meditative Western interpreted literally, mistaking the outward
form for that which it concealed. So in passing to the West, Eastern
ideas and Eastern exaggeration, misconstrued, became caricature.
Moreover, the compilers of these stories were often monks or minstrels
who vied with each other for popular favour, the monk introducing into
his legends material which he hoped would rival the often shameless
outpourings of the minstrel, whilst the minstrel, for his part, tried
to adorn his story with some moral. Naturally neither class of such
purveyors was in the least capable of judging woman with respect, or
indeed of judging woman at all.

On the other hand, however, it must be remembered that there are
stories that tell a very different tale, a tale of self-sacrifice and
devotion in face of grievous trial, as, for instance, that of Eric and
Enide, sung by Chrétien of Troyes, and made familiar to us by
Tennyson’s poem of “Geraint and Enid.” It is impossible that such a
conception should have been the mere outcome of the poet’s
imagination, since a poet, whilst he may transform, focuses and
reflects the ideas of his time. In truth, we find mediæval
literature, if we try to estimate it reasonably, gives a quite
pleasing impression of womankind, whether we turn to some of the royal
ladies who presided over brilliant Courts, where learning was
encouraged and poets made welcome, or to the lady of lesser degree,
who reigned supreme in her castle, at any rate when her lord was away,
as was often the case in time of war or during attendance at Court, or
to the abbesses who governed the religious houses they were set over,
to their material and mental well-being, proving thus their genius for
administration, and, in many instances, their rare intellectual
attainments. A record in a chartulary of the Benedictine nunnery of
Wherwell in Hampshire, now in the British Museum (Egerton MS., 2104),
and accessible to all in translation in the second volume of the
_Victoria History of the County of Hampshire_, may be mentioned in
passing, since it gives such a charming picture of mediæval convent
life. It recounts the life and work of the Abbess Euphemia, who
presided over the house from 1226 to 1257. Amongst her many good
deeds, it is told of her that “with maternal piety and careful
forethought, she built, for the use of both sick and sound, a new and
large infirmary away from the main buildings,” and that, besides
caring thus for the bodily wants of her community, “she built there a
place set apart for the refreshment of the soul, namely a chapel of
the Blessed Virgin.” The writer adds that “in numberless ways she
provided for the worship of God and the welfare of the sisters,” and
that “she so conducted herself with regard to exterior affairs, that
she seemed to have the spirit of a man rather than of a woman.” The
account is altogether delightful and informing, and should be read by
any who would go in spirit to a mediæval convent. It is therefore not
surprising that in the late Middle Ages a regard and reverence for
womanhood gradually arose--a regard and reverence for woman not merely
as the weaker vessel, but as the principle of all good and of moral
elevation. This attitude was also in large measure due to the
inevitable fusion of the cult of the Virgin and the cult of woman,
which in the thirteenth century developed into a faith. Then was it
that religion and chivalry, in combination, formed the solvent that
disintegrated the layer of selfishness--the outcome of the worship of
brute force--that had settled over man’s nobler instincts, and by
their appeal to his better nature decided the position that woman, not
only as an individual, but also as a class, was thenceforth to take in
the civilised world.

Let us now turn, first to the woman of the Romances and then to the
woman of History. Each completes and is completed by the other. For
the woman of the Middle Ages there were practically only two
alternatives--to enter into the bonds either of Holy Matrimony or of
Holy Church. In both cases the vows were, as a rule, taken early,
especially in the case of marriage, so that the woman of the Middle
Ages knew little of the joys of girlhood, with all its romantic
castle-building and fondly fostered illusions. From playing with
dolls, the child of twelve or even younger often suddenly found
herself transformed into a wife. Although the Church had decreed that
no girl should be wedded before the age of fifteen, this mandate was
often ignored in noble families, where, through death, large fiefs had
been left without a male representative and protector. In such a case
the over-lord considered it necessary to assert his authority, and
compel the marriage of some young girl of perhaps only twelve, so as
to secure for her vassals and retainers a qualified leader, and for
himself the needful and pledged military service. Still these
marriages of convenience were often really happy arrangements, for the
girl-wife had been trained to altruism, and its principles were the
very essence of her daily life. Love, moreover, is a subtle sprite,
and just as surely as he can spread his wings and fly away, so he can
come, as if at unconscious bidding, and make for himself a
dwelling-place.

To get any true insight into the life of the woman of the Middle Ages,
we must study the small everyday affairs, and to this end go, in
imagination, to some castle, and see how the day is passed there by
its lady. Perhaps it is a day in late spring. The watchman on the
tower, heralding the day, has sounded his horn, and soon all the
castle is astir. Leaving her curtained bed, she first offers a short
prayer at the small shrine hanging close by with its flickering light.
Then the bath, the water scented with aromatic roots and covered with
rose-petals, is taken. Mass and the morning broth follow, and the day
is considered fitly begun. The poor, or any sick and sorry folk, are
the first to be considered, or perhaps there is some wounded knight,
who has sought shelter within the protecting walls of the castle, for
whom soothing potions or healing salves have to be compounded. This
latter service was generally the work of the lady of the castle, who
as a rule possessed sufficient surgical knowledge to bind a broken
limb. To beguile the weary hours of convalescence, she sings to the
lute, tells stories, recounts legends, or reads aloud a romance lately
bought from some wayfaring packman. Little is it to be wondered at
that the convalescence is protracted, or that the knight delays his
departure from day to day, sometimes to his own and the lady’s
undoing.

Beside such varied ministrations, the woman of the Middle Ages rode to
the chase, went out hawking, snared birds with nets, ferreted rabbits,
spun, wove, and embroidered. Embroidering was a really formidable
occupation, for the great hall, and each room, had its special
hangings, and on fête-days every inch of wall-space was covered. One
set would picture an Arthurian legend, and others again were made
bright with flowers, lilies, roses, and columbines. The lady and her
maidens--often girls of noble birth, whom it was customary to send to
some castle to complete their education--worked at the countless yards
such decoration involved, and chatted the while, it may be, of some
coming marriage or tourney, or perchance one among them would tell a
story, and so time passed merrily enough. Then for the educated woman,
of whom there were many, Latin verse offered a wide field of delight,
and the woman of the Middle Ages read and loved her Virgil just as we
of to-day read and love our Shakespeare. When the daylight had faded,
there was always chess-playing, dancing the carole, and singing, and
by the thirteenth century little pastoral ballets, in which a knight,
and a shepherdess and her lover, took part, began to be produced for
the diversion of castle-folk. For daily entertainment, every castle of
any pretension had its own minstrel or minstrels, whilst in the
smaller castles a wandering singer was warmly welcomed. Sometimes the
lady gave audience to a poet, who read his latest idyll, a minstrel,
to the accompaniment of his viol, singing the interspersed lyrics.
Such a scene may be found depicted in miniatures, and suggests how
such a story as “Aucassin and Nicolette,” and many another, partly in
prose, partly in verse, was rendered. One such miniature shows a lady
reclining on a couch, with a lordling seated beside her, the poet,
with his small parchment leaflets, declaiming his story, the minstrel
waiting to take up the theme in song. It is of interest to note that
in this particular miniature the gown of the lady is ornamented with
heraldic devices. By such means we are enabled not only to identify
the person represented--since portraiture, even if there was anything
worthy of the name, was in a very rudimentary condition--and thus
arrive at the approximate date of the picture, but also to verify a
custom, and a stage in social life. It was not until the end of the
twelfth century, when some sort of heraldic system became necessary
owing to the introduction of the closed helmet, that armorial
bearings, hitherto mere personal badges, became attached to noble
families. By the thirteenth century, when the bourgeoisie had become
rich, they were worn by the sumptuously attired wife of the lord to
distinguish her from the equally sumptuously attired wife of the
wealthy burgher.

Such, in mere outline, was the daily life of the mediæval lady.
Descriptions of the lady herself seem to be mere replicas of an
admired and fixed type, for there is in them such a sameness of
delineation, that we can only imagine that poets sang of qualities
that pleased, and did not attempt to individualise. All are good and
gracious, beautiful, and slight of figure, with delicate hands and
tapering fingers, small feet, fine and glossy hair, and grey eyes,
laughing and bright. Only occasionally are these attractions varied
and enhanced by the telling of beauty unaided by paint and hair dye.

It is hardly necessary to speak, save very generally, of woman’s
dress, for much has already been written on the subject. For everyday
use, garments of wool or linen, according to the season, and with much
fur in winter, were worn. At weddings or tournaments, or on any other
kind of fête-day, the ladies vied with each other in rich cloth of
gold and silver, in silks woven with threads of gold and patterned
with conventional design, and in all kinds of iridescent silken
stuffs from the East. From Mosul, on the banks of the Tigris, whence
the material we call muslin takes its name, was brought a fine silk
gossamer, something like our _crêpe de Chine_. This was used for the
finely plaited underdress seen at the neck and foot of mediæval
costume. Perhaps the best representation of this, although stone seems
hardly the most favourable medium for the delineation of so delicate a
fabric, can be seen in the long slim figures of the queenly ladies
standing in the niches on either side of the west door of Chartres
Cathedral.

But when we have contemplated this gorgeous and dainty apparel, and
all the other personal luxury that accompanied it, such as enamelled
and jewelled gold circlets for the head, jewelled girdles with each
jewel chosen for its own special virtue, carved ivory combs, tablets
and hand-mirrors, and the like, we are forced to wonder how all this
refinement and beauty could go hand in hand with so much that is
unpleasing. If we turn to consider the manners of the men, we find the
same contrasts--on the one hand the maximum of gallantry and courtesy,
and on the other a corresponding churlishness and brutality.
Metaphorically and actually, the lance and the battle-axe were still
rivalling each other in the warfare of daily life. Although the
battle-axe must eventually yield to the lance, still strange extremes
have flourished side by side all down the ages. Turning to but
comparatively recent times, the coarseness we associate with much of
the reign of Charles II. stands out in glaring contrast with the
delicate, graceful poetry that found expression then. And coming still
nearer to our own days, we think of the unseemly manners in the reigns
of George III. and IV. and the dainty miniatures such as those painted
by Cosway, and wonder how these could exist together. Might we not
just as well wonder why the olive tree has a gnarled, distorted stem,
whilst its delicate, symmetrical leaves, of the tenderest green grey,
glisten in the sunshine like silvery shells fresh from ocean’s bed?

Renan, amongst the many thinkers on life’s mysteries, tells us that
“Life is the result of a conflict between contrary forces.” But to
philosophise is useless, and it is still more useless to question
life’s seeming anomalies. We can only bow in silence before “what Time
in mists confounds.”

As has been already said, it is only a general idea of the women of
the Middle Ages that can be gleaned from the Romances. For something
to bring us into more real touch with them, and to reveal more of
their personality, we must consider some who have made themselves
known to us through their work, since history, until we come to the
fourteenth century, is almost silent about them. Thus it is that as we
study these women, it almost seems at first as if we were looking at
some faded frescoes in a dimly lighted church. But just as the
half-obliterated figures take form and life as our eyes grow
accustomed to the dimness, and our minds get attuned to the days that
knew their living representatives, so these women of whom we are
speaking may live again for us if only we treat their works as human
documents, and not as archæological curiosities. The following pages
tell of six such women who lived between the tenth century and the
first half of the fifteenth--Roswitha, a nun of Germany; Marie de
France, a lady at the Court of Henry the Second of England; Mechthild
of Magdeburg, mystic and beguine; Mahaut, Countess of Artois, a
great-niece of St. Louis; Christine de Pisan, an Italian by birth,
living at the Court of Charles the Fifth of France; and Agnes Sorel,
the Mistress and inspirer of Charles the Seventh.

In trying to evoke the women of these days of long ago, it is hardly
possible to do more than portray them in outline. Yet even so, if the
outline be true, we may remember, for our consolation, that it has
been said that we shall never, except in outline, see the mysterious
Goddess Truth.



[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

ROSWITHA PRESENTING HER POEM TO THE EMPEROR OTHO I., THE ABBESS OF
GANDERSHEIM STANDING AT HER SIDE.

A. Dürer, 1501.

_To face page 1._]



A TENTH-CENTURY DRAMATIST, ROSWITHA THE NUN


In this age of personal curiosity, politely called psychological
interest, when personalities are analysed with all the thoroughness of
the dissecting theatre, it seems almost courting failure to try to
call to remembrance one whose personality has long since faded away,
and of whom, apparently, no contemporary writer has made mention. Of
Roswitha, the woman, we know but little, and this little is gathered
from her own writings.[3] Presumably the date of her birth was about
A.D. 935, and that of her death about A.D. 973. There is a tradition
that she was connected with the royal house of Germany, at that time
represented by the enlightened Otho the Great. Be this as it may, her
life for us begins when, probably at an early age, she entered the
Convent of Gandersheim. Gandersheim was a Benedictine nunnery in the
Harz Mountains, founded in the ninth century by Liudolf, Duke of
Saxony, and important enough to entitle its Abbess to a Seat in the
Imperial Diet, a right perhaps never exercised except by proxy. The
story of its foundation, as told by Roswitha in the unique MS. of her
works, is of strange beauty. Listen to her own words as she tells the
tale:--

    [3] The authenticity of these has been called in question by
    some critics, but apparently upon insufficient data.

     At that time there was, nigh unto the Monastery,[4] a little
     wood, encircled by shady hills, those same hills by the
     which we ourselves are surrounded. And there was, moreover,
     in the wood a small farm where the swineherds of Liudolf
     were wont to dwell, and within the enclosure of which the
     men, during the hours of night, composed to rest their weary
     bodies until the time when they must needs drive forth to
     pasture the pigs committed to their care. Here, on a time,
     two days before the Feast of All Saints, these same
     herdsmen, in the darkness of the night, saw full many bright
     lights glowing in the wood. And they were astonished at the
     sight, and marvelled what could be the purport of this
     strange vision of blazing light cleaving the darkness of the
     night with its wondrous brilliance. And all trembling with
     fear, they related unto their Master that which they had
     seen, showing unto him the place which had been illumined by
     the light. And he, desiring by very sight thereof to put to
     proof that which he had heard tell, joined them without the
     building, and began the following night, without sleeping,
     to keep watch, closing not his eyes though they were weighed
     down by the desire of slumber. And after a while he saw the
     kindling lights, more in number than afore, once again burn
     with a red glow, in the same place forsooth, but at an hour
     somewhat earlier. And this glad sign of happy omen he made
     known so soon as Phœbus shed his first rays from the sky,
     and the joyous news spread everywhere. And this could not be
     kept back from the worthy Duke Liudolf, but swifter than
     speech did it come to his ears. And he, carefully observing
     on the hallowed eve of the approaching festival whether
     perchance some further like heavenly vision would clearly
     show it to be an omen, with much company kept watch on the
     wood all the night long. And straightway when black night
     had covered the land with darkness, everywhere throughout
     the wooded valley in the which the very noble temple was
     destined to be built, many lights were perceived, the which,
     with the shining splendour of their exceeding brightness,
     cleft asunder the shades of the wood and the darkness of the
     night alike. And thereupon, standing up and rendering praise
     to God, they all with one accord declared it meet that the
     place should be sanctified to the worship of Him who had
     filled it with the light. And, moreover, the Duke, mindful
     of his duty to Heaven, and with the consent of his dear
     consort Oda, forthwith ordered the trees to be felled and
     the brushwood cut away, and the valley to be completely
     cleared. And this sylvan spot, aforetime the home of fauns
     and monsters, he thus cleared and made fitting for the glory
     of God. And then, before obtaining the money needful for the
     work, he at once set out the lines of a noble church as
     traced by the splendour of the red light.[5]

    [4] The first foundation, afterwards removed to Gandersheim.

    [5] For other instances of churches laid out on lines said to
    have been revealed in dreams or visions, see Didron,
    _Christian Iconography_, vol. i. (1886) pp. 381, 382, 460,
    and Sta. Maria Maggiore, Rome.

     In suchwise was the building of our second Monastery to the
     glory of God begun. But stone suitable for the structure
     could not be found in those parts, and thus the completion
     of the sanctuary which had been begun, suffered delay. But
     the Abbess Hathumoda, trusting to obtain all things from the
     Lord by faith, oft-times, by serving God both night and day
     with holy zeal, wore herself out with too abundant labour.
     And with many of those placed under her care, she besought
     the solace of speedy help from Heaven, lest the work so well
     begun should be left unfinished. And of a sudden she became
     aware that the divine grace which she sought was present,
     ready to have compassion on her longings. For as she lay one
     day prostrate nigh unto the altar, fasting and giving
     herself up to prayer, she was bidden of a gentle voice to go
     forth and follow a bird she would see sitting on the summit
     of a certain great rock. And she, embracing the command with
     ready mind, went forth, putting her trust in it with all her
     heart. And taking with her very skilled masons, she sped
     swiftly whither the kindly Spirit led her, until she was
     come to the noble sanctuary which had been begun. And there
     she saw, seated on the lofty summit of the self-same rock, a
     white dove, the which, flying with outspread wings,
     straightway went before her, tempering its flight in
     unwonted way so that the virgin, walking with her
     companions, might be able to follow in a straight course its
     aerial track. And when the dove in its flight had come to
     the place which we now know was not wanting in great stones,
     it descended, and with its beak pierced through the
     ground,[6] where, beneath the soil, many stones were
     disclosed. And assured by this sight, the very worthy virgin
     of Christ bade her companions clear away the heavy mass of
     earth, and lay the spot bare. And this done, supernal and
     devout piety presiding over the work, a great wealth of
     mighty stones was brought to view, whence all the needful
     material for the walls of the monastery already begun, and
     of the church, could be obtained. Then, striving ever more
     and more with all their heart, the builders of the temple
     destined to be consecrated to the glory of God, laboured at
     the work by night and by day.

    [6] The intervention of a bird to aid in discovery was a
    favourite tradition derived from antiquity. We may recall,
    amongst many variants of the theme, the story of the
    celebrated expedition of the Athenians to the Island of
    Scyros to find and recover the body of Theseus. Theseus,
    being a hero, the agent employed in the quest must likewise
    be distinguished, and so the eagle, Zeus’s bird, is alone
    thought worthy to peck the earth and indicate the
    resting-place of the demi-god.

Thus does Roswitha tell how the work of the new Foundation was begun,
the Duke Liudolf and his wife having already journeyed to Rome to ask
of the Pope his blessing, as well as to beg of him, as a token of his
favour, some sacred relics to deposit there. The Pope, giving them his
blessing, thus makes answer to their request:--

     There were here, aforetime, two mighty rulers--the most holy
     Anastasius who presided over this See, and his co-apostle,
     the holy Innocent. These, through their services to the
     Church, were the most famous next after St. Peter and St.
     Paul. With such care have the illustrious bodies of these
     two been heretofore preserved by all the rulers of this
     city, that never has any one been permitted to carry away
     the least portion of them, and thus their sacred limbs
     remain undiminished. But forasmuch as it is meet that I
     yield to your pious request, I will grant you, without
     recompense, tokens from both these sacred bodies, cut before
     your very eyes from off the sacred bodies themselves, if so
     be that you will make solemn oath to me to venerate these
     relics in your community, of the which you have made
     mention, preserving them for all time within your Church,
     sacred hymns being there sung by night and by day, and a
     light being alway kept burning. And of our apostolic right
     we ordain, according to your request, that your community be
     of our See, to the end that it may be secured from all
     secular rule.

And Liudolf, with glad heart, made promise of this, and returned home
with the coveted relics.

The MS., now at Munich, which tells this fascinating story of love and
faith, was, it is considered, written about A.D. 1000, and was
fortunately preserved in the Benedictine convent of St. Emmeran,
Ratisbon, where the scholar and poet, Conrad Celtes, discovered it at
the end of the fifteenth century. It also includes metrical legends, a
fragment of a panegyric on the Emperor Otho, and six dramas. Of such
worth were these latter counted, that when Celtes published the MS. in
1501, Albert Dürer received a commission for an ornamental title-page,
and for a frontispiece to each of the plays. It is by these dramas
that Roswitha has distinguished herself in the world of letters; for
although the legends contain points of interest, and are treated with
skill, they are naturally not so unique as the dramas, nor do they
reflect her personality in the same way. She herself tells us that the
plays were written in imitation of the manner, but not of the matter,
of Terence, and that her only desire in writing them was “to make the
small talent given her by Heaven to create, under the hammer of
devotion, a faint sound to the praise of God.”

But before considering her work, let us glance at her own life, and
the life of contemporary Saxon nunneries.

[Illustration: _Royal Library, Munich._

COVER OF ST. EMMERAN GOSPELS.

Tenth Century.

_To face page 7._]

Nearly one hundred and fifty years before the supposed date of
Roswitha’s birth, the hitherto untamed and warlike Saxons had been
finally defeated by the mercenaries of Charlemagne, and, as one of the
signs of submission, forced to embrace Christianity. But having
submitted, they forthwith, and with an aptitude suggestive of the
spirit of the modern Japanese, set themselves to appropriate,
assimilate, and remodel for their own use, the rudiments of the
civilisation with which they found themselves brought into contact. So
speedy and so thorough was the transformation, that scarce a century
passed ere the once powerful Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne bowed
down before the strenuous Saxons, to whom the supreme power was
transferred. Their Chief was elected king of the Germans, and some
fifty years later their king, Otho the Great, after being crowned at
Aix-la-Chapelle, the former centre of Frankish rule, received the
Imperial Crown from the Pope in Rome. This displacement of the
political centre was naturally followed by a complete displacement of
artistic centres. Both these sides of life were fostered by Otho with
a keen personal interest--the building up of his empire and the
encouragement of art going hand in hand. Moreover, owing to his close
ties with Italy and the East, and the element of classic tradition
inevitably induced by such ties, art received an added stimulus and
grace. Oriental monks were to be found in the monasteries. Learned men
and artists were summoned from Italy and Constantinople. The number
and influence of these were increased when Otho’s son, afterwards Otho
the Second, married Theophano, a Greek princess, who, bringing many
compatriots in her train, sought to reflect in her German home
something of the learning and splendour of the Byzantine Court. The
ivory, shown in illustration, commemorating this marriage, is an
example of the work of some Byzantine craftsman in her employ, whilst
the jewelled and gold-wrought cover of the Gospels of St. Emmeran (now
at Munich) shows to how high a level the goldsmith’s art of the time
had been raised by the influences alluded to.

[Illustration: _Musée de Cluny, Paris._

MARRIAGE OF OTHO II. AND THEOPHANO.

Byzantine, 10th century.

_To face page 7._]

Perhaps the one place which retains in the most varied and
concentrated form the traces of this wave of artistic development then
passing over Germany, is Hildesheim. This is of interest here because
the bishops of Hildesheim were specially appointed to perform the
office of consecration of nuns at Gandersheim. It seems hardly
possible that Roswitha could have seen its gifted bishop Bernward,
himself a painter, and a worker in mosaic and metals, though owing to
the uncertainty of the date of her death--one chronicler making it as
late as 1002--it is just possible that she may have done so.
Bernward’s learning and artistic nature attracted the attention of the
princess Theophano, who appointed him tutor to her son, the
boy-emperor Otho the Third. Brought thus into touch with the many
gifts presented on special occasions to the young Emperor by Greek and
Oriental princes, as well as by “Scots” (_i.e._ Irish missionaries and
emigrants settled in Germany), he, by taking with him to Court, from
the School of Art established in his palace at Hildesheim, apt and
talented youths, made use of these rare and beautiful offerings for
the encouragement of the study of divers arts. Students also
accompanied him when he went farther afield for study, for it is said
of him that there was no art which he did not attempt, even if he
failed to attain perfection.[7] Hildesheim thus became famous as a
working-centre of fine art, especially in metals, and remained so down
to the end of the Middle Ages. After a lapse of nearly a thousand
years, the result of the labours of this artistic prelate and his
pupils may still be seen in situ as it were. Besides jewelled
service-books, there are chalices, incense burners, a gold
candelabrum, and a jewelled crucifix, fashioned, if not in part by
him, at least under his supervision. The entrance to the Cathedral is
beautified with delicately wrought bronze doors, modelled, it may be,
from those of Sta. Sabina, Rome, themselves considered to be of
Oriental origin,[8] and in the transept rises a column adorned with
bronze reliefs from the life of Christ, probably designed by the
bishop either after his pilgrimage to Rome in 1001, when he had seen
Trajan’s column, or, as a recent writer suggests, from the “Juppiter
and giant columns” of Roman Rhineland.[9]

    [7] Thangmarus, “Vita Sti. Bernwardi,” Migne, _Patrol. Lat._
    140, col. 397. 6.

    [8] Michel, _Histoire de l’Art_, 1905, Tome I. i. p. 258.

    [9] _Journal of Studies_, vol. i. part i., 1911, article by
    E. Strong, p. 24.

We are tempted to recall other princesses whose marriages, and even
more whose personalities, have influenced art and letters, but two
must suffice us--the one, the beautiful and cultivated Anne of
Bohemia, wife of Richard the Second, whose bridal retinue was in
reality a small Court of literary and artistic personages; the other,
the brilliant Valentine Visconti of Milan, sister-in-law of King
Charles the Sixth of France, whose influence in matters of art and
literature alone, at a time when England and France were so intimately
associated, makes her of special interest to us.

But what bearing, it may be asked, had Court life on the life of the
nun Roswitha in the convent of Gandersheim? To answer this question we
must recall briefly the position of the early religious houses, and
especially those of Saxony. Many of the foundations were royal, and,
in return for certain privileges, were obliged to entertain the king
and his retinue whenever he journeyed. Such sojourns naturally brought
a store of political, intellectual, and other information to the
favoured house. Added to this, the abbess of such a house, generally a
high-born and influential woman, was, in her position as a ruler of
lands as well as of communities, brought into direct contact with the
Court and with politics. To her rights of over-lordship were attached
the same privileges and duties as in the case of any feudal baron. She
issued summonses for attendance at her Courts, at which she was
represented by a proctor, and, when war was declared, she had to
provide the prescribed number of knights. In some cases her influence
was supreme, even in imperial affairs, extending also to matters
social and literary. Roswitha tells us how much she herself owed to
the two successive abbesses under whose rule she lived, for
suggestion, information, and encouragement in her literary work.

The convents of Saxony, as many elsewhere in the tenth and eleventh
centuries, were centres of culture in the nature of endowed colleges.
In some of them women resided permanently, and besides their religious
exercises, devoted themselves to learning and the arts, for the Church
of the Middle Ages took thought for the intellect as well as for the
soul. In others, no irrevocable vows were made, and if desire or
necessity arose, the student inmate was free to return to the world.
In others again, though residence was permanent, short leave of
absence from time to time was granted by the abbess, and the nun was
able to sojourn with her friends, or to visit some sister community.
But at Gandersheim the rule was strict, and a nun, her vows once
taken, had to remain within the convent walls. Yet even so, life there
was perhaps far less circumscribed than in many a castle, where the
men gave themselves up to war and the chase, and the women perforce
spun and embroidered and gossiped, since to venture without the walls
was fraught with difficulty and sometimes with danger. Even if there
were some who cared to read, and who would fain go in imagination to
other scenes and times, MSS. were difficult to come by, and costly
withal. Wholly different was it in the religious houses. In these,
women associated with their equals, with whom they could interchange
ideas, and the library was well furnished with MSS. of classical and
Christian writers. One of the first cares of St. Benedict, in the case
of every newly founded house, was the formation of the library. So
held in honour did this tradition become, and so assiduously was it
pursued, that the status of a monastery or a convent, as a centre of
learning, came to be estimated by its wealth in MSS. Besides the mass
of transcribing which such rivalry occasioned, there was illuminating
to be done, musical notation to be studied and prepared for the
services of the Church, chants and choir-singing to be practised, and
the needful time to be devoted to weaving and embroidery--a part of
every woman’s education. Weaving had of necessity to be done in every
convent in order to provide the requisite clothing for its inmates,
and the large and often elaborate hangings used for covering the
walls. Embroidery, on the other hand, was no mere occupation, or even
a craft, but in truth a fine art. The few specimens still preserved
give some idea of the quality of the work, whilst old inventories
attest the quantity. Illuminated MSS. of the Gospels and the
Apocalypse were lent from royal treasuries, and their miniatures were
copied, with needle and silk, to adorn vestments and altar hangings.
Then at Gandersheim, as we have already said, the occasional visits of
princely travellers brought interest and diversion from the outside
world. It was in an atmosphere such as this that Roswitha passed her
days.

Of her work, the metrical legends seem her earliest effort. In these,
though they are mainly based on well-known themes, Roswitha shows much
originality in description. Whilst they need not detain us, passing
reference may be made to two of them--the Passion of St. Pelagius of
Cordova, and the Fall and Conversion of Theophilus--since their
subject matter is of value to us to-day. The one interests us because,
in relating that the story was told her by an eye-witness of the
martyrdom in A.D. 925 (_Acta SS._ Jun. V.), she shows that
communication existed between that great intellectual centre, Cordova,
and Germany, a fact that must have had considerable influence on art
and literature; the other as being the story out of which the Faust
legend was developed.

After these legends, we turn to her panegyric on the Emperor Otho.
This she opens by acknowledging her debt to the Abbess Gerberg, niece
of Otho the Great, for aiding her in her literary work with her
superior knowledge, and for giving her the necessary information
concerning the royal doings. Then by humbly likening her mental
perplexity and fear on entering upon so vast a subject to the feelings
of one who has to cross a forest in winter when snow has obliterated
the track, she in a few words pictures for us the natural wooded
surroundings of the convent. Her poem--for such it really is--then
sets forth the personal history of this monarch and his predecessors,
rather than public events, and is thus of value more on account of its
poetical than its historical quality. But one episode, picturesque in
its quaint setting, and interesting historically because its stirring
details are not to be found elsewhere, is worthy of record. It
centres round Adelheid, the young and beautiful widow of Lothair, a
Lombard king. Taken prisoner by his successor, the tyrant Berengarius,
she is immured in a castle on the Lago di Garda, and threatened with a
forced marriage with the son of her oppressor. This threat seems to
endow her with superhuman power. Bidding defiance to all difficulty
and danger, she contrives gradually to dig a secret way through the
soft earth, and suddenly finds herself free. Dawn is just breaking.
But how can she make use of her freedom before her guards awake and
discover her escape? Quickly is her mind made up. But let Roswitha
herself tell the story:--

     As soon as black night yielded to the twilight, and the
     heavens began to pale before the rays of the sun, warily
     hiding herself in secluded caves, now she wanders in the
     woods, now lurks in the furrows amongst the ripe ears of
     Ceres, until returning night, clothed in its wonted gloom,
     again veils the earth in darkness. Then once more is she
     diligent to pursue her way begun. And her guards, not
     finding her, all-trembling make it known to the officer
     charged with the safe keeping of the lady. And he, struck to
     the heart with the terror of grievous fear, set forth with
     much company to make diligent search for her, and when he
     failed, and moreover could not discover whither the most
     illustrious queen had turned her steps, fearful, he made
     report of the matter to King Berengarius. And he, at once
     filled with exceeding wrath, forthwith sent his dependants
     everywhere around, commanding them not to overlook any small
     place, but cautiously to examine every hiding-place, lest
     perchance the queen might be lying hid in any one. And he
     himself followed with a band of stout-hearted troops as if
     to overcome some fierce enemy in battle. And rapidly did he
     pass on his way through the self-same corn-field in the
     which the lady whom he sought was lurking in the bent-back
     furrows, hidden beneath the wings of Ceres. Hither and
     thither forsooth he traversed the very spot where she lay,
     burdened with no little fear, and although, with great
     effort, he essayed with outstretched spear to part the corn
     around, yet he discovered not her whom by the grace of
     Christ it concealed.

From the sheltering corn Adelheid effects her escape, and after weary
wandering, reaches the Castle of Canossa, the stronghold of the Counts
of Tuscany. Any one who has visited this now ruined castle, some
twenty miles from Parma, will remember the threadlike way between
rocks covered with brambles, by which its eyrie height is approached.
Up this steep track the queen, fearful of any pause, hastens, and
finds a welcome and ready help. The Count becomes her champion, and
appeals on her behalf to the Emperor Otho. The latter, glad of an
excuse to further his cause in Italy, descends with his troops into
the Lombard plain, weds the beautiful Adelheid, and receives the
formal cession of the so-called kingdom of Italy from Berengarius and
his son, whose power had ebbed away in their futile attempts to
control their feudatories.

Roswitha’s thrilling narrative is amplified by the graphic account
recorded by St. Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, Queen Adelheid’s friend and
one-time confessor. In this he tells us that during Adelheid’s
imprisonment in a castle on the Lago di Garda, her chaplain Martin
succeeds in making a hole in the wall, through which the queen and her
maidservant, disguised as men, creep. He does not recount the episode
of the hiding in the corn, but relates another equally stirring
adventure. He tells us that, in fleeing from their persecutor to the
safety of Canossa, the fugitives become involved in a swamp. After two
days, they are rescued from their perilous position by a fisherman
who, passing near by, and hearing sounds of distress, goes to their
aid. Their deliverer, finding them faint with hunger and cold, lights
a fire with the flint he carries in his wallet, and cooks some small
fish, the only food he has to offer them. Once more they start on
their way, and eventually reach Canossa. But hardly do they gain
admittance, ere the castle is surrounded by the soldiery of the
outwitted and wrathful Berengarius. A knight, carrying a message from
the Emperor Otho of promised deliverance, essays to enter the castle,
but finding this impossible owing to the hostile troops encamped
around, he fastens the letter to an arrow, and shoots it over the
wall. A strong force sent by Otho is near at hand, and speedily puts
the enemy to flight. Adelheid is rescued, and is brought with
rejoicing to Pavia, her dower city, which had already opened its gates
to the Emperor, and she and the Emperor enter the city together in
triumph. Much has been written of the illustrious Adelheid, but
perhaps she would best like to be remembered by the eulogy of her
confessor--the saintly Odilo--that she never forgot a kindness, or
remembered an injury.

It is in a spirit far different from that of her panegyric on the
emperor Otho that Roswitha writes her dramas. Fear and mental
perplexity no longer possess her. Though humbly begging the reader not
to “despise these strains drawn from a fragile reed,” she has no
misgiving, for she feels that herein lies her mission. She explains
her reason for using the dramatic form, and for taking Terence as her
model. There are many, she says,--and she does not entirely exonerate
herself,--who, beguiled by the elegant diction of the Classics, prefer
them to religious writings, whilst there are others who, though
generally condemning heathen works, eagerly peruse the poetic
creations of Terence because of the special beauty of his language.
She further expresses the hope that by trying to imitate his manner,
and by at the same time dramatising legends calculated to edify, she
may induce readers to turn from the “godless contents of his works” to
the contemplation of virtuous living. Emboldened by this pious hope,
Roswitha shrinks from no difficulties or details, details which might
well have made her hesitate, and which, betraying a knowledge of the
world, have raised the question as to whether she made her profession
as early as was customary. This solicitude of Roswitha for the welfare
of frail and all too human mankind recalls St. Bernard’s condemnation,
some hundred and fifty years later, of all carving in church or
cloister, when he says, “one reads with more pleasure what is carven
in stones than what is written in books, and would rather gaze all day
upon these singular creations than meditate upon the Divine Word.”

It has been maintained that the classic theatre decayed and
disappeared as Christianity became all-powerful in Europe, and that
the modern theatre seemingly arose in the twelfth century out of the
services of the Church, and owed no debt to the past. But neither
Nature nor Art works in this way except to our own unperceiving minds.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, and the consequent disruption of
society, classic civilisation gradually withdrew into the security of
the religious communities, seeking, like distraught humanity, shelter
and protection. It was in such tranquil atmosphere as this that Latin
drama, though condemned in substance, was fostered and favoured as an
education in style. Roswitha’s plays may, as has been said, have been
the last ray of classical antiquity, but if so, it was a ray, like the
pillar of fire, bright enough to guide through the dark night of
feudalism to the coming day.

Whether her dramatic efforts were an isolated phenomenon or not, must
remain undecided, but it is reasonable to assume that any work
surviving to the present day is but a sample of much else of the same
sort that has disappeared in the course of time. Still all we would
claim for them, apart from their intrinsic value and interest, is that
they helped to keep up continuity in the tradition of drama. The
gradual movement in the Church towards elaboration in its services
which began in the ninth century,--a movement which led to the
dramatising of the Mass, out of which the liturgical drama, and
eventually the miracle-play, were evolved,--was a popular movement. To
a people ignorant of Latin, yet fond of shows, it provided instruction
and diversion alike. Roswitha, on the other hand, avowedly wrote for
the literary world, and with a special end in view as regards that
world. To attain this end, she set before her, as her master in style,
Terence, who himself had aimed at a high ideal of artistic perfection,
and of whom it has been said that he perpetuated the art and genius of
Menander just as a master engraver perpetuates the designs of a great
painter whose works have since perished. Still, in spite of the
glamour of the style to which she aspires, and poetess though she is
by nature, her plays reflect the handiwork of the moralist rather than
that of the artist, for though beauty charms her by the way, her goal
is moral truth, and to this all else must yield. If we would see the
beauty of holiness as she saw it, we must enter in spirit within the
shrine of her thought and feeling, just as the traveller, standing
without the simple brick exterior of the tomb of Galla Placidia, at
Ravenna, must penetrate within if he would know of the beauty there
enshrined. “Il faut être saint, pour comprendre la sainteté.”

The subject which dominates her horizon is that of Chastity. Treated
by her with didactic intent, this really resolves itself into a
conflict between Christianity and Paganism,--in other words, between
Chastity and Passion,--in which Christianity triumphs through the
virtue of Woman. But at the same time Roswitha neither contemns
marriage nor generally advocates celibacy. She merely counsels, as the
more blessed, the unmarried state. Yet even so, we feel that beneath
her nun’s garb there beats the heart of a sympathetic woman, whose
emotional self-expression is but tempered by the ideals of her time
and her surroundings.

Another important element to be taken into account in her plays is the
part she assigns to the supernatural. It is impossible to develop
character with any continuity when the supernatural, like some sword
of Damocles, hovers continually overhead, ready to descend at any
moment and sever cause from effect. Such a sword was the Divine
Presence to Roswitha. When her plot requires it, she introduces a
miracle, converting a character, at a moment’s notice, and in a way
that no evolution could possibly effect, into one of a totally
different kind. Still to her audience such a _dénouement_ would be
quite satisfactory. With her, sudden changes and conversions but
reflect the ideas which possessed the minds of her contemporaries, who
realised God more in deviations from, than in manifestations of, law
and order.

Were her plays ever performed? To this question no certain answer can
be given, since no record has yet been found of their performance, and
the best critics are at variance on the subject. But judging from
analogy, there seems to be no reason why they should not have been. We
know that as early as the fifth and sixth centuries the monks played
Terence, probably on some fête-day, or before their scholars as a
means of instruction, and doubtless Roswitha’s plays were also acted
on special occasions, such as when the Emperor sojourned at
Gandersheim, or the Bishop made a visitation. As they were written in
Latin, the literary language of the time, this in itself, even if
their themes had appealed to the people, would have prevented them
from being performed save before the educated few. So if we would
picture to ourselves a performance of one of them by her companion
nuns in the Chapter House, or it may be in the refectory, it must be
before the Bishop and his clergy, and perhaps also some members of the
Imperial family, and lords and ladies of the Court. How refreshing
must such an entertainment have been to this distinguished company as
it found itself carried away into an atmosphere of poetry and passion,
of movement and colour, in place of the sobriety induced by the stiff
liturgical dramas that probably formed the usual diversion! Such a
drama was that of _The Wise and Foolish Virgins_, a specially
favourite old-world dramatic exercise, dispensed as a sort of
religious tonic to womankind, calculated to arouse slumbering souls,
or to quicken to still further effort those that did not slumber. For
us, its chief interest lies in the antiphonic arrangement of the
dialogue, in which we may trace the first germs of characterisation,
and in the music, the refrains of which contain the first suggestions,
as far as we know, of the principle of the leitmotiv, a principle
carried to its most complete development by Wagner. Although the
earliest known MS. of it is of the eleventh century, so finished, yet
so simple, are its dialogues and refrains, that it seems not
unreasonable to infer that the form of the play was well known, either
through some earlier MS. or through oral tradition. It is only a
slight development of the elegy in dialogue which was performed in
A.D. 874, at the funeral of Hathumoda, the first abbess of
Gandersheim. This dialogue takes place between the sorrow-stricken
nuns, who speak in chorus of their loss, and the monk Wichbert, who
acts as consoler. Although its form is liturgical, its subject
entitles it to be considered the earliest known mediæval dramatic work
extant.

Of Roswitha’s dramas, three seem to stand out as of special
interest--_Abraham_, _Callimachus_, and _Paphnutius_. All of these are
more or less patchwork adaptations from the legendary débris of
antiquity. The first appears to have been taken by Roswitha from a
Latin translation of a fourth-century Greek legend.[10] Whilst she
does not display any originality in elaborating the story, but keeps
carefully to the text--so much so that at times she merely
transcribes--she reveals her artistic as well as her psychological
instinct by concentrating the essentials, thereby transforming a
rather discursive composition into a poignant picture. The subtle
touches, the sentiment, and the dialogue so pathetic and so true to
nature, make this drama verily her masterpiece, and one worthy of a
place beside the delicate and dramatic miniatures of the time. In a
few words, here is the story. A holy man, by name Abraham, has
abandoned a life of solitude in order to take care of his young
orphaned niece. After a few years, she is tempted to a house of ill
fame. Some two years later, her uncle, having discovered her
whereabouts, determines to exchange his hermit garb for that of a man
of the world, and go to the house in the guise of a lover, so as to
get an opportunity of speaking with his niece alone. Of course she
does not recognise him in his change of costume, and when he asks for
a kiss, she puts her arms round his neck, and suddenly detects a
strange perfume. Instantly a change comes over her. The scent recalls
to her her former unsullied life, and tears fill her eyes. At the
fitting moment the uncle makes himself known, and showing her with
sweet words of sympathy and encouragement that sin is natural to
humanity, and that what is evil is to continue in it, takes her back
with him to begin afresh the simple good life.

    [10] Migne, _Patrol. Lat._ lxxiii.

The second play recounts an incident taken from the apocryphal Acts of
the Apostles, supposed to take place in the first century. A young
heathen, Callimachus, falls in love with a young married woman, a
Christian. She dies, and is buried the same day. That night
Callimachus goes to the grave, and with the help of a slave disinters
the body. Holding it in his arms, and triumphing in the embrace denied
to him in life, he suddenly falls dead. In the morning the husband and
St. John, coming to the cemetery to pray for her soul, see the rifled
grave and the two dead bodies. St. John, at the command of Christ, who
appears for but a moment, restores them both to life, and brings to
repentance the young man, who, in further amendment of his ways,
becomes a Christian. This mere outline of the play is given to suggest
points of resemblance between it--the first sketch of this kind of
drama of passion, the frenzy of the soul and senses--and the
masterpiece of this type, _Romeo and Juliet_.

Many passages in the plays of Roswitha remind us of Shakespeare, but
it is not possible to deal adequately with them here, nor does it seem
material to do so. There is no reason why Shakespeare should not have
seen a printed collection of her dramas. He, like Dante, seems to have
had the power of attracting material from every possible source, and
it should not be forgotten what a sensation was caused by Celtes
printing in 1501 Roswitha’s MS. But, on the other hand, the
similarities we notice may be a mere coincidence, or, as is much more
likely, the details in each case may have been common property handed
down from one generation to another.

In her play of _Paphnutius_, Roswitha made use of a story taken from
the _Historia Monachorum_ of Rufinus, a contemporary of St. Jerome,
who had journeyed through Palestine and Egypt to visit the Hermits of
the Desert. The mention, too, at the beginning of Rufinus’s account,
of a musician who tells of his retirement to a hermitage in order to
change the harmony of music into that of the spirit, evidently
suggested to her a discussion on music and harmony, probably adapted
from Boëthius’s _De Musica_. In this discussion lies the chief
interest of the play as giving us some idea of the sort of
intellectual exercises probably practised by women in convents in the
tenth century. The play opens with a truly mediæval scene,--a
disputation between a hermit and his disciples on the question of
harmony between soul and body, suggested by the want of it in the life
of the courtesan Thais. Such harmony _should_ exist, says the holy
man, for though the soul is not mortal like the body, nor the body
spiritual like the soul, we shall, if we follow the method of the
dialecticians, find that such differences do not necessarily render
the two inharmonious. Harmony cannot be produced from like elements or
like sounds, but only by the right adjustment of those which are
dissimilar. This discussion on harmony naturally leads to one on
music, which is divided, according to the then received writers on the
subject, into three kinds--celestial, human, and instrumental. Music,
in the Middle Ages, was, for dialectical purposes, treated in
accordance with the Pythagorean theory as interpreted by Cicero in his
_Somnium Scipionis_, who represented the eight revolving spheres of
heaven--the Earth being fixed--as forming a complete musical octave.
Such celestial music forms the subject of the argument in Roswitha’s
play, the music of Earth being merely touched upon. Why, it is asked,
do we not hear this music of the spheres if it exists? To this comes
the answer that some think it is because of its continuity, others
because of the density of the atmosphere, and others again because the
volume of sound cannot penetrate the narrow passage of the human ear.
And so with subtle argument, the music of Heaven was often drowned in
the din of Earth. Dante, in the _Paradiso_, lifted the idea once more
from Earth to Heaven, and clothed it in a wealth of gorgeous imagery.
But it is Shakespeare who, with the magic of a few words, has given
the thought immortality.

    There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
    But in his motion like an angel sings,

       *       *       *       *       *

    Such harmony is in immortal souls;
    But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
    Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

In judging of Roswitha’s dramatic work it must be remembered that, in
true mediæval spirit fearing to profane what she venerates, she allows
herself but little licence with the legends she dramatises.
Nevertheless, as has been said, she from time to time shows, in
psychological touches, a capacity for originality quite phenomenal for
her time and for the literature of the cloister. Still her plays
express but a very small part of the whole gamut of human emotions and
experiences, just as her life was lived in an intellectual world
narrow from the point of view of to-day or of the great intellectual
age of antiquity. Many causes contributed to this. Intellectually, the
Christian world shrank as Paganism was superseded by Christianity, a
supersession by no means complete in Roswitha’s day. Of course this
nascent Christianity was inconsistent with much of the intellectual
life of the ancient world, which was either inextricably interwoven
with Paganism, or essentially anti-religious. With its task of laying
afresh the foundations of education, politics, and morality, it had to
take root and become established in a relatively narrow intellectual
field, the boundaries of which had gradually to be broken down,
sometimes with violence.

Time, like some lens which clears our vision, makes it an easy task to
criticise and condemn a phase of religious life which, having essayed
to tranquillise and sweeten existence, was, under altered conditions
of civilisation, bound to pass away. We of to-day pride ourselves on
a wider view of life, on a higher conception of duty, expressed in
lives dedicated to public work as a necessary complement to private
virtue. Still, if we would judge fairly this age of contemplation and
faith within the convent walls, and all that, even if done mistakenly
and imperfectly, it aspired to do, we must realise, as best we can,
the world without those walls. One of our poets has vividly reflected
it for us when he speaks of man’s life as made up of “whole centuries
of folly, noise, and sin.” So bitter was life then and even later,
that by the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when mysticism had
claimed many votaries, eternal rest, even at the cost of personal
annihilation, was the whispered desire of many devout souls.

“A Simple Stillness.” “An Eternal Silence.” These are the words that
float across the centuries to us, like echoes from troubled, longing
hearts. These are the words that give us the key to the understanding
of the choice of vocation of the mediæval woman. The spiritual need
for harmony and peace may have been great; the practical need was
perhaps even greater; for in its accomplishment the spiritual found
its consummation.



A TWELFTH-CENTURY ROMANCE-WRITER, MARIE DE FRANCE


“Marie ai nom, si sui de France.” Thus, more than seven centuries ago,
wrote Marie de France. What an unpretentious autobiography! Yet these
few simple words, which seem to tell so little, but in reality suggest
so much, are the counterpart of her work, and form its fitting crown.

But who was this modest writer, and why does her work interest us
to-day? Around Marie de France there must always remain an atmosphere
of doubt and mystery, since she is only mentioned by an anonymous
thirteenth-century poet, and by one of her contemporaries--an
Anglo-Norman poet, Denys Pyramus by name--who speaks of her in the
most flattering terms, and from whom we learn that her lays were much
appreciated by the noblesse, especially the ladies. That these should
take rare delight in them may well be, seeing how monotonous life must
have been to many a woman shut up with her maidens and her needlework
in a dismal castle, or perhaps in but one tower of it, whilst her
lord went forth to the chase or to war, his home-coming meaning merely
the wine-cup and war-songs, or tedious epic. Many a one must have read
or listened to Marie’s love idylls, and longed, and perhaps even
hoped, as in the story of “Yonec,” that a fair and gentle knight, in
the form of some beautiful bird, might fly in at her window and bring
her some diversion from the outside world. With nothing before us but
her own poems and the scant recognition of Denys Pyramus, she seems
like some old portrait in which the delicate pigments that once glowed
in the face and made it live have, owing to their very delicacy, long
since faded away, leaving behind only the stronger and less volatile
colours of the dark background from which we in vain try to wrest more
than one or two fragments of the secret it holds.

Judging from internal evidence, it would seem that Marie was born in
Normandy, about the middle of the twelfth century, but settled in
England, where since the Conquest, and indeed since the time of Edward
the Confessor, many Norman families had made their home. Not only does
she make occasional use of English words, and translate from English
into French the fables known as Æsop’s, but in the prologue to her
_Lays_, which she dedicates to “the noble King,” generally considered
to be Henry the Second, she expresses fear lest her work should not
find favour in a foreign land. In this prologue she also gives her
reason for abandoning classical translation, which, as a Latin
scholar, she had contemplated making, not only for the use of the less
learned, but also, as she tells us, for personal discipline, since “he
who would keep himself from sin, should study and learn and undertake
difficult tasks. In suchwise he may the more withdraw him and save
himself from much sorrow.” The twelfth century was a time of
extraordinary intellectual activity, and Marie tells us that she
suffered from what we are apt to regard as a special evil of our own
day--the overcrowding of the literary market. So she wisely turned
aside from the Classics and the crowd, and set herself to give
literary expression to the old Celtic folk-lore, hitherto perhaps
unrecorded save in song.

Of Marie’s work that has come down to us we have _The Fables_, already
mentioned, dedicated to Count William, surnamed Longsword, and son of
Henry the Second and Fair Rosamond;[11] _The Lays_, dedicated to the
king, Henry the Second, and doubtless read by Fair Rosamond in her
retreat at Woodstock; and _The Purgatory of St. Patrick_, translated
from the Latin at the request of an anonymous benefactor. Of these
only _The Lays_ need here concern us, as it is in them that our
interest lies, since they are perhaps among the first stories, given
literary form, which tell of love “for love’s sake only,”--love
unqualified and unquestioning. They form, perhaps, the only collection
of lays now extant, and it is to them, therefore, that we must turn to
get some idea of the style of narration that gradually replaced the
taste for the epic as Norman influence grew and spread in England.
Beside the sensualism of the _Chansons de Geste_, the sentiment
expressed in them may seem naïve; beside the gallantry of the
Provençal poetry, it may seem primitive; but nevertheless it is, in
its very simplicity, the profoundest note that can be struck in this
world of men and women. Marie makes no pretence to originality, but
even if she did not possess the supreme gift of creating beauty, she
at least possessed the lesser gift of perceiving it where it existed
and of making it her own, and her stories glow with colour, and
enchant by their simple yet dramatic appeal to the imagination. She
declares that _The Lays_ were made “for remembrance” by “Le ancien
Bretun curteis,” and that “Folks tell them to the harp and the rote,
and the music is sweet to hear.” Doubtless it was this sweet music
which both soothed and thrilled even before the words were understood,
for on sad and festive days alike, the sweet lays of Brittany were
always to be heard.

    La reine chante doucement,
    La voiz acorde a l’estrument:
    Les mains sont belles, li lais bons,
    Douce la voiz et bas li tons.

    [11] Marie thus refers to Count William:--

         “Pur amur le cumte Willaume,
          Le plus vaillant de cest royaume,
           M’entremis de cest livre feire,
           E de l’Angleiz en Roman treire.”

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

LADY PLAYING HARP.

Add. MS. 38117, Brit. Mus.

_To face page 32._]

Whether Marie was connected with the Court of Henry the Second and his
brilliant and artistic queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, where learned men
and poets congregated, we do not know, but it seems a very fair
conjecture that she was. Not only does she dedicate her principal work
to the king and his son, Count William, but her stories are coloured
with the courtly life and ideas of her time, notwithstanding the
simplicity of the fundamental theme. It is doubtful whether any one
unacquainted with the teaching of the Courts of Love, such as they
were in the twelfth century, would have made the compulsory quest of
love the keynote of a story, as, for instance, Marie does in the “Lay
of Guigemar.” These Courts of Love, though not so elaborate, yet
seemingly as imperious, as those of the fourteenth century, formed one
of the semi-serious pastimes of the Middle Ages, and although it may
be that they were often mere forms of entertainment, no
self-respecting person could afford to disregard their rules or
decisions. The cardinal doctrine was that love was necessary to a
man’s moral, social, and æsthetic training. Hence if it did not arise
of itself, it must be sought for, and, like its counterpart in the
spiritual world, come at, if needs be, through much tribulation.

Owing to Henry’s possessions in France through inheritance, marriage,
and the many ties of relationship which united the royal families of
both countries, England and France were never more closely allied
than they were at that time. French was established by them as the
speech of the cultured and the high-born. The Norman Conquest had made
us more cosmopolitan in both manners and ideas. May we not look on the
victory at Hastings as a symbol as well as a reality? Did it not mean
for us a spiritual as well as a material conquest, since, mingled with
the clashing of battle-axes, was to be heard the chanting of the
_Chanson de Roland_? Moreover, through a desire to bring about
uniformity of sentiment and service, the Church, though perhaps
unconsciously, aided this good work of general enlargement of outlook
by appointing outsiders to control our abbeys and religious
foundations. Thus, in the latter half of the twelfth century, the
romantic movement which characterised late mediæval literature stirred
in England and France alike, and Marie was one of its truest and
daintiest exponents. Although what she relates may be fiction
intermingled with myth and magic, she all the same pictures on her
somewhat small canvases the ideas of her time, and so helps to make
history.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

ADD. MS. 10293, BRIT. MUS.

_To face page 34._]

Marie’s readers and hearers were naturally to be found amongst
castle-folk. That these were many we may conclude from the fact that
the number of castles had already come to be regarded as a menace to
the central government, and a royal command had gone forth for the
demolition of many of them. That her stories were read and prized
for at least a century and more is evident from the manuscripts--five
in number, and all of the thirteenth, or the beginning of the
fourteenth, century--which still exist. Her renown, too, had travelled
even beyond the seas, for in about A.D. 1245 a translation of her lays
into Norse was made by order of the king, Haakon the Fourth. The fact
that their popularity began to wane after a hundred years or so is in
no wise an adverse criticism of their intrinsic worth, for in the
fourteenth century English was, in high places, beginning to take the
place of French, and naturally the demand created a supply. But even
if this had not been so, Marie’s work had served its purpose, and of
necessity passed into the crucible of human thought and expression, to
be resolved into matter suited to other needs and conditions. As has
been well said, “les siècles se succèdent, et chacun porte son fruit,
qui n’est pas celui du siècle précédent: les livres sont les fruits
des mœurs.”

Of the five manuscripts still extant, two are in the British Museum.
One of these is the most complete that has come down to us, seeing
that, in addition to its including the largest number of lays--twelve
in all,--it alone contains the prologue, in which for a moment the
illusive Marie lifts, as it were, her all-enshrouding veil. It is a
small manuscript, beautifully inscribed, and even after its seven
hundred years of existence, as fresh as is the love enshrined in its
parchment pages. How strange a feeling possesses us as we turn over
its leaves, leaves across which the shadows of readers of bygone days
still seem to flit! Could these pages speak, of what would they tell?
Of desires that die not, of longings that are immortal, of love
enthroned.

When first read, these stories, so simply are they told, may seem
somewhat slight and superficial. But this is the general
characteristic of mediæval literature, which, for the most part,
recognised things in outline only, and sought, and perhaps possessed,
but little knowledge of the hidden springs of motive. The writers of
those times troubled as little about moral, as the early painters did
about physical, anatomy. Still, in spite of this indifference to what
has become almost a craze in our own day, Marie’s lays are so full of
charming detail, deftly handled, that they give much the same sense of
delight as do delicate ivories or dainty embroidery. Sometimes, it is
true, she scarcely, despite all this outward charm, seems to touch the
world of fact. Yet in this ideal atmosphere which she so essentially
made her own, she contrives to convey such a sense of reality, that
for the moment we are wholly possessed by it and carried away, without
questioning, into her fairyland. And a beautiful fairyland it is,
where love triumphs for the most part, not in heedless ecstasy along
flower-bestrewn ways, but through self-sacrifice and suffering
mutually accepted and mutually endured. Listen to the words spoken to
the knight Guigemar, wounded by a chance arrow as he rides through a
wood. “Never shalt thou be healed of thy wound, not even by herb, or
root, or leach, or potion, until thou art healed by her who, for love
of thee, shall suffer such great pain and sorrow as never woman has
suffered before: and thou shalt bear as much for her.” Equality in
love! Such is the vital note struck amid the artificial and
soul-enfeebling atmosphere of mediæval love-poetry! This is the note
which Marie set ringing down the centuries whilst her manuscripts lay
unused on library shelves. This is Marie’s gift to the world, and this
it is that gives her stories immortality. Not only do they possess
this immortality in themselves, but they have also been immortalised
by poets and writers both in days long past and in those more within
our ken. All who know her stories will recall Chaucer’s indebtedness
to incidents and descriptions in them, and coming to our own time, we
find Sir Walter Scott taking his ballad of “Lord Thomas and Fair
Annie” from the lay of “The Ash Tree,” although it is possible, as has
been suggested,[12] that his ballad may have been founded on some
Scotch folk-song having a common origin with Marie’s lay. When her
lays were first published in Germany in 1820, Goethe wrote thus: “The
mist of years that mysteriously envelops Marie de France makes her
poems more exquisite and precious to us.” Yes, it is this
all-pervading mystery which, though so tantalising, is yet so
attractive. It is in vain that, in studying them, we try to penetrate
somewhat beyond our normal atmosphere, for we only find ourselves lost
in vague possibilities and hazy distances. Brittany has kept her
secret concerning such of these lays as were hers just as jealously as
she has kept her secret of the long avenues of great lichened stones
which make Carnac look like the burial-place of some giant host.
Marie’s lays are stories of deep meaning, which each reader must
interpret for himself.

    [12] Warnke. _Die lais der Marie de France_, p. lxiii.

It is impossible to do more here than just touch upon Marie’s ideal
conception of love, for to realise it fully it is necessary to read
the stories themselves.[13] Allusion has been made to the wounded
knight in the “Lay of Guigemar,” who can only be healed through mutual
love sanctified by mutual suffering. In the lay of “The Ash Tree” a
maiden of noble birth, abandoned in infancy and brought up in a
convent, is loved by a lord, and returns his love, and goes with him
to his castle. After a time the knights who owe him fealty complain
that as through his love for his mistress he has neither wife nor
child, he does them wrong, and protest that if he does not wed some
noble lady, they will no longer serve him or hold him for lord. The
knight has to yield to their demands and to consent to accept in
marriage the daughter of a neighbouring noble who had made it known
that he desired him for son-in-law. Neither lover utters any complaint
or reproach, and the needful sacrifice is about to be made. But
fortune, sometimes kind, intervenes ere it is too late, and reveals
the noble birth of the loved one. The knight weds her with great joy,
and to complete this happy picture we read that the other lady
returned with her parents to her own domain, and was there well
bestowed in marriage.

    [13] Marie de France, _Seven of her Lays_, trans. E. Rickert,
    1901; Warnke, _Die lais der Marie de France_, Halle, 1885;
    Hertz, _Spielmannsbuch_, 1905.

This idea of mutual sympathy and sacrifice gives meaning also to the
lay of “The Two Lovers,” and to that of “Yonec,” but perhaps it is
most simply, yet forcibly, summed up in the lay of “The Honeysuckle,”
an episode taken from the Tristan story. Tristan, hearing that Isolde
is to ride through a certain wood on her way to Tintagel to attend the
Pentecostal Court held by the King, hides in the wood. Here he cuts a
branch of hazel round which honeysuckle has twined, and carving his
name and certain letters on it, he lays it in the way by which the
Queen must pass, knowing that she will recognise it as a sign that her
lover is near, since they have met before in suchwise. The import of
the writing is that he has long been waiting to see her, since without
her he cannot live, and that they two are like the hazel branch with
the encircling honeysuckle, the which, as long as they are
intertwined, thrive, but as soon as they are separated, both perish.
Says Tristan, “Sweet Love, so is it with us--nor you without me, nor I
without you.”

But besides this conception of love which Marie had simply found
awaiting expression, when we turn to examine the stories somewhat in
detail, we find legend and poetry, Eastern magic and Christian
symbolism, mingled with strange ingenuity. Whence came all these
divers threads which Marie has so dexterously interwoven? It is very
difficult to tell whether we are wholly in a world of romance,
accepted by her without question, or whether she had some
understanding of the divers matters she touches upon, and shaped them
into a new form to suit new hearers. The answer to this question seems
to depend on whether Marie recounted the lays from hearsay, or whether
they had been already written down, and were merely retold by her, she
colouring them with the atmosphere of her time, which was charged with
strange incongruities of religion and magic. To this we can give no
certain answer, since Marie herself gives no hint, and only tells us
that the ancient Bretons made the lays. But whatever may have been her
contribution, Christian or otherwise, to the original matter she
worked upon, we cannot help feeling that we have before us the remains
of some primitive mythology overlaid and interpenetrated with Eastern
lore, especially that of India, which, in the Middle Ages, was spread
broadcast in the West. This Indian thought, itself borrowed in a
measure from Egypt, had also been tempered by the Hellenism which,
after the conquests of Alexander the Great in Asia, had filtered
through India, and had on the way become tinged with its colour and
its mystery. It was from the matter of these Indian stories that so
much was learnt, for whilst, in the West, the national epic and the
chivalrous romance had been alone considered worthy of record, in the
Indian stories all social conditions were revealed, and poets thus
learnt little by little to observe and portray the manners and
sentiments of the people generally, changing social conditions also
acting in the same direction. All such influences must be taken into
consideration in studying mediæval literature generally, but
particularly the occult element in Oriental thought which presents
such difficulties to the less meditative Western mind, and has in
consequence given rise to much misconception.

In the “Lay of Guigemar,” which we take first because it is the first
in the manuscript, we find Marie making use of a subject, in gorgeous
setting, of Christian symbolism, but using it apparently so
unconsciously that it is only from one or two details that we realise
what is really lurking in disguise. Guigemar, the wounded knight
already referred to, to whom naught but love, and sorrow endured for
love, can bring any alleviation, sets forth for his healing. He comes
across a ship into which he enters, and which by unseen means carries
him to the desired haven. As we read the description of the ship, our
thoughts at once revert to the picture of the barge in which Cleopatra
goes to meet Antony. Marie tells us that the fittings are of ebony,
and the unfurled sail of silk. Amid the vessel is a bed on to which
the wounded knight sinks in anguish. This is of cypress and white
ivory inlaid with gold, the quilt of silk and gold tissue, and the
coverlet of sable lined with Alexandrian purple.[14] All this we might
regard as merely a poet’s fancy were it not that we go on to read that
there were set two candlesticks of fine gold with lighted tapers. Here
we have the clue. Doubtless the ship, a favourite theme of Christian
symbolism, and one which delighted poets and painters and workers in
mosaic alike, represented the Church. It is not to be necessarily
inferred that Marie, when giving her hero so rare a means of transit,
had in her mind all the elaborate symbolism connected with it; but she
had probably read or heard tell of it, and made use of it simply for
the enhancement of her story. It is in such ways that we find
mysteries embedded, the real significance of them being lost or
misunderstood or unheeded, just as the Renaissance painters, without
any knowledge of Arabic characters, and solely on account of the
ornamental quality of the lettering, used texts from the Koran, and
distorted into mere design the sayings of Mahomet.

    [14] Compare with this the bed of “King Fisherman” described
    in _Holy Grail_, vol. i. p. 137, trans. Sebastian Evans,
    1898.

In the lay of “The Two Lovers” we again find Christian symbolism in
disguise. Here is the old theme of a difficult task to be accomplished
by the lover before he can win his lady.[15] The undertaking imposed
is the carrying of the loved one to the top of a hill, and our
interest in it is enhanced by the fact that the trial was to be made
near Pitres, a few miles from Rouen, where there is a green hill,
still known as “La Côte des Deux Amans.” In Rouen there lived a king
who had an only daughter, very fair and beautiful, whose hand was
sought in marriage of many. Loath to part with her, he bethought him
how he could thwart her suitors. To this end he caused it to be
proclaimed far and wide that he would have for son-in-law only him who
could carry his daughter to the top of the hill without pausing to
rest. Many came, but each in turn failed, greatly to the content of
the princess, since secretly she loved, and was loved by, a young
knight who frequented her father’s Court. At last, constrained by
love, the knight, though with much misgiving, determines to undertake
the adventure. Before allowing him to do this, the maiden, in order to
ensure his success, and herself fasting meanwhile, bids him go to
Salerno,[16] near Naples, a school of medicine famous in the Middle
Ages, and ask of her kinswoman there, who was well practised in
medicine, a draught to give him the needful strength for his task.
Returned with this potion, he makes the attempt, but so great is his
desire to reach the goal quickly, that he will not slacken his speed
to drink from the phial carried by his Love, but hastens forward, only
to fall dead as he reaches the summit of the hill.

    [15] Hertz, _op. cit._ p. 396.

    [16] This mention of Salerno is of interest on account of the
    reference to women practising there as medical experts. The
    origin of the School remains in obscurity, and it is not
    until the ninth century, when the names of certain Salerno
    physicians appear in the archives, that we get any definite
    information with regard to it. It seems to have been a purely
    secular institution, but it is quite possible that its
    development was aided by the Benedictines, who became
    established there in the seventh century, and who made
    medical science one of their principal studies. Before the
    middle of the eleventh century there were many women there
    who either practised medicine or acted as professors of the
    science, and some of the latter even combined surgery with
    medicine in their teaching and treatises. These women doctors
    were much sought after by the sick, and were much esteemed by
    their brother-professionals, who cited them as authorities.
    That the sexes were on an equal footing we infer from the
    fact that the title of “master” (Magister) was applied to men
    and women alike, the term “doctor” not having come into use,
    apparently, before the thirteenth century. Besides the
    general practitioners and the professors, there were others
    who fitted themselves specially for military service, as well
    as priests who added medical knowledge to their holy calling.
    The teaching followed that of Hippocrates and Galen, and the
    Salerno school was world-renowned in the art of drug
    preparation. In the thirteenth century, however, Arab medical
    writings began to be known in Europe through Latin
    translations, and Arab practice in medicine, though based on
    Greek teaching, initiated a new departure. As a result of
    this, the glory of Salerno waned. Another cause of its
    decline in fame and popularity was the founding by the
    Emperor Frederick the Second of a school of medicine at
    Naples, which he richly endowed, and the rise, unencumbered
    by old traditions--for medicine, like scholasticism, could be
    hampered by dialectical subtlety--of the school of
    Montpelier.

In this strength-giving potion we may perhaps see the expression of a
Christian, and the survival of a pre-Christian belief, where the
getting of strength and life is only possible through a direct act of
communion, either material or spiritual, with the god. Such world-old
beliefs, in which the supernatural intervenes to help the natural, are
also intimately connected, even if they are not identical, with the
magic of philtres and charms.

We pass from Christian symbolism to magic in the lay of “Yonec.” The
delightful ease with which mediæval folk turned from magic to
religion, or _vice versa_, shows how simply they accepted what they
did not understand. At the same time it proves how intermingled the
two were, and that what some are inclined to separate now, were once
regarded as one and the same thing, the eccentricities and impositions
which have developed in both being of mere external growth, and to be
treated accordingly. In the lay of “Yonec” a young wife, passing fair,
is shut up by her jealous old husband in a great paved chamber in a
tower of his castle, to which no one save an ancient dame and a priest
has admittance. After seven years of this isolation and uncongenial
company, the lady remembers that she has heard tell that means have
been found to rescue the unhappy, and she wishes with all her heart
that deliverance may come to her. Suddenly a shadow comes across the
window, and into her chamber there flies a falcon, which forthwith
changes into a knight. As soon as the lady has recovered from her
surprise, the knight tells her that he has long loved her, but could
not come until she wished for him. Here we have an incident, borrowed
direct from Oriental magic, in which a modern believer in psychical
phenomena might find an element of telepathy. The will, as in all
magic, is the motive power which acts sympathetically on the object of
desire, that object being in a receptive condition. Quickly we turn
from magic, and the story goes on to tell that the lady, before
accepting the knight as her lover, makes it a condition that he
believes in God, and the knight offers to prove his belief by taking
the Sacrament. This demand is evidently in the nature of a protective
test. It was very usual to try some means of discovering whether a
person was in league with the powers of evil or not; for if any one
unworthy touched holy things, retribution came at once, either by
death or some dire visitation. But how is the priest to administer the
Sacrament without seeing the knight? The latter tells her that he will
make himself like her in appearance; in other words, that he will
hypnotise the priest, and make him see what he, the knight, wishes him
to. The ruse succeeds, and for a time all goes well; then comes
discovery, despair, and death. The whole story is a most extraordinary
medley of fairy-lore, religion, and magic, and most characteristic of
the mediæval mind.

The lay of “Eliduc,” the last in the manuscript, is also the longest
and most elaborate. Marie unfolds her story with so certain yet so
subtle a hand, that the reading of it is like the unwinding of some
finely illuminated parchment-roll where miniature follows miniature,
each perfect in itself, yet all needful to the whole. To the charm of
its pictures of mediæval life, with the fine scene between the two
women, and their final reunion in the same convent, there is added an
incident which gives special interest and importance to the story,
since it brings us into touch with one of the oldest and most
widespread of traditions--the restoration to life, from apparent
death, by means of a flower. There are few pursuits more fascinating
than the tracing of traditions, except, it may be, that of symbols,
with which they have so much in common. We find the same traditions,
just as we find the same symbolic figures, common to the most widely
separated peoples, and the real interest in the case of each lies in
trying to discover how and why in the course of their migrations their
form and their significance have been varied or modified. But before
considering the tradition, let us first hear the story.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

BOAT WITH KNIGHTS AND LADY.

Add. MS. 10294, Brit. Mus.

_To face page 49._]

Eliduc, a knight of Brittany, whose wife, Guildeluëc, was very dear to
him, had for over-lord one of the kings of Brittany, with whom, owing
to faithful service, he had gained high favour. Being defamed on this
account by envious tongues, he was banished from Court, and thereupon
determined to quit his country for a while and seek service in the
West of England. With many promises to his wife to be faithful to her,
he set out for Totnes, where he found many kings ruling in the land,
all at war with one another. One of them, a very old man, was ruler in
the province of Exeter, and at war with a neighbouring king on account
of his refusal to give to the latter his daughter, Guilliadun, in
marriage. So Eliduc determined to offer his services to the old king,
by whom they were accepted, and by his tact and prowess he soon proved
himself worthy of the trust reposed in him. Through a skilful ambush,
planned and conducted by him, he defeated the enemy. Guilliadun,
hearing of his deeds, sought an interview with him, and at once fell
in love with him, and after certain maidenly reserve and hesitation,
made her love known to him. This Eliduc secretly returned, but,
troubled at the remembrance of his wife and of his pledge to her, his
courage failed him to confess that he was already wedded. In order to
escape from his dilemma, he sought and obtained the permission of the
old king to avail himself of the entreaty of his liege-lord to return
to his own country to fight against the enemies who were desolating
the kingdom. This permission was granted under his promise to come
back if his services were again required. After pledging himself to
Guilliadun to do this on such a day as she should name, Eliduc,
having exchanged rings with her, and she having named the day for his
return, departed. Having speedily reduced the enemies of his
liege-lord to submission, he came once more to England, and
immediately sent to Guilliadun to apprise her of this, and to beg her
to be ready to start on the morrow. Guilliadun secretly left the
castle the next night and joined her lover, and together they hurried
to Totnes, whence they at once set sail. But as they were nearing
land, a violent storm arose. Finding that prayers were of no avail,
one of the company cried out, “We shall never make the land, for you
have a lawful wife, and you are taking with you another woman, setting
at naught God, the law, and uprightness. Let us cast her into the sea,
and anon we shall get to land.” On hearing these words Guilliadun fell
as one dead, whereupon Eliduc in anger struck the esquire on the head
and hurled him into the sea. When the ship was brought to port
Guilliadun showed no sign of life. So Eliduc, believing her to be
dead, lifted her in his arms, carried her ashore, and, mounting his
horse, sadly bore her to a small chapel in a forest adjoining his own
lands. Here he laid her in front of the altar, and covered her with
his cloak, and then returned to his home. Filled with sadness, he
arose early each morning and went to the chapel to pray for her soul,
marvelling nevertheless to find that the face of his Love suffered no
change except to become a little paler. His wife, made anxious by his
melancholy and silence, and wondering whither he went, had him
watched, and soon discovered the truth. Taking a varlet with her, she
went to the chapel, and there discovered the beautiful maiden, looking
like a new-blown rose, and at once guessed the cause of her husband’s
sadness and gloom. As she sat watching and weeping out of sheer pity,
a weasel ran from behind the altar and passed over the body of
Guilliadun, and the varlet struck it with a stick and killed it. Then
its mate came in and walked round it several times, and finding that
it could not rouse it, made sign of great sorrow and ran out into the
wood, and returning with a red flower between its teeth put it into
the mouth of its dead companion, which within an hour came to life
again. Guildeluëc, seeing this, seized the flower and laid it in the
mouth of the maiden, who after a short time sighed and opened her
eyes. Then she told Guildeluëc that she was a king’s daughter, and had
been deceived by a knight called Eliduc, whom she loved, and who
returned her love, but who had hidden from her that he was already
married. Guildeluëc thereupon made known to her who she was, and sent
at once for her husband. When he came, she begged him to build a
nunnery, and to allow her to retire from the world, as she would fain
give herself to the service of God. When the nunnery was ready,
Guildeluëc took the veil, with some thirty nuns, of whom she became
the Superior. Then Eliduc wedded his love, and after some years of
happiness they too resolved to retire from the world, Guilliadun
joining Guildeluëc, who received her as a sister, and Eliduc going to
a monastery which he had founded near by.[17]

    [17] M. Gaston Paris (_Poésie du Moyen Age_, vol. ii.), in
    recalling various legends of “Le Mari aux deux femmes,”
    suggests that the present story, borrowed by Marie from
    Celtic tradition, is probably of Occidental, and not
    Oriental, origin, since in the polygamous East the story of
    two wives would not have furnished a sufficient motive for a
    special narration.

In this charming romance, given here in epitome only, the two most
interesting points, after noting the mutual suffering of the lovers
for love’s sake, are the episode of the sacrifice to the sea, and that
of the weasel and the life-giving flower. Both these incidents point
to the great antiquity of the fundamental theme of the story, which
Marie, possibly like many another before her, merely reclothed in
garments suited to the fancy of the time. In most stories where the
sea has to be appeased by the sacrifice of some one, it is the guilty
person who is thrown overboard, or if the offender is not known, lots
are cast to determine who shall be the one to make expiation to the
god. In the present instance Eliduc is clearly the wrong-doer, but he
is the hero, and must be treated as such, and accordingly the hostile
voice is the one to be silenced in the depths of the sea.

The other incident--the restoration to life by means of a flower or a
herb--frequently occurs in classical stories and folk-lore.[18]
Perhaps the most familiar example, and, owing to the recent
excavations in Crete, the most interesting one, is that connected with
Glaucos, son of Minos, king of Crete. In the story (Apollod. iii. 3)
Glaucos when a boy fell into a cask of honey and was smothered. His
father, ignorant of his fate, consulted the oracle to ascertain what
had become of him, and the seer Polyeidos of Argos was named to
discover him. When he had found him, Minos shut Polyeidos up in the
tomb with the dead body of the boy until he should restore the latter
to life. Whilst Polyeidos was watching the body, a serpent suddenly
came towards it and touched it. Polyeidos killed the serpent, and
immediately a second one came, which, seeing the other one lying dead,
disappeared and soon returned with a certain herb in its mouth. This
it laid on the mouth of the dead serpent, which immediately came to
life again. Polyeidos seized the herb and placed it on the mouth of
the dead boy, who was thereupon restored to life.

    [18] Warnke, _op. cit._ civ.; Hertz, _op. cit._ p. 409.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

GLAUKOS AND POLYEIDOS IN TOMB.

Greek Vase, Brit. Mus.

_To face page 52._]

This story is most graphically depicted on a fifth-century Greek vase
in the British Museum, and, whatever its real interpretation may be,
it has gained in significance since the life of the distant past of
the island has been laid bare, and large jars, which in all
probability were used for storing wine and honey and other
necessaries, and from their size and contents might well have
proved a snare to a venturesome and greedy boy, have been discovered
_in situ_. After a lapse of many centuries we find this idea of the
life-giving plant reappearing in mediæval garb, daintily fashioned by
Marie de France.

Marie, in her story, tells us that the weasel brings a _red_ flower.
This was possibly the verbena, well known in folk-medicine as vervain,
and much used in the Middle Ages. According to one writer, the weasel
uses vervain as a preservative against snake-bites, and this idea of
its effect might easily have been extended to include death. Even so
great an authority as Aristotle mentions that the weasel understood
the potent effects of certain herbs. The intervention of a weasel
instead of the usual serpent opens up the further interesting question
as to whether this weasel incident was not imported from India, where
Greek stories had become alloyed with Indian lore. Even to-day, in
India, a mongoose, a species of weasel, is sometimes taken on
expeditions by any one fearful of snakes, and kept at night in the
tent as a protection against them.

In addition to the choice of a weasel as medium, the unusual colour of
the flower is also of interest. Giraldus Cambrensis, writing in the
twelfth century on the subject of weasels, after remarking that they
have more heart than body (_plus cordis habens quam corporis_), goes
on to say that they restore their dead by means of a _yellow_ flower,
and in the still earlier record of the Lydian hero Tylon, where a
serpent is the intermediary--and serpents are often credited with a
knowledge of life-giving plants,--reference is made to a _golden_
flower.[19] This may possibly be connected with the idea of the
life-giving power of the god, since the golden flower is dedicated to
Zeus. Professor J. G. Frazer thinks that a red flower may perhaps have
been chosen to suggest a flow of blood--an infusion of fresh life into
the veins of the dead. It is also possible that red and yellow may
have been interchangeable terms, just as they are to-day amongst the
Italian peasantry. The choice of colour may, however, have been
derived from the red anemone, which is said to have sprung from the
blood of Adonis, with whom love and life are traditionally associated.
There are some, on the other hand, who ascribe to the story a deep
spiritual meaning. With them it is not the flower itself which brings
about resurrection from apparent death, but the spiritual truth of
which the flower is but the outward symbol. It may be that the red
blossom represents the joys of earth which Eliduc’s wife voluntarily
renounces, and which, surrendered to her rival, in time became like a
burning thing whose fiery touch awakens to life the sleeping
conscience. In a story such as this, which has evidently travelled far
and wide before we find it in England in the eleventh century, it is
possible that any or all of these surmises may be true. The whole of
this incident of the weasel and the flower, read in the original, is
of extraordinary interest and beauty. What a touching picture of
animal sensibility is the account of the despair of the weasel on
finding its dead mate, and its tender display of solicitude and
sympathy, raising the lifeless head and trying to reanimate the small
inert body! Only one who loved animals and knew their habits well
could have told thus tenderly and graphically a story so simple, yet
so suggestive, of the love of two sentient things, a love which runs
like a thread of gold through all creation and makes it one.

    [19] J. G. Frazer, _Adonis, Attis, Osiris_, p. 98.

The twelfth century was an age of humanism as well as feudalism. As
often happens in times of comparative peace, a growth of interest in
the individual was springing up and finding expression in lyric poetry
and stories. The day of epics was waning. Those vast and involved
poems, like to huge and complex frescoes, found little favour at a
time when men and women, or at least women, had more leisure and
inclination to try to get below the surface of things. Heroes had been
glorified till they had almost become deified, and something more
personal, more individual, was wanted. By the side of modern romance,
where the most sacred and secret intricacies of human nature are, as
it were, displayed under the microscope, Marie’s narrations may seem
somewhat artless. But in putting into words the dawning desires of her
time she gave form and impetus to feeling and thought struggling for
expression, and gained for her work a definite place in the
development of human utterance. Evolution, whether of the spirit or of
matter, is the supreme law of things. Marie struck a spark from the
ideal which poets and writers down the ages have fanned into a flame.



A THIRTEENTH-CENTURY MYSTIC AND BEGUINE, MECHTHILD OF MAGDEBURG


The triumphant ecclesiasticism of the thirteenth century, manifested
in the forms of political power, material wealth, splendid
architecture, and worldly positions sufficiently commanding to satisfy
even the most ambitious, was, perhaps naturally, accompanied by a
gross materialism. Against this the truly pious-minded revolted,
thereby causing a reaction towards mysticism. Whilst before the eyes
of some there floated, as the ideal, the material ladder leading to
fame and power, before those of others there arose, as in a vision,
the “Ladder of Perfection,” each rung of which gained brought them
nearer to the object of their quest--Divine Reality. These latter,
whether of great, or lesser, or even of no renown, and amongst whom
women played a great and very notable part, were scattered far and
wide; but each one cultivated some little corner of the mystic garden.
One such garden was the Cistercian convent of Helfta, near Eisleben,
in Saxony, in the thirteenth century a centre of mystic tendencies.
It was here that, harassed and ill, Mechthild of Magdeburg took
refuge, and entered as a nun in 1270. But we are anticipating.

Mechthild, at first a beguine, and afterwards a nun, but a visionary
from the days of her childhood, was born, most probably of noble
parents, in the diocese of Magdeburg, in 1212. That she is perhaps
better known to the general reader than are other contemplatives of
her day is probably due to the suggestion that she may be the Matilda
immortalised by Dante in the “Earthly Paradise” (_Purg._ xxviii. 22
_seq._), rather than to her own writings. This may be partly because
the personality of that supreme visionary and poet tended, as does all
superlative genius, to cast a shadow over the lesser lights of both
earlier and later times, and partly because, although Mechthild’s
works were early translated into Latin, she wrote in Low German.
Though this original MS. has not yet been found, there exists one,
translated into High German in 1345 at Basle (a centre of the “Friends
of God”) by the Dominican, Heinrich von Nördlingen, by which
Mechthild’s work has been made known to us, but the language even of
this proves a very real stumbling-block to the most strenuous student.
Still, by recording her thoughts and visions in the language of her
country and her day, she gained a lay audience, a result which would
have been hardly possible if she herself had been a classic. But
though no classic--for she says Latin was difficult to her--she
evidently, as her work shows, grew up under the influence of courtly
life, and knew the language of minstrels. She tells us that her mind
was turned to the spiritual life when she was but twelve years of age,
and that from that time worldly glory and riches became distasteful to
her. Like the visionary and Saint, Theresa of Avila, of 300 years
later, she took into her confidence her younger brother, Baldwin, who
later, perhaps under her influence, became a Dominican. What we know
of her, we know from her writings, which exist in the above-mentioned
unique MS. (No. 277) now in the monastery Library of Einsiedeln, a
foundation south of the Lake of Zurich, and still one of the most
famous of pilgrim resorts. In seeking to know more of the history of
this MS. we get a most interesting and intimate glimpse of the methods
in religious centres in bygone days, when MSS. were few. In quite
early times--how early is not known--there dwelt in the valleys round
about Einsiedeln certain devout women-recluses, who later lived, as a
community, in four houses, and, ultimately, in a convent. They were
called “Forest Sisters,” a name which may well express the poetry and
peace of their life and surroundings. Whilst they were still living in
the detached houses, the MS. was, through Heinrich von Rumerschein of
Basle, sent by Margaret of the Golden Ring, a beguine of that town, to
the one called “The Front Meadow.” Heinrich addresses the gift “To
the Sisters in the Front Meadow.” “You shall know that the book that
is sent by her of the Golden Ring is called _The Light of the
Godhead_, and to this you shall give good heed. It shall also serve in
all the houses of the wood, and shall never leave the wood, and shall
remain a month in each house. Also it shall go from one to another as
required, and you shall take special care of it. Pray for me who was
your Confessor, though, alas, unworthy.”

In 1235, at the age of twenty-three, Mechthild--not without many a
heart-pang, and prompted to this determination by a troubled
conscience, a determination doubtless brought about by the preaching
of the Dominican friars, who were stirring all classes by their
impassioned zeal--left her home and went to Magdeburg, where she
entered a settlement of beguines. These settlements, semi-monastic in
character, were provided to afford some protection, by living in
community, for women who, whilst devoting themselves to a religious
life, did not wish to separate themselves wholly from the world. It
was at the time of the Crusades, when the land teemed with desolate
women, that their numbers increased so greatly, and the first
beguinage was founded about the beginning of the thirteenth century.
The beguine took no vows, could return to the world and marry if she
so desired, and did not renounce her property. If she was without
means, she neither asked nor accepted alms, but supported herself by
manual labour or by teaching the children of burghers, whilst those
who were able to do so spent their time in taking care of the sick or
in other charitable offices. Each community, with a “Grand-Mistress”
at its head, was complete in itself, and regulated its own order of
living, though, later, many of them adopted the rule of the Third
Order of St. Francis.

Mechthild tells us that she knew but one person in Magdeburg, and that
even from this one she kept away for fear lest she might waver in her
determination. In this very human way she indicated that her spiritual
adventure was no easy matter to her, as, indeed, it could not be so
long as her temperament and ideals were at variance. But gradually,
she says, she got so much joy from communion with God that she could
dispense with the world. As has been well said, “La loi des lois c’est
que tout morceau de l’univers venu de Dieu retourne à Dieu et veut
retourner à lui.”

The book of her writings, which, under divine direction as she opens
by saying, she calls _The Flowing Light of the Godhead_,[20] is
composed of seven parts, of which six appear to have been written down
during the time she was a beguine at Magdeburg, and were collected and
arranged by a Dominican friar, Heinrich von Halle, whilst the
seventh, consisting of sundry visions and teachings during the last
years of her life, was put together just before her death at Helfta in
1282, and, as she pathetically adds, “by strange eyes and hands.” In
all of these, whilst reflecting in them her inmost feelings, she
expresses her entire dependence on spiritual help and inspiration.
“The writing of this book,” she says, “is seen and heard and felt in
every limb. I see it with the eyes of my soul, and hear it with the
ears of my eternal spirit, and feel in every part of my body the power
of the Holy Ghost.”

    [20] P. Gall. Morel, _Offenbarungen der Schwester Mechthild
    von Magdeburg, oder das fliessende Licht der Gottheit_,
    Regensburg, 1869.

The general tenor of her writings is contemplative and prophetic.
Whilst, as a contemplative, she reminds us of Suso, as a reformer,
proclaiming her prophetic warnings, she recalls to us St. Hildegarde,
though the latter was a more astute and powerful reasoner. It would
seem as if, in general, there are two conflicting tendencies in minds
such as Mechthild’s, a tendency to tradition--in her case, of course,
church tradition--and a tendency to definite self-expression. With
Mechthild it was certainly that of self-expression which predominated,
for whilst, with her, both co-operated to make a beautiful whole, it
was in detail and ornament, so to speak, rather than in the design
itself, that she showed her special qualities and gifts. Further, as a
mystic, she may be classed with those “for whom mysticism is above all
things an intimate and personal relation, the satisfaction of a deep
desire,” and who therefore fall back “upon imagery drawn largely from
the language of earthly passion,” as opposed to the mystic whose
“longing is to go out from his normal world in search of a lost home,
a better country,” as well as to the one whose “craving is for inward
purity and perfection.”[21]

    [21] For the suggestive elaboration of this threefold
    classification, see Evelyn Underhill, _Mysticism_, chap. vi.
    p. 151 _seq._

In order to enter into the spirit of her writings, and particularly
the prophetic ones, it is necessary to consider how the character and
style of her work was induced and affected, on the one hand by her
environment and her time, and on the other by her saintly nature and
poetic temperament, as well as by her intimate and personal attitude
towards things touching the inner life.

The world, in Mechthild’s day, was in a state of unrest and of
looked-for change. Mankind was ever haunted by forebodings of the
approaching happening of something momentous. Whole-hearted faith in
the Church was waning, and although outward conformity still
prevailed, there existed very diverse opinions, tolerated so long as
they did not become too obtrusive. Prophetic writings, giving
expression to the yearnings of the time--yearnings fomented and
fostered by the prevailing misery caused, in no small degree, by the
wars between Pope and Emperor--taught that the world was on the brink
of a new era. One of the most influential of these writings, entitled
_The Eternal Gospel_, and said to embody the revelations of Abbot
Joachim of Flora (1130-1202), proclaimed that the dispensations of God
the Father and God the Son--the first two eras of the Church--were
past or passing, and that these would be succeeded by a third
era--that of the Holy Ghost--when men’s eyes would be opened by the
Spirit, and when there would be a time of perfection and freedom,
without the necessity of disciplinary institutions. In this fair age
it was the hermits, monks, and nuns who, whilst not superseding the
rulers of the Church, were to lead it into new paths, for to Joachim
the visible Church could not, where all is moving, remain unchanged,
and his counsel was, to keep pace with the advancing world. Naturally
such sentiments aroused ecclesiastical alarm, and, later, were
condemned by the fourth Lateran Council (1215), though Dante, withal a
good son of the Church, made bold to see in Paradise the “Abbott
Joachim, endowed with prophetic Spirit” (_Par._ xii. 140).[22] When
Mechthild wrote her predictions on the last days, Joachim’s teachings,
owing to the stir which their unorthodoxy had created--not only in the
Church and amongst the preaching friars, but also in the University of
Paris, whence all manner of polemical discussions freely
circulated--were well known in Germany, and there can be but little
doubt that Mechthild knew of them, probably from the Dominicans, who
found special favour in her sight, and that they greatly influenced
her own prophetic warnings to the Church.

    [22] Cf. Edmund G. Gardner, _Joachim of Flora and the
    Everlasting Gospel_. Franciscan Essays, Bri. Soc. of Fran.
    Studies, extra series, vol. i.

From these objective conditions which, whilst influencing Mechthild’s
own thoughts and works, might and did, however differently, influence
the work of others as well, we turn to the consideration of her work
as the expression of her own poetic soul, welling up from depths
filled with love for the highest and most divine things. Before all
else we recognise how richly endowed she was with visionary powers and
poetic feeling. She revels in beautiful fantasies, as, for instance,
when she says, “If I were to speak one little word of the choirs of
heaven, it would be no more than the honey that a bee can carry away
on its feet from a full-blown flower.” With rapture she touches upon
the deepest questions of the soul’s life, and the highest truths and
mysteries of belief, so that in her flights of contemplation her prose
becomes poetry, impelled, like some torrent, by the rush of her
emotion.

    O thou God, out-pouring in thy gift!
    O thou God, o’erflowing in thy love!
    O thou God, all burning in thy desire!
    O thou God, melting in union with thy body!
    O thou God, reposing on my breast!
        Without Thee, never could I live.

But even so, she does not lose the sense of form or of the
picturesque. Some of her writings are clothed in language recalling
the Song of Songs, and are, perhaps, echoes of St. Bernard’s sermons
on that wondrous allegory of the Spiritual Bridegroom and Bride, as
when, in a transport, and attempting to express how God comes to the
Soul, she exclaims--

    I come to my Beloved
    Like dew upon the flowers.

Others suggest reflections of courtly life and poetry, and at the same
time seem to anticipate pictures of the Celestial Garden, bright and
blossoming, where Saints tread in measured unison, symbolic of their
spiritual felicity and harmony. So with her didactic writings, or with
her predictions concerning the decay and corruption in the Church, in
which, like some prophet of old, she declaims against such evils in no
sparing terms, all alike are fraught with a special grace. In them all
the most intimate and the most sublime meet in one expression--the
expression of a soul which sees God in all things, and all things in
God.

During the thirty years which Mechthild spent as a beguine at
Magdeburg, she lived an austere life, and one beset with difficulties,
largely created by the fearless way in which she warned and denounced
those in high places in the Church. In such denunciations she was not
alone, or without good example, for--to name two only of those who
stand out pre-eminently on account of their positions and
personalities--St. Bernard and St. Hildegarde had both sternly
denounced the evils in the Church. “The insolence of the Clergy,” says
St. Bernard, “troubles the earth, and molests the Church. The Bishops
give what is holy to the dogs, and pearls to swine.” But the poor
beguine, Mechthild, was not in the same powerful position to stay, or
even to modify, the resentment which her attacks occasioned. “For more
than twenty years was I bound with thee on a hideous gridiron,” she
writes, likening her anguish to that of St. Lawrence. Nevertheless
solace came to her troubled spirit, for, having been warned that it
had been said of her writings that they deserved to be burnt, she
tells how she prayed to God, as had been her wont when in trouble, and
that He told her not to mistrust her powers, since they were from Him,
and that no one can burn the Truth.

In many passages Mechthild dwells on the clergy, and her
reflections--some very practical, others, to those not versed in
symbolism, very quaint--seem to suggest how grievously lacking she
considered them to be. Writing in God’s name to a canon, she begins by
saying that we should, in common with all men, give thanks to our
Heavenly Father for the Divine gift which day by day, and without
ceasing, pours forth from the Holy Trinity into sinful hearts, and
then she quaintly adds, “For that it soars so high, the Eagle owes no
thanks to the Owl.” Furthermore, she calls upon the priest to pray
more, to pay his debts in full, and to live simply, and thus, with
humble heart, to set a good example, and, with many other admonitions,
she also counsels him to have two rods by his bedside, so that he may
chastise himself when he awakes. Mechthild adds that she asked of God
how such an one could keep himself without sin in this earthly state,
and that God made answer: “He shall keep himself always in fear, like
a mouse that sits in a trap and awaits its death. When he eats, he
shall be frugal and meek, and when he sleeps, he shall be chaste, and
alone with Me.”

Touching upon some of the duties of a prior--and here she shows
herself eminently practical--she writes: “Thou shalt go every day to
the infirmary, and soothe the sick with the solace of God’s word, and
comfort them bounteously with earthly things, for God is rich beyond
all richness. Thou shalt keep the sick cleanly, and be merry with them
in a godly manner. Thou shalt also go into the kitchen, and see that
the needs of the brethren are well cared for, and that thy parsimony,
and the cook’s laziness, rob not our Lord of the sweet song of the
choir, for never did starving priest sing well. Moreover, a hungry man
can do no deep study, and thus must God, through such default, lose
the best prayers.” From advice to the priesthood, Mechthild turns to
warning, and pours forth her reproaches and forebodings with poetic
intensity. “Alas, O thou Crown of Holy Christendom, how greatly hast
thou lost lustre! Thy jewels are fallen out, since thou dost outrage
and bring dishonour on the holy Christian vows. Thy gold has become
tarnished in the morass of unchastity, for thou art become degenerate,
and art lacking in true love. Thy abstinence is consumed by the
ravenous fire of gluttony, thy humility is drowned in the slough of
the flesh, thy word no longer avails against the lies of the world,
the flowers of all the virtues have fallen from thee. Alas, O thou
Crown of the holy Priesthood, how diminished thou art, and verily thou
now possessest naught but priestly power, with the which thou fightest
against God and His elect. For this will God humble thee, ere thou
learnest wisdom. For thus saith the Lord: ‘My shepherds of Jerusalem
have become murderers and wolves, for that they slay before My very
eyes the white lambs, and the sheep are all sickly for that they may
not eat of the wholesome pasture that grows on the high mountains, the
which is godly love and holy doctrine.’ He who knows not the way that
leads to Hell, let him give heed to the unholy clergy, who, with wives
and children and many heinous sins, go straightway thither.”

Whilst condemning the priesthood, Mechthild eulogises nunnery life in
an allegory entitled “The Ghostly Cloister,” in which she pictures the
virtues as dwelling. “Charity” is the abbess, who with zeal takes care
of the congregation in both body and soul; “Godly Humility” is the
chaplain; “The Holy Peace of God” is the prioress; and “Loving
Kindness” is the sub-prioress. “Hope” is the chantress, filled with
holy, humble devotion, that the heart’s feebleness may sound beautiful
in song before God, so that God may love the notes that sing in the
heart; “Wisdom” is the schoolmistress, who with all good-will teaches
the ignorant, so that the convent is held holy and honoured; “Bounty”
is the cellaress; “Mercy” the stewardess; and “Pity” the sick-nurse.
The provost, or priest, is “Godly Obedience,” to whom all these
virtues are subject. “Thus does the convent abide in God, and happy
are they who dwell therein.”

From this spiritual abode of the virtues we turn to one of Mechthild’s
earliest recorded visions--that of Hell, with its flame and flare.
Whilst Death was perhaps man’s first mystery, the Hereafter has been
his endless pre-occupation. Whatever his country or his time, he has
ever sought to lift the veil which hides the future, portraying his
vain efforts in symbol. In Mechthild’s time her world was engrossed
with thoughts and speculations concerning the Hereafter, for Death,
which at the end of the next century was to take dramatic and
pictorial form in the weird and all-embracing “Dance of Death,”
although its earliest known poetic form is of 1160, ever hovered near
in pestilence, war, and tumult. Whilst some expressed themselves in
carved stone, or on painted wall, others, as did Mechthild, realised
their visions and ideas in a wealth of word-pictures. Such visions
and ideas had accumulated adown the ages, varying but slightly one
from another, and Mechthild, in making use of this stereotyped
material, only took from, or added to, the general sum. Yet even so,
she contrives to make her personality felt. She begins: “I have seen a
place whose name is Eternal Hatred.” Lucifer, farthest removed from
the source of Light, forms the foundation-stone, and around him are
arranged the deadly sins. Above him are the Christians, then the Jews,
and, farthest removed from Hell’s dire depths, the Heathen. Horror
upon horror follows, like those pictured a hundred years before by
Herrad von Landsperg, abbess at Hohenburg, in Alsace, and, fifty years
later, by Dante, and when she concludes by saying that, after seeing
the terrors of Hell, all her five senses were paralysed for three
days, as if struck by lightning, it is significant that Dante tells
that, overwhelmed with sorrow for the lovers, doomed for ever to be
borne upon the winds, he “fainted with pity ... and fell, as a dead
body falls.”

It is with a sense of relief that we leave such sad scenes, to glance
at her vision of Paradise, although it does not follow in this
sequence in her recorded revelations, for, as seems fitting, it is one
of the very latest. Calling it “a glimpse of Paradise,” she says that
“of the length and breadth of Paradise there is no end.” Then she
continues--and this is especially interesting because it is in this
opening that some commentators have seen the connecting link with
Dante[23]--that between this world and it, she came to a spot--the
Earthly Paradise--where she saw trees and fresh grass and no weeds.
Some of the trees bore apples, but most of them sweetly scented
leaves. Swift streams flowed through it, and warm winds were wafted
from the north. The air was sweeter than words can tell. Here, she
adds, there were no animals or birds, for God has reserved it for
mankind alone, so that he may dwell there undisturbed. This seems to
strike a strange note coming from the poetess Mechthild. How different
is her sentiment from that of her brother-mystic, St. Francis, to whom
the birds were his “little sisters,” and who “loved above all other
birds a certain little bird which is called the lark.” But though,
with apparent satisfaction, Mechthild saw no birds, she did see Enoch
and Elias, and greeted the former by questioning him as to how he came
there. Holy Writ has supplied the only answer, “He walked with God,
and he was not, for God took him.” Having spoken thus of the Earthly
Paradise, Mechthild goes on to tell of the Heavenly, where she sees,
“floating in rapture, as the air floats in the sunshine,” the souls
which, though not deserving of Purgatory, are not yet come into God’s
kingdom, and to whom rewards and crowns come not until they enter that
kingdom. She then concludes by saying that “all the kingdoms of this
world shall perish, and the earthly and the heavenly Paradise shall
pass away, and all shall dwell together in God”--the Empyrean of
Dante, where he “saw ingathered, bound by love in one volume, the
scattered leaves of all the universe; substance and accidents and
their relations, as though together fused, after such fashion that
what I tell of is one simple flame.”

    [23] The tendency of present-day Italian scholarship seems in
    favour of identifying Mechthild of Hackeborn, rather than
    Mechthild of Magdeburg, with Dante’s Matelda.

In her very varied writings many beautiful and suggestive thoughts are
to be found, as, for instance, when “Understanding” converses with
“Conscience,” and accuses Conscience of being at the same time both
proud and humble, and Conscience explains that she is proud because
she is in touch with God, and humble because she has done so few good
works. And again, when “Understanding” and “the Soul” hold converse.
Understanding, desirous of knowing everything, asks the Soul why such
brilliant light radiates from her, and the Soul replies by inquiring
why Understanding asks this, seeing that she is so much wiser than the
Soul. When Understanding would still penetrate the unspeakable secrecy
between God and the Soul, the Soul refuses to answer, since, as she
explains, to her alone is given union with God, to which Understanding
can never attain. Or, again, when Mechthild, telling how the Soul, no
longer led by the Senses, but leading them to the desired goal, says,
“It is a wondrous journey along which the true soul progresses, and
leads with it the senses, as a man with sight leads one who is blind.
On this journey the soul is free and without sorrow, since it desires
naught but to serve its Lord, who orders all things for the best.”

Of Prayer, which to her was “naught else but yearning of soul,” she
says, “It makes a sour heart sweet, a sad heart merry, a poor heart
rich, a dull heart wise, a timid heart bold, a weak heart strong, a
blind heart seeing, a cold heart burning. It draws the great God down
into the small heart, it drives the hungry soul out to the full God,
it brings together the two lovers, God and the soul, into a blissful
place, where they speak much of love.”

Again, in a spirit of self-examination, she writes: “What most of all
hinders the spiritually-minded from full perfection is, that they pay
so little heed to small sins. I tell you, of a truth, that when I
abstain from a laugh that would hurt no one, or hide some soreness of
heart, or feel a little impatience at my own pain, my soul becomes so
dark, and my mind so dull, and my heart so cold, that I am constrained
to pray heartily and long, and humbly to make confession of all my
faults. Then grace comes again to wretched me, and I creep back like a
beaten dog into the kitchen.”

But all these and kindred thoughts pale before her discourses on love.
Love was the keynote of her life. She was born a poetess; she became a
saint. How sorely she strove towards this end, and spent herself in
conflict between self-control and ecstasy, no words can tell. It was
only when Purgation’s way was partly trod, and she had “found in Pain
the grave but kindly teacher of immortal secrets,” that she could say,
“Lord, I bring Thee my treasure, which is greater than the mountains,
wider than the world, deeper than the sea, higher than the clouds,
more beautiful than the sun, more manifold than the stars, and which
outweighs all the earth.” Then asks the voice of God: “How is this thy
treasure called, oh Image of my Divinity?”

“Lord, it is called my heart’s desire. I have withdrawn it from the
world, kept it to myself, and denied it to all creatures. Now no
longer would I carry it. Lord, where shall I lay it?”

“Nowhere shalt thou lay thy heart’s desire save in My own Divine
heart. There only wilt thou find comfort.”

Love and knowledge, the two aspirations of the soul after ultimate
truth, are her frequent theme. Sometimes she contrasts Love with the
knowledge of the understanding: “Those who would know much, and love
little, will ever remain at but the beginning of a godly life. So we
must have a constant care how we may please God therein. Simple love,
with but little knowledge, can do great things”; sometimes with the
knowledge of the heart--“To the wise soul, love without knowledge
seems darkness, knowledge without fruition, the very pain of Hell.
Fruition can be reached only through Death.” In one of her visions
she, in an exquisite simile, describes how love flows from the Godhead
to mankind, penetrating both body and soul. “It goes without effort,”
she says, “as does a bird in the air when it does not move its wings.”
In the same vision she sees the Holy Mother, with uncovered breasts,
standing on God’s left hand, and Christ on the right, showing his
still-open wounds, both pleading for sinful humanity, and she adds
that as long as sin endures on earth, so long will Christ’s wounds
remain open and bleeding, though painless, but that after the Day of
Judgment they will heal, and it will be as though there was a
rose-leaf instead of the wounds.[24]

    [24] The first of these subjects--the Holy Mother and Christ
    pleading for sinners--is to be found in a miniature in King
    Henry VI.’s Psalter (Brit. Mus. Cotton MS. Domitian. A. xvii.
    _circ._ 1430, fol. 205), and the two intercessions separately
    form two of the subjects in the _Speculum Humanae
    Salvationis_ (fourteenth century). Though the _S.H.S._ is of
    later date than the time of Mechthild the literary source of
    the subject appears to be a passage in the _De laudibus
    B.M.V._ of Arnaud of Chartres, abbot of Bonneval 1138-1156
    (J. Lutz and P. Perdrizet, _Spec. Hum. Sal._ vol. i.,
    Mulhouse, 1907), which might quite well have been known to
    her, especially if, as Messrs. Lutz and Perdrizet consider,
    the _S.H.S._ was written by a Dominican, who would naturally
    make use of Dominican teaching and tradition, and we know
    that Mechthild, even if not, as has been suggested, a
    tertiary of that Order, was in constant and close touch with
    it. The second subject, the reference to rose-leaves and
    Christ’s wounds, seems to be a purely original thought, and
    one amongst the many fascinating ideas that have centred
    round the rose ever since Aphrodite anointed the dead body of
    Hector with rose-scented oil (_Iliad_, xxiii. 186).

Of Love, as she conceived it in relation to herself individually, she
can never write enough. “I also may not suffer that any single comfort
move me, save my love alone. I love my earthly friends in a heavenly
fellowship, and I love my enemies with a holy longing for their
salvation. God has enough of all good things, save of union with the
soul.”

But where Mechthild seems to strike an original note for her time is
in her insistence on God’s craving for the soul, as well as the soul’s
craving for God. We find the same insistence in Meister Eckhart, who
followed her closely in time, and perhaps, in this respect, in thought
also. “God needs man,” says Eckhart, quite simply. And again, “God can
do as little without us as we without Him.” With Mechthild it is from
ecstasy to ecstasy that “heart speaks to heart.” Says the soul of
Mechthild: “Lord, Thou art ever sick of love for me, and that hast
Thou Thyself well proved. Thou hast written me in the Book of the
Godhead. Thou hast fashioned me after Thine own image. Thou hast bound
me hand and foot to Thy side. O grant it to me, Beloved, to anoint
Thee.”

“Where wilt thou get thine ointment, dear one?”

“Lord, I will tear my happy heart in twain, and lay Thee therein.”

“It is the most precious ointment thou couldest give Me, that I should
evermore hover in thy soul.”

Further God says: “I longed for thee ere the world was. I long for
thee, and thou longest for me. When two burning desires come together,
then is love perfected.”

Sometimes the loving soul traverses a dark way, and cries out in
desolation and despair: “Lord, since Thou hast taken from me all that
I had of Thee, yet of Thy grace leave me that gift which every dog has
by nature--that in my distress I may be true to Thee, without any
ill-will. This do I truly desire more than all Thy heavenly kingdom.”

And Divine Love makes answer: “Sweet Dove, now list to me. Thy secret
seeking must needs find me, thy heart’s distress must needs compel me,
thy loving pursuit has so wearied me, that I long to cool myself in
thy pure soul in the which I am imprisoned. The throbbing sighs of thy
sore heart have driven my justice from thee. All is right between me
and thee. I cannot be sundered from thee. However far we are parted,
never can we be separated. I cause thee extreme pain of body. If I
gave myself to thee as oft as thou wouldst, I should thus deprive
myself of the sweet shelter I have in thee in this world.”

Again the soul cries out--but now discomfited by the Divine Love from
whose tireless quest there is no escape--“Thou hast pursued and
captured and bound me, and hast wounded me so deeply that never shall
I be healed. Thou hast given me many a hard blow. Tell me, shall I
ever get whole from Thee? Shall I not be slain by Thee? Thus would it
have been better for me if that I had never known Thee.”

Then answers Love: “That I pursued thee gave me delight. That I made
thee captive was my desire. That I bound thee was my joy. When I
wounded thee, then did I become one with thee. Thus I give thee hard
blows so that I may be possessed of thee. I drove Almighty God from
His heavenly kingdom, and took from Him His mortal life, and have
restored Him with honour to His Father. How canst thou, poor worm,
save thyself from me?”

Of all Mechthild’s visions, there is none that seems to reach a
greater height of supreme beauty than that in which the loving soul
learns the way to its Divine Lover. It is strangely reminiscent of
courtly life and courtly poetry, translated into the ecstatic state,
and etherealised into the very perfume of spirituality as the soul
becomes one with God. Having passed the distress of repentance, the
pain of confession, and the labour of penance, and having overcome the
love of the World, the tempting of the Devil, and its own self-will,
the soul, weary, and longing for her Divine Lover and God, cries out:
“Beautiful Youth, I long for thee. Where shall I find thee?”

Then says the youth: “I hear a voice which speaks somewhat of love.
Many days have I wooed her, but never have I heard her voice. Now I am
moved. I must go to meet her. She it is who bears grief and love
together. In the morning in the dew is the most intimate rapture which
first penetrates the soul.”

Then speak her Chamberlains, which are the live senses: “Lady, thou
must adorn thyself. We have heard a whisper that the Prince comes to
meet thee in the dew, and the sweet song of the birds. Tarry not,
Lady.”

So she puts on a shift of gentle humility, so humble that nothing
could be more so, and over it a white robe of pure chastity, so pure
that she cannot endure thoughts, words, or desires which might stain
it. Then she wraps herself in a cloak of holy desire, which she has
wrought in gold with all the virtues. So she goes into the wood, which
is the company of holy people. The sweetest nightingales sing there,
day and night, of the right union with God. She tries to join in the
festal dance, that is, to imitate the example of the elect. Then comes
the youth and says to her: “Thou shalt dance merrily even as my
Elect.” And she answers: “I cannot dance, Lord, if Thou dost not lead
me. If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully, Thou must first Thyself sing.
Then will I leap for love, from love to knowledge, from knowledge to
fruition, from fruition to beyond all human senses. There will I
remain, and circle evermore.”[25]

    [25] It may be recalled that Dante (_Par._ xxiv.) sees the
    Saints in Paradise as circling lights from whence issues
    divine song, and again (_Par._ xxv.) “wheeling round in such
    guise as their burning love befitted.”

Then speaks the youth: “Thy dance of praise is well done. Thou shalt
have thy will, for thou art heartily wearied. Come at mid-day to the
shady fountain, to the bed of love. There shalt thou be refreshed.”

Then, weary of the dance, the soul says to her Chamberlains, the
senses: “Withdraw from me, I must go where I may cool myself.”

Then say the senses: “Lady, wilt thou be refreshed with the loving
tears of St. Mary Magdalene? They may well suffice thee.”

“Be silent, sirs; you know not what I mean. Hinder me not. I would
drink for a space of the unmingled wine.”

“Lady, in the Virgin’s chastity the great love is reached.”

“That may be. For me it is not the highest.”

“Lady, thou mightst cool thyself in the martyrs’ blood.”

“I have been martyred many a day, so that I have no need to come to
that now.”

“Lady, bright are the angels, and lovely in love’s hue. Wouldst thou
cool thyself, be lifted up with them.”

“The bliss of the angels brings me love’s woe unless I see their Lord,
my Bridegroom.”

“Lady, if thou comest there, thou wilt be blinded quite, so fiery hot
is the Godhead, as thou thyself well knowest, for the fire and the
glow which make heaven and all the holy ones burn and shine, all flow
from His divine breath, and from His human mouth, through the wisdom
of the Holy Ghost. How couldest thou endure it for an hour?”

And the soul answers: “The fish cannot drown in the water, the bird
cannot sink in the air, gold cannot perish in the fire, where it gains
its clear and shining worth. God has granted to each creature to
cherish its own nature. How can I withstand my nature? I must go from
all things to God, who is my Father by Nature, my Brother through His
Humanity, my Bridegroom through Love, and I am His for ever.”

Silenced by this wondrous flight of holy passion, we bid farewell to
Mechthild. She lived for her time, and she lives for us, as one of
“humanity’s pioneers on the only road to rest.” “Out of the depths,”
she cried to Heaven. We leave her in the music of the spheres.



A FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ART-PATRON AND PHILANTHROPIST, MAHAUT, COUNTESS
OF ARTOIS


It has been well said that “out of things unlikely and remote may be
won romance and beauty.” Perhaps the truth of this reflection has
never been more signally exemplified than in the case of Mahaut,
Countess of Artois and Burgundy, the record of whose life, in the
absence of any contemporary biographer, has been ably deciphered from
such commonplace material as the household accounts of her
stewards.[26] This great lady, one of the greatest patrons of art of
her time, lived at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the
fourteenth century. She was a great-niece of St. Louis. No poet has
sung of her. It is merely through the prose of daily expenditure that
she is made known to us. She stands before us, not the ideal creation
of the mediæval romancer, but a real woman, with her virtues and
failings, her joys and sorrows, real by very reason of this union of
contrasts, a woman trying to grapple with difficulties forced upon her
by her position, and by an age when intrigue and cunning were as
freely resorted to, and as deftly handled, as the sword and the lance.

    [26] Richard (Jules Marie), _Une Petite Nièce de S. Louis:
    Mahaut, Comtesse d’Artois_.

    Dehaisnes (M. le Chanoine), _L’Histoire de l’art dans la
    Flandre, l’Artois, et le Hainaut avant le XVme siècle_.

Mahaut was the daughter of Robert the Second, Count of Artois, a
valiant and chivalrous man, and of Amicie de Courtenay, of whom it was
said that she was esteemed whilst she lived, and mourned of all when
she died. Her brother, Philip, predeceased his father, leaving one
son, Robert. In accordance with local custom, Mahaut, on the death of
her father, inherited Artois, but her nephew, Robert, on attaining his
majority at the age of fourteen, set up a counter-claim. This family
feud was a constant source of trouble and vexation to her, since
Robert again and again returned to the attack, not only appealing to
the king to consider his cause, and fabricating spurious documents as
a means of gaining his end, but also employing unscrupulous agents to
spread false charges against her. He further took advantage of the
growing discontent amongst the nobles, who were gradually realising
that their power was waning, to attach them to his cause, and to
induce them to join him in harassing Mahaut by making raids upon her
lands and her castles. She, however, through her extraordinary
personality, was able to triumph over all this opposition, which, far
from marring, only seemed to add lustre to the work she had set
herself to do.

Mahaut was religious, artistic, and literary. All these
characteristics, together with the circumstance of wealth, she
inherited, and right well did she make use of her inheritance.

Being religious, and living in an age when the frenzy for crusading
had subsided and when architecture was the ruling passion, she
expended her zeal in building religious houses and hospitals.

Being artistic, she made her favourite castle at Hesdin, and the town
around its walls, a centre of art life. Here, seemingly, she favoured
all the arts, including to a certain extent music, then still in its
infancy, for although she apparently had no regular minstrel or
minstrels in her employ as was customary in the houses of the
noblesse, she seems to have engaged them for Church festivals and
sundry fêtes, and we know that on one occasion she hired a minstrel to
soothe her sick child with the sweet soft music of the harp, thus
suggesting that she herself had felt the power of music to minister to
both body and soul.

Being literary, Mahaut collected what MSS. and books she could, and
the list of them serves to show what might be found in a library of
the early fourteenth century. Her religious books included a Bible in
French,[27] a Psalter, a Gradual, various Books of Hours for private
devotion, Lives of the Saints and of the Fathers, and the Miracles of
Our Lady. Philosophy was represented by a French translation of
Boëthius (probably a copy of a translation made by order of King
Philip le Bel, by Jean de Meun, the writer of the second portion of
_The Romance of the Rose_), Law by a verse translation of the laws of
Normandy, History by the Chronicles of the Kings of France, and Travel
by _The Romance of the Great Kan_, known to us as _The Travels of
Marco Polo_. But by far the largest category consisted of Romances,
such as that of Oger le Danois from the national Epic, and another of
Tancred, a hero of the first Crusade, the Romance of Troy, Percival le
Gallois, Tristan, Renart, and the Violet, the story which forms the
chief episode in the play of Cymbeline. Of course there was no great
choice, but that Mahaut read them and loved them we may be certain,
since we know that she took some with her on her journeyings, and to
preserve them from the wear and tear of travel, had leather wallets
made to protect them. Mahaut was, in truth, the first wealthy
individual of the age to spend her substance with the express purpose
of surrounding herself with beauty of every kind. The foremost thought
of a man in a like case would probably have been to add to his power.
_Her_ thought was of beauty, a quality much more far-reaching and less
transient, and one which, even like Time itself, triumphs over the
changes of fame and fortune.

    [27] The Bible was first translated into French, and reduced
    in size so that it could be carried in the hand, between 1200
    and 1250.

Though Mahaut did not live the allotted three score years and ten, she
lived long enough to see seven kings on the throne of France, two of
whom--Philip the Fifth and Charles the Fourth--were her sons-in-law.
She was a mere child when her great-uncle, King Louis, died in 1270.
In 1285, the year in which Philip the Fourth, surnamed le Bel,
ascended the throne, she wedded Otho, Count Palatine of Burgundy, a
widower of forty-five, a companion in arms of her father, and a brave
and generous man, who died fighting for his country, but one
absolutely incapable in administration, and, as a consequence, always
in debt and in the clutches of the usurer. There are few documents to
throw any light on her life until after Otho’s death in 1303. This may
be due partly to the fact that she only came into her great
possessions on her father’s death in 1302, and partly to the
circumstance that the careless and luxurious expenditure of her
husband in no small degree dissipated her resources, and naturally
prevented, for the time, any material encouragement of art. Doubtless
also much of her time was spent in superintending the education of her
children--two daughters who were destined to marry kings of France,
and a son who was born a peer of the realm, and inheritor of one of
its richest territories. But adverse fate, by the disgrace of one of
her daughters, and the death of her son, intervened to darken these
brilliant prospects, and forms a grey background to her otherwise
wonderful and glorious career.

The more the life of this remarkable woman is studied, the more
apparent it becomes that what gives it its peculiar charm and worth is
the sense she possessed of the value of all human endeavour, whether
in great things or in simple. To her the humblest matters of home
life, and the affairs connected with the administration of her
domains, had each their particular significance. The ordering of a
small grooved tablet on which her little boy could arrange the letters
of the alphabet claimed her attention equally with the founding and
arranging of a hospital. In her capacity as ruler we see the same wide
and reasonable outlook on life, for whilst strict as an administrator,
in personal relations she was charitable and sympathetic. Sometimes a
rebellious baron was deprived of his fief and banished, or was
condemned to expiate his misdeed by making a pilgrimage to sundry
shrines. But Mahaut was practical withal, and recognised human
frailty, and as the pilgrimage was for correction, no pardon was
granted unless the offender brought from each of the sanctuaries a
certificate that his vow had been fulfilled. On the other hand, if any
were sick or in trouble, she was solicitous for their relief, and even
aided them personally where possible. She thus put into practice the
charge of her saintly kinsman, King Louis the Ninth, who always
counselled those about him to have compassion on all mental or
physical suffering, since the heart may be stricken as well as the
body.

As Mahaut had no biographer, and contemporary history merely treats
her as if she were one of many pawns on a chess-board, her stewards’
entries furnish the only materials from which we can weave some
outline of her life, an outline, nevertheless, which enables us to
reason somewhat concerning her inner life, the pattern, as it were,
that is not wrought for the world.

When, in 1302, Mahaut took over the reins of government in Artois,
Paris was the great centre of art and literature as well as of the
science of the day, a condition largely due to the genius of Philip
Augustus, and fostered by succeeding kings. Thither, from far and
near, flocked scholars, poets, and artists alike. Some of these took
up their abode permanently within its walls. Others passed to and fro,
thus creating that constant interchange of thought which is essential
to vitality, so that it was said that “the goddess of Wisdom, after
having dwelt in Athens and Rome, had taken up her abode in Paris.”
There, at least twice a year, came Mahaut to her sumptuous dwelling,
the Hôtel d’Artois, situated near the Temple, and extending with its
gardens and its outbuildings to the walls built by Philip Augustus.
Here all who loved the arts and learning were made welcome, and it is
interesting to think it possible, nay even probable, that during one
of her many sojourns there she may have met and talked with Dante.

Amongst the special treasures to be found there, mention is made of
four figure-pictures, one of which is said to have been of Roman
workmanship, and round in form--certainly, as far as is known, a
rarity at that time. We also find a record of finely wrought
embroideries and tapestries on the walls, and of windows painted
either with armorial bearings and figures, or with simple foliage like
the delicate ivy and hawthorn to be seen enriching the pages of Books
of Hours of the fourteenth century. Special mention is made of a
window, evidently over the altar in the private Chapel, in which was
represented the Crucifixion. In the large hall were tables on
trestles, easily removed before the dance began or minstrels or
jugglers displayed their skill, dressers to hold the gold and silver
plate and from which to serve the banquet, and settles with footboards
so necessary when the rushes were only renewed at lengthy intervals.
But if the hall was somewhat sparsely furnished, its ceiling and walls
(the latter on occasions hung with embroideries carried from castle to
castle as the Countess journeyed) were made bright with colour, and
beautiful with design. How bright, and how beautiful, we can infer
almost with certainty from examples in the Castle of Chillon of
thirteenth and fourteenth century decoration lately rescued from under
a coat of whitewash,[28] and from the comparison made by Brunetto
Latini (1230-1294), in his _Tesoro_, of the Italian with the French
feudal castle, in which he says of the one that it is only built for
war, with ditches, palisades, and high towers and walls, and of the
other that it lies in the midst of meadows and gardens, _with large
painted chambers_.

    [28] _Chillon_, Albert Naef, Genève, 1908.

Mahaut’s cousin, the cold and impersonal Philip le Bel, was on the
throne. For the most part war had ceased in the land, but still there
was war in high places, for Philip, avaricious by nature, and finding
himself a king under altering conditions--the Papacy fallen into
disregard, the Nobility weakened, and the Nation growing, but without
any adequate provision made to meet the needs of this growth--left no
stone unturned to supply this want and gratify his greed. On the
question of the subsidies of the clergy and the relation between
things spiritual and temporal, he quarrelled with the Pope, Boniface
the Eighth, and brought about the removal of the Holy See from Rome to
Avignon. He robbed and ruined the Templars, and despoiled the Jews and
Lombards, the financiers of the day. With him no trickery was too
base, no cruelty too cold-blooded. Gold was his God. Dante, who was
his contemporary, refers (_Purg._ vii. 109) to “his wicked and foul
life” (_la vita sua viziata e lorda_), and (_Par._ xix. 118) to his
“debasement of the coinage” (_falseggiando la moneta_), as well as to
his self-seeking greed. Such, with the added glamour of art and
learning, was the courtly atmosphere of the Time. The bourgeoisie,
encouraged by the king who sought to aggrandise the monarchy at the
expense of the nobles, was growing rich, and politically gaining in
power, and Philip ere long discovered that he had helped merely to
change the centre of power, and not to crush it.

But Paris does not seem to have attracted Mahaut as did her castle at
Hesdin. Here she was in the midst of her own domains, surrounded by
her liegemen and retainers, and able to be in constant touch with her
artificers and workers, whatever their art or industry. By the
thirteenth century the dwelling of the Noble was no longer a grim
castle, suggestive only of a place of defence, with narrow slits in
the walls for the admission of air and light and for the discharge of
arrows, but was more like a fortified country-house. The encompassing
walls enclosed a wide area, within which was sheltered a village and
everything necessary to the growth and development of a community.

From Hesdin Mahaut journeyed constantly through her County of Artois,
visiting her castles, the towns or villages around them, and the
various religious houses and hospitals she had founded, and attending
in general to the well-being of her subjects. For her it was not
enough that she was born to reign. She realised that, without
administration, reigning through the accident of birth is mere
puppet’s work, and leads to naught. Her daily life was the visible
expression of this belief, as she herself was an example of the woman
who comprehends the just proportion between personal and public work.
That her subjects responded to her sympathy, and held her in
affectionate regard, is proved by their kindly and sympathetic concern
if she were ill or on a journey, and by the offerings they made to her
on special anniversaries and other festive occasions. We read of gifts
not only of herrings, sturgeon, game, wine, dogs, peacocks, swans,
pasties, and whipped cream, but also of the strangely assorted tribute
of a dead bear and twelve cheeses, as well as of one which must have
contrasted pleasantly with this sundry and singular good cheer--a
parrakeet in a beautifully painted cage. Mahaut, as we have said, was
a constant traveller, and though travelling was then no easy matter,
the roads could not have been over-much beset with difficulties seeing
that she journeyed in all weathers, either on horseback or in a
horse-litter, or in a chariot without springs, and with no mean
retinue. In truth, her following was like a glorified Canterbury
pilgrimage. First came the Countess, accompanied by one or more
knights, her ladies-in-waiting, her chaplain and confessor, her
physician, her secretary, her treasurer and steward, and sundry petty
officers of her household. Then followed the servants, the cook with
his scullions, the shoemaker who could also do necessary repairs to
the harness, the laundress riding astride as was the manner of
serving-women, and a score of lackeys and dependants of all sorts in
charge of the carts containing the necessaries of travel. These
necessaries were generally packed in wooden coffers, some of which
were simple chests, whilst others opened like a cupboard and were
fitted with drawers. To preserve such coffers from damp and damage,
they were put into osier cases covered with cow-hide. And with all
this motley company and baggage, there are but few records of
accidents. The accounts tell of a small occasional expenditure in
consequence of the breakdown of a chariot, or the fall of a valet from
his horse, or the upsetting into a river of a cart conveying the
Countess’s wardrobe. But such misadventures were not taken very
seriously by these folk, seasoned to discomfort. Valet or chariot was
mended, or the floating garments were recovered, and on went the
easy-going company, singing by the way, and with horns blowing as they
neared some castle or village where a halt was to be made for the
night. The absence of any mention of the removal of furniture from
castle to castle during these periodical wanderings, save a small bed
for Mahaut’s own use, leads us to infer that greater luxury then
prevailed than in the days of her great-uncle, Louis the Ninth, when
even Royalty itself thought it no hardship to have beds and other
necessary pieces of furniture carried by beasts of burden from place
to place according to the movements of the Court. This frugal and
homely custom on one occasion very nearly ended in a tragedy. The
devout Isabelle, Louis’s sister, was praying in the early morning, as
was her wont, within her curtained bed, and either lost in prayer or
overcome with fatigue by the length of her orisons, did not notice the
arrival of the packers, who rolled up the bed without drawing the
curtains, and the praying Princess within must have been smothered had
not her lady-in-waiting, Agnes de Harcourt, heard her stifled cries,
and hastened to her rescue. This quaint episode so amused Louis, that
he ever after recounted it when telling of the piety of his sister.

Let us now go in imagination to the Castle of Hesdin, and see
something of its treasures and of the daily life of the Countess
Mahaut.

Soon after her accession to Artois, her two daughters married sons of
King Philip le Bel, and her little son, Robert, then became her
principal care. A little boy of noble family had been chosen as his
companion to share in his education and to join with him in play. It
would seem that the two were treated on an absolute equality, even to
having their doublets cut from the same piece of cloth, and their
tunics and cloaks trimmed with the same fur. Beyond their ordinary
lessons, they were early taught the games of tables and chess, both of
which were considered essential to a knight’s education. They also
rode to the chase and attended tournaments, and at the age of fourteen
themselves held the lance as part of their training in the art of
war. Robert seems to have been of a most inquiring and intelligent
nature, but when he had scarce passed his seventeenth year, Mahaut,
with scant warning, saw this her only son stricken in death just as he
was about to enter the ranks of knighthood. In the archives of Arras,
the Capital of Artois, may be found a discoloured parchment containing
the inventory of the equipment provided for the youthful Robert in
anticipation of his initiation. What sorrow is enshrined in these
faded pages! It is not sorrow for death, but the bitterer sorrow for
something that has never lived, or, rather, that has lived only in the
heart, like spring blossom blighted ere fruiting-time. In the Church
of St. Denis, where modern restoration has but emphasised the
transitoriness and vanity of human glory, there can still be seen the
tomb of this youth, carved soon after his death by Pepin de Huy, and
once painted, as was all such carved work. Even to the mere student it
is interesting as being the only existing monument that can with
certainty be attributed to this celebrated sculptor, and also as
being, in Gothic art, one of the first essays in portraiture in
recumbent figures of the dead, as contrasted with mere effigy. For the
deeper thinker it has even greater significance. Of all the good and
great works that Mahaut conceived and initiated--the churches,
castles, hospitals, which she built and enriched for the glory of God
and the safety and solace of mankind--all have passed away. This
simple tomb alone remains. But its very simplicity is eloquent, for
around it there seems to hover that never-dying spirit of love and
goodness and beauty to which, throughout her life, Mahaut contributed
in such large measure, and which was her real and lasting gift to the
world.

Life as mirrored in the Castle records gives little else than a
pleasing picture of Mahaut’s relations with all her dependants, as
well as with those with whom she was connected, whether by ties of
friendship, of politics, or of the common courtesies of life. Her
immediate household was naturally her first care. Twice a year, at
Easter and All Saints, a distribution was made of cloth and furs. Some
of these, fine and costly, were for those in personal attendance on
the Countess, whilst others were in the nature of liveries. Others,
again, of still coarser make, such as Irish serge, with sheep or
rabbit skin for warmth in winter, were given to those of lowly service
or who had specially rough work to perform. Her ladies-in-waiting, of
whom there were always two or three, appear to have received for their
services no money payment, but, over and above the cloth and fur
already alluded to, gifts, on special occasions, of girdles and
satchels (very often jewelled), gold chaplets, and gold and silver
braid, jewelled, and used for twining in the hair. In addition to
this, presents of jewels and silver cups were made to them by the
noble ladies who came to stay with the Countess, just as she, on her
part, presented similar gifts to those who accompanied her guests.
How well we can picture to ourselves these maidens (for such is all
they were), decking themselves in their girdles and jewelled braid,
comparing their gifts, and perhaps even standing on some oaken bench
the better to get a view of their finery, for the mirrors were small,
and the girdles were long, and could not otherwise be seen in all
their glory. When they married, the Countess made gifts to them
without stint, not only of the beautiful and the needful for their
wardrobes, but also of household goods, and sometimes, when she knew
their parents or kinsmen to be too poor to provide the usual dowry,
even of a sum of money. To the retainers also we find the same kind
and helping hand held out. If any were sick they were taken care of,
and, if needs be, sent to some place where they could the better be
cured, as we read of one who, suffering from gout, was sent to take
healing waters. To another retainer was given the necessary money to
pay for his son on entering a monastery, another receiving the
wherewithal to go to his native village to attend his mother’s burial.
Old servants, past work, were cared for in the monasteries or
hospitals, or given some post suitable to their years. To a poor
knight was given money to enable him to buy a good horse and armour,
for poverty of purse was no disgrace in the thirteenth century. At the
beginning of winter a distribution, organised by the clergy and
stewards of the rural communities in Artois, but superintended by
the Countess herself, was made to the poor of blankets, garments, and
shoes, and so arranged that the same person did not receive the like
gift two years in succession. In truth, no details seemed too small,
none too onerous, for Mahaut’s untiring solicitude. She had heart and
brain for everything. It is these intimate touches which make the time
so living and present to us, and which seem, as it were, to place this
wonderful woman in a charmed and tranquil circle, in spite of the
trouble and turmoil incidental to her life and her position.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

STATUE OF MAHAUT IN ABBEY OF LA THIEULOYE, NEAR ARRAS, NOW DESTROYED.

From a Drawing, now in Brussels, made in 1602.

_To face page 99._]

Amongst Mahaut’s many good works was the keeping in repair of existing
religious houses, hospitals, and lazar-houses, and the building and
maintenance of new ones. Of all the religious houses which she
founded, her special care was for the Dominican convent of La
Thieuloye, near Arras, the equipment of which, as set out in the
accounts, may well serve as an example of that of the others. The
items for the furnishing and instalment of the house and chapel
include everything needful for the community, from gold and silver
vessels, silver-gilt images of St. Louis, the Trinity, and St. John,
for the sanctuary, and samite and velvet for chasubles, down to the
bowls and platters for the nuns, the woollen material for their
garments, and all the simple necessaries of everyday life. In the
chapel of this nunnery was preserved a kneeling statue of Mahaut,
representing her as foundress, in the habit of the Order strewn with
the arms of Artois. Jean Aloul, of Tournai, has been suggested as the
sculptor, since it is known from the accounts that he was working for
the Countess at Arras in 1323. This statue (known to us through a
drawing, now at Brussels, made in 1602) is of interest to-day because,
judging from the character expressed in the face, it seems probable
that it was a portrait, and not simply imagery. This conjecture seems
all the more likely when we compare the statue with a miniature
painted more than a hundred years later by Jean Fouquet in _Les
Grandes Chroniques de France_ (Bib. Nat.), portraying the marriage of
King Charles the Fourth with his second wife, Marie de Luxembourg. In
this picture a lady, heavily coiffed, and with features suggestive of
those of the statue, but with anguish written upon them, turns away
from the ceremony as if it were all too painful. If this unwilling
guest represents Mahaut, her woeful look is intelligible when we
recall the sad story connected with Charles’s first wife, Mahaut’s
daughter Blanche, married when she was but fifteen, and whose beauty
was so dazzling that Froissart records that “she was one of the most
beautiful women in the world.” Accused of an intrigue with a gentleman
of the Court, she was imprisoned in the Château-Gaillard, where she
remained, with shorn head, until, shortly after Charles ascended the
throne, the Pope declared the marriage null. Then, whilst the king
wedded another, the sad Blanche exchanged her castle prison-house
for a convent one, where she died a year after she had taken the vows.
There is no reason for supposing that Mahaut was at the wedding of
Blanche’s successor save in the imagination of the artist; but for him
the inclusion of such a tragic figure would add a dramatic touch to
the representation of an otherwise conventional ceremony.

[Illustration: MARRIAGE OF CHARLES LE BEL AND MARIE OF LUXEMBURG.

Grandes Chrons. de France, Bib. Nat.

_To face page 100._]

It almost takes us aback to read that in Mahaut’s domain of Artois
there were at least eighty hospitals and thirty lazar-houses, without
counting those attached to the monasteries. But these numbers will not
surprise us so much when we remember that almost every small community
had its little hospital, used not only for the sick and as a lying-in
hospital, but also as a shelter for the poor and the pilgrim. In the
towns they were often built and supported by the Corporations or by
rich merchants. Evidently some were in the nature of hospitals for
incurables, for there were special clauses in the deeds of gift
providing that a certain specified number of beds were to be kept for
the sick until they were either cured or released by death. Besides
building two hospitals in the County of Burgundy in fulfilment of the
dying wishes of her husband, Mahaut built and maintained two in her
own County of Artois. The one at Hesdin was the more important, and we
can get some idea of it from the documents of the time. The deed
relating to it tells that over the large entrance gate there was
carved in stone a figure of St. John, the patron of hospitals and of
the needy generally, with a poor man and woman on either side of him.
The principal ward was 160 feet long and 34 feet wide, with walls 16
feet high ending in a gabled roof, with two windows in each gable, and
this, coupled with the fact that the sick were sometimes laid on
cushions by the open windows, goes to show that what we pride
ourselves on as a special discovery in modern hygiene--the benefit of
fresh air--was known and applied even in what we are wont to consider
a very benighted age in such matters.

Whilst touching upon such a subject as this, it may be a surprise to
some to learn that in large towns baths were provided for those who
could not afford to have them in their own homes, and that there were
also professional women hair-washers.

[Illustration: THIRTEENTH-CENTURY TREATISE ON SURGERY, IN FRENCH.

Sloane MS. 1977.

_To face page 103._]

But to return to the hospital. On one side of the ward were ten
windows, each four feet square, and on the opposite side was a large
door leading into the cloister with its garden, where the
convalescents and the old people, whilst sheltered, could enjoy the
sunshine and see the flowers and the birds. In addition to this there
was a smaller ward for women, a chapel, a kitchen, and a room for the
matron, as well as accommodation for the resident doctor, Maître
Robert, and the serving-women. It is some consolation to think that
these poor suffering folk of centuries ago were even thus well
tended, but when we look at contemporary representations of the
surgery of the day,[29] we tremble at the mere thought of the heroic
methods adopted. Besides the actual necessaries which she provided for
the hospital at Hesdin, Mahaut constantly sent gifts of fish, game,
and wine. Similar gifts she likewise made to the hospitals in Artois
generally, as well as to those in Paris, and, on fête-days, to the
poorer religious houses.

    [29] See Roger of Parma, _Treatise on Surgery_. French
    thirteenth century. Brit. Mus., Sloane MS., 1977.

From her beneficence to the sick and sorry, the aged and the poor, we
turn to her hospitality to her relations and friends, and to all those
in spiritual or temporal authority in the towns or villages of Artois.
The Castle of Hesdin, destroyed in the sixteenth century--only a few
stones remaining to mark the site,--was situated a few miles from the
present modern town of Hesdin. It must have been not only a scene of
constant festivity and social intercourse, and a treasure-house
withal, but also a veritable hive of industry, with workers and
workshops within the Castle enclosure as well as in the town nestling
beneath its walls. Here might be found artists and craftsmen of all
sorts and degrees--sculptors and workers in stone, ivory-workers,
wood-carvers, carpenters, artificers in silver and precious stones as
well as in copper, forgers of iron, painters of wall-decoration,
stonework, saddle-bows, and even masquerading-masks, illuminators of
MSS., workers and painters of glass, harness-makers, armourers,
tailors, and embroiderers--the whole forming a rare and remarkable
centre of activity for a woman to have developed and ruled and made
into a living force.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: BANQUET, WITH MINSTRELS PLAYING, AND ROOM HUNG WITH
EMBROIDERY.

MS. Romance of Alexander, 14th century, Bodleian, Oxford.

_To face page 104._]

It is a fête-day within the Castle. The horns have sounded. The feast
is ready. To the great hall repair the knights and the ladies, the
esquires and the damsels, two and two, according to their rank,
dipping their hands, as they pass in, into silver basins of
rose-water. They are gorgeously apparelled in silken garments and
cloth of gold and silver, upon which are embroidered their coats of
arms, for by the end of the thirteenth century armorial bearings,
which by then had become attached to families, were used as a sign of
nobility and rank. Mahaut, as hostess, takes her seat last. Adown the
table are specimens of silver-plate, some the work of her own
craftsmen, others the offerings of friendship or of courtesy. They are
fashioned variously, and used for sweetmeats of all kinds, spices,
almonds, and dainties made of orange and pomegranate. A favourite form
is that of a ship, such as may be seen in _Les Très Riches Heures_ of
Jean, Duc de Berri, at Chantilly, in a representation of a feast given
by the Duke. There are, besides, salt-cellars and sauce-boats, flagons
and drinking-cups, and a bowl between every two guests, from which
they eat, handing each other dainty morsels. Such, with a knife
and a spoon for each, is their equipment for the meal, for none, save
the carver, has both knife and fork. In a corner of the hall is a
basket for the broken-meats destined for the poor, a leathern sack
being also provided for foods with gravy or sauce. Neither at
festivals nor in daily life would a meal have been considered complete
if the poor were not remembered. Perhaps a messenger arrives during
the feast with the news of a birth or a marriage in Mahaut’s circle of
relations or friends, and he is rewarded with a gift of money, and
possibly receives a silver cup to carry back to the nurse, or a
jewelled chaplet to take to the bride. Meanwhile the music of
trumpets, drums, viols, and flutes resounds from the minstrels’
gallery. Later, when the feast is ended, and before the company
disperses to walk in the garden if it is spring or summer, or to look
at the beautiful things in the castle, or to dance or sing or play
chess if it be winter, some one perchance chants a plaintive ditty to
the music of the regal, or some knight tunes his harp and sings of
valiant deeds, or, may be, of some peerless lady.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

HARL. MS. 4425, BRIT. MUS.

_To face page 105._]

But let us look at the rooms of the Castle and their beautiful
contents--the paintings and embroideries on the walls, the ivories,
and the illuminated Psalters and MSS. And let us go first into the
Countess’s own room, which doubtless was near the chapel. We can form
some idea of its decoration and contents from the accounts, and of
its probable arrangement from contemporary plans, illuminated MSS.,
and pictures. Its walls were adorned with a frieze composed of heads
of the kings of France, moulded in plaster and surmounted by crowns of
gilded or lacquered tin, below which, on a coloured ground, were
fastened fleurs-de-lis, likewise of tin similarly treated. At the end
of the room was a bed, a large wooden structure surrounded by a
footboard and laced across with cords on which were laid mattresses, a
feather bed (sometimes, if we may judge from miniatures, used during
the day as a seat on the floor), many cushions, linen or silk sheets,
and a fur-lined coverlet. From rods on the ceiling hung curtains which
completely enclosed it at night, but which were drawn back and looped
up during the day, when the bed was used as a divan. At night a small
oil lamp with a floating wick was hung within the curtains, and near
the bed was a _bénitier_. At the side, separated by a narrow space,
there were fixed seats for the accommodation of those who interviewed
the Countess before she rose. There was a large open fireplace with a
bench in front of it which had a movable back, so that the occupant
could sit either facing the fire or with his back to it. Close by were
wickerwork fire-screens, capable of being raised or lowered at will.
Against the walls there were carved chests, enriched with colour, and
chairs with leather seats and wickerwork backs, as well as
three-legged and folding stools, were placed about the room. At one
side of the room was a large oak chair of state with a cushioned seat,
and possibly canopied, and close to it a lectern, with hinged
candle-brackets, from which Mahaut could the more easily read her
MSS., which were often rolled, and difficult to manipulate. In front
of this seat was a table, at which any messengers or retainers stood
when they sought an interview, or the Countess demanded one. Here also
she transacted with her stewards and other agents the business
connected with her various castles and her many philanthropic
undertakings. Other rooms were painted in plain colour, and hung on
special occasions with embroideries and tapestries. Others, again,
were decorated with set designs, square or zigzag, in imitation of
brickwork, such as may be seen in the Chapel of St. Faith, Westminster
Abbey, or with subjects or colour after which they were named. Thus we
find mention of the “Parrakeet” room, from the birds painted on the
walls, the “Blue” room, from its colour, the rooms of “Roses,” of
“Vines,” and of “Fleurs-de-lis,” the room of “Shields,” from its
frieze of armorial bearings, and that of “Song,” from verses traced on
the walls, taken from the favourite pastoral of “Robin and Marion,”
and probably associated with little scenes from the same idyll. The
ceilings, with beams and joists painted red, were coloured either
green or blue, and strewn with tin stars coated with yellow or white
varnish to simulate gold or silver. The lower portions of the walls
were often painted in imitation of short curtains, sometimes of but
one colour, sometimes gorgeously decorated, but in either case
reminiscent of the real draperies hung on festal days. Immediately
above there might have been, as in other examples, a border painted
with coats of arms, or with a foliated design interspersed with
mottoes.

During Mahaut’s lifetime this decorative work seems to have been
undertaken principally by one special family or community of artists
from Boulogne, of which a certain “Jacques” was the leading spirit. In
those days artist and craftsman were one and the same. It was the
quality, and not the particular subject, of the work that mattered,
and thus we find that the painting of a parrot’s cage, or of the
shafts of a litter, was not considered derogatory for even the most
skilled to undertake. From the accounts it would seem that linseed oil
was used to mix with the colours, cherry gum or white of egg being
added to make them dry more quickly. Payment for work was made three
times a year--at Candlemas, Ascension-tide, and All-Saints--or by the
day or piece, the last being the form preferred by the business-like
Mahaut. Besides such payment, presents were occasionally given for
specially fine work, and, if a man was married, a gift to his wife of
a gown, or of a cloak with fur, was sometimes added. One of this
company of Boulogne artists later on became Court-painter to the Dukes
of Burgundy, and took with him not only his trained apprentices from
the towns and villages of Artois, and from those bordering on
Flanders, but also, doubtless, certain traditions. It is such early
migrations of artists, when schools were forming, that have helped to
create the difficult problems which confront the student of all early
schools of art.

Of embroidery there was such profusion that it is indeed no
exaggeration to say that the needle vied with the sword. There were
not only wall and bed hangings, embroidered with flowers to brighten
winter days, cloaks, gowns, and tunics patterned with gold thread and
coloured silks, and beaver hats wrought with gold lace and pearls and
sometimes precious stones, but also girdles, satchels, purses, and
pennons resplendent with heraldic device, and caparison and harness
for the horses. From the East were brought velvets, silks, and stuffs
interwoven with gold and silver thread, and used not only for personal
adornment, but also for vestments, Church-hangings, and the coverings
of litters. As regards tapestry as we understand it--_i.e._ woven in a
_high_ warp loom--there is apparently no definite mention of its being
made at Arras before 1313, so that the numerous allusions to tapestry
must refer to stuffs woven in the _low_ warp loom. These stuffs would
seem to have been of two kinds, the one woven with some simple
pattern, the other with heraldic designs of animals or other
conventional forms copied from Oriental models. Hence the term
“Saracenic” applied to both the workers and their handiwork.

In order to realise the Ivories which were probably to be seen in the
Castle of Hesdin, we must go to the Louvre or the British Museum,
where may be found a few rare examples of the work of the period, such
as caskets carved with scenes from the life of Christ or the Virgin if
they were to hold some sacred treasure, or with scenes from some
Romance or from daily life if to contain jewels or other mundane
objects. In addition to such caskets, often painted, Mahaut had, to
hang from her girdle, as was customary with all ladies in the Middle
Ages, a daintily wrought ivory writing-tablet, and a small mirror in
an ivory case. These mirror-cases were generally carved with a scene
from some love-story, such as two lovers playing chess, or going
a-hawking, or some detail from the favourite romance of Tristan and
Isolde. Possibly amongst these treasures was a saddle-bow, with a
wondrous wealth of carving, or chess-men finely modelled, and inlaid
with mother-of-pearl, or a triptych with scenes from the Passion,
represented under Gothic arches of most superb and delicate
workmanship. But it is perhaps in the Chapel that we must seek the
finest work, for here both Mahaut and her father, Count Robert, were
lavish with unsparing hand. One Jean le Scelleur, of Paris, a carver
of combs and toilet articles as well as of crucifixes and Virgins, is
named as her principal craftsman. Mention is made of a Cross carved by
him in cedar-wood with an ivory figure of the Christ, and of two ivory
figures of the Virgin, one under a canopy, and the other with the Holy
Child poised upon the hip, that sublime motive belonging more
especially to the thirteenth century. The chapel itself was beautified
with carved work in stone. Over the Altar, and in front of it, were
painted panels, enriched with gold, and translucent enamel over
colour. If we could picture to ourselves the manner of the sculptor’s
work we may recall the “Vine-Capital” in Rheims Cathedral, where the
very stone itself seems to have been metamorphosed into tender foliage
by the unknown artist.

Of wood-carving, the accounts tell of Choir-stalls, presses for
vestments and various vessels and ornaments, and also of Angels,
gilded and painted and bearing the emblems of the Passion, for
standing round the High Altar. These are described as being raised on
slender columns, connected by a bar on which were laced fringed silk
curtains, thus forming a recess for the Altar. We can get some idea of
the simple beauty of this arrangement from a drawing, still preserved
in the sacristy of Arras Cathedral, of the High Altar in the old
Cathedral, and fortunately made before the latter, with all its
contents, was destroyed in the sixteenth century. It accords in every
detail with the inventory record of the Chapel of Hesdin. We may also
compare a picture (No. 783, “The Exhumation of St. Hubert”) in the
Flemish room in the National Gallery, where a somewhat similar scheme
is shown.

Of the MSS. and Illuminations only brief mention can be made.
Surviving examples, and the records of the time, testify to the
splendour and the sum of them. At the beginning of the thirteenth
century, the French miniature was influenced in no small degree, both
in technique and in colour, by glass painting. Towards the end of the
century this influence yielded to the prevailing enthusiasm for
architecture and sculpture, and in Bibles and Psalters alike there
appear scenes with figures as in bas-relief, with architectural
backgrounds and decorative details. The same spirit that evolved
tender foliage out of the hard stone of cathedral and church evolved
also the delicate hawthorn-leaf enriching the initial letter of the
MS. It mattered little whether the material worked on was stone or
parchment. Each was but a means for giving expression to a newly
discovered scheme of beauty--the beauty of Nature. In the thirteenth
and fourteenth centuries a renewed impetus had been given to the arts
of writing and illumination. This was partly because a demand had
arisen for a secular literature to supersede the tiresome and
time-worn recitations of minstrels, and partly because, in the
fourteenth century, Books of Hours, instead of the Psalter alone as
had hitherto been customary, came into general use in private
devotion. This created a fresh want, and at the same time supplied a
number of new subjects in which the artist could reveal his skill.
Arras was one of the chief centres of this new movement, a movement
which Mahaut continued and stimulated. She employed artists to
illuminate both sacred and secular works for her own use as well as
for gifts--gifts counted beyond compare and beside which even precious
stones were deemed of less worth. To Mahaut this desire for beauty was
a very lode-star. To glance at a list of the gold- and silver-smiths’
work--the jewelled and enamelled chaplets of gold, the jewelled
girdles, and buckles, and braids for the hair, and the cups, some of
silver with crystal covers or wrought with enamel and precious stones,
and others of jasper mounted with silver work--reads like a fantasy of
hidden treasure in some fairy tale. Even her chess-boards--and she was
a devotee of the game--were of silver or ivory, and one, we read, was
of jasper and chalcedony mounted with silver and gems, the chess-men
being of jasper and crystal.

For the younger folk about her there was tennis, and also games of
hazard with forfeits of girdles and coifs to the ladies. In the Castle
garden were certain mechanical contrivances which, by their sudden and
unexpected action, were supposed to amuse the unwary guests. One
sprinkled them with water, another with black or white powder, as they
passed by, and yet another, in the form of a monkey, struck them with
a stick, whilst in a bower might be seen a mirror wherein all who
looked saw only the distorted semblance of themselves. These unwelcome
pleasantries were a part of the miscellaneous borrowings from the
East. But for the easily amused folk of the Middle Ages, time passed
merrily enough in the midst of such pastimes, and only the shadow on
the dial seemed to mark its flight.

But Mahaut, amid the manifold claims on her time and talent, had seen
the shadow lengthening. From time to time she had been attacked by
illness, to which blood-letting and other remedies of the day had
brought relief. But on the 25th November 1329, when in Paris, she was
seized with a sudden sickness, so sudden that sinister rumours were
noised abroad. Human aid was of no avail. Two days later there was
general lamentation. The shadow had lengthened into the night. Mahaut
was dead. In accordance with her wishes, she was buried at the foot of
her father’s grave in the Abbey of Maubuisson, near Paris, her heart
being placed in the Church of the Franciscans in Paris, beside the
remains of her son, whose tomb there was afterwards removed to St.
Denis. Her possession of Artois, for which she had laboured devotedly,
became annexed to the Duchy of Burgundy through the marriage of her
granddaughter with its Duke.

Here, though only a tithe has been told, we must take leave of this
cultivated woman of the fourteenth century, a type of the time and for
all time. Her aim was the aim of all culture--the attainment of as
complete a life as possible. To this she aspired, and to this in large
measure she attained. What more can be said of even those we count the
greatest?



A FIFTEENTH-CENTURY FEMINISTE, CHRISTINE DE PISAN


Christine de Pisan, Italian by birth, French by adoption, may be
regarded not merely as a forerunner of true feminism, but also as one
of its greatest champions, seeing that in her judgment of the sexes
she endeavours to hold the scales evenly. Possessed of profound common
sense and of a generous-hearted nature, she is wholly free from that
want of fairness in urging woman’s claims which is so fatally
prejudicial to their just consideration. Although, strictly speaking,
Christine was not original, she was representative, and interests us
for that very reason. She was perhaps one of the most complete
exponents of the finer strain of thought of her time. She stands
before us, at the dawn of the fifteenth century, Janus-headed, looking
to the past and to the future, a woman typical of a time of
transition, on the one hand showing, in her writings, a clinging to
old beliefs, and on the other hand asserting, in her contact with real
life, independence of thought in the discussion of still unsolved
questions.

Christine was born at Venice in 1363, where her father, Thomas de
Pisan, of Bologna, distinguished for his knowledge of medicine and
astrology, had settled on his marriage with a daughter of one of the
Councillors of the Republic. When five years of age, she was taken by
her mother to Paris to join her father, who had been summoned thither
some time before by the King, Charles the Fifth, to serve as his
astrologer. At the end of the fourteenth century astrology played a
very real and important part in men’s lives. Before wars or journeys
were undertaken, or additions to castle or chapel made, or even a new
garment put on, the stars were consulted for the propitious day and
hour. So deeply was Charles the Fifth imbued with a belief in the
efficacy of this occult art that when he wished to confer some special
honour, or to express his gratitude for some service rendered to him
or to the State, he sought to enhance his bounty by sending an
astrologer as part of his gift. By the time little Christine arrived
in Paris her father had gained the confidence and esteem of the King,
and was settled at Court with substantial maintenance. Here she was
brought up as a maiden of quality, surrounded by much magnificence,
for Charles loved beautiful things, and never stayed his hand to
procure them, even when the gratification of his desires involved
hardship to his people. He possessed many virtues, but economy was not
one of them. The dismal castle of the Louvre, which had been the home
of the French kings since the days of Philip Augustus, found no favour
in his sight as a place of residence, and he quickly set about
building the sumptuous Hôtel de St. Paul, in what is now known as the
“Quartier de l’Arsenal.” The Louvre he destined for official
functions, for an arsenal, and for his library. To form a library was
no new thing in Paris. Some thirty years earlier Richard de Bury,
Bishop of Durham (1333) and sometime Chancellor of England, speaks of
his frequent ambassadorial visits to “Paris, the Paradise of the
World, with its delightful libraries, where the days seemed ever few,
for the greatness of our love.” And he adds, “unfastening our
purse-strings, we scattered money with joyous heart, and purchased
inestimable books.” But whilst it is true that Charles’s predecessors
had collected books, none before had thought of forming a library for
public use, and Charles’s work, as M. Delisle remarks, was really the
first germ of the Bibliothèque Nationale.[30] To collect books was one
of his greatest delights, and he spared no trouble or money to make
his library as complete as possible. This taste for books he may have
inherited from his father, King John, who, learning to read from a
beautiful Book of Hours, early acquired a love of books from his
mother, Jeanne of Burgundy. Charles also loved to lend or make
presents of books, and among his many gifts, one--an offering to
Richard the Second--may be seen in the British Museum (Royal 20, B
VI.). The library was considerably depleted during the reign of
Charles the Sixth, when it was used as a sort of storehouse from which
presents were made to prince and prelate, or to any to whom it was
desired to make a gift, or a recognition of services rendered. On the
death of Charles the Sixth, in 1425, it was bought by the Duke of
Bedford, Regent of France, and doubtless some of its treasures were
transferred by him into England. Those that were left, and some that
gradually found their way back to France, may now be seen in the
Bibliothèque Nationale and in other libraries of France, and also in
various libraries in other countries, but out of the 1200 books
collected by Charles the Fifth, rather less than a hundred are now
known to us.

    [30] L. Delisle, _Recherches sur la libraire de Charles V_,
    Paris, 1907.

[Illustration: _Bib. Royale, Brussels._

CHRISTINE DE PISAN.

_To face page 119._]

To increase the usefulness of his library, Charles employed a number
of translators, not only of Greek and Latin authors, but also of the
most important Arabic writings, thus bringing both the classics and
the science of the day within the reach of the many students
privileged to make use of it. It was in this library that Christine
spent long days reading and meditating on the thoughts of the greatest
minds, thus fitting herself for the part she had to play when life had
ceased to be a gay dream. We can get from a miniature in a Book of
Hours, now at Chantilly, and painted by the brothers Limbourg for
Jean, Duc de Berri, a brother of the King, some idea of what this old
residence of the Louvre was like. In this miniature we see represented
a square grim castle, with a large tower at each corner and narrow
slits for windows, suggestive more of a place of refuge in time of war
and tumult than the home of a peace-loving, enlightened king. When
Charles determined to beautify this sombre structure, statues were set
up without and tapestries hung within. One of the towers was fitted up
for the library, panelled with rare woods and furnished with some
thirty small chandeliers and a large central silver lamp, kept lighted
both night and day so that work could go on at all hours. In the
courtyard an outside circular staircase (one of the earliest, if not
_the_ earliest, of the kind) was added to give, as was said, a note of
gaiety. But the idea of gaiety seems somewhat ironical when we learn
that as it was difficult to get a sufficient number of large slabs
quarried quickly, headstones from the cemetery of the Holy Innocents
were taken for the purpose!

Christine, as a child, showed an extraordinary capacity for learning,
and this her father zealously fostered and developed. At the age of
fifteen she married, and married for love, the King’s notary and
secretary, Etienne de Castel, a gentleman of Picardy. Her happiness
and well-being seemed assured, but Fortune, whose wheel is ever
revolving, though sometimes so slowly as to lull us into
forgetfulness, had decreed otherwise. For Christine it revolved all
too quickly. Two years after her marriage the King died (1380), and
her husband and father lost their appointments. Gradually anxiety and
sorrow crept like some baneful atmosphere into the once happy home.
First she lost her father, and then, two or three years later, her
husband died, leaving her, at the age of twenty-five, with three
children to provide for. Like many another, she turned to letters as
both a material and a mental support. Endowed with an extraordinary
gift of versification, she began by writing short poems, chiefly on
the joys and sorrows of love, expressing sometimes her own sentiments,
sometimes those of others for whom she wrote. But she tells us that
often when she made merry she would fain have wept. How many a one
adown the centuries has re-echoed the same sad note!

“Men must work and women must weep.” So says the poet. But life shows
us that men and women alike must needs do both. And so the sad
Christine set to work to fit herself, by the study of the best ancient
and modern writers, to produce more serious matter than love-ballads,
turning, in her saddest moments, to Boëthius and Dante for inspiration
and solace. “I betook myself,” she says, “like the child who at first
is set to learn its A B C, to ancient histories from the beginning of
the world--histories of the Hebrews and the Assyrians, of the Romans,
the French, the Bretons, and diverse others--and then to the
deductions of such sciences as I had time to give heed to, as well as
to a study of the poets.” Her master was Aristotle, and she made his
ethics her gospel. “Ancelle de science,” she calls herself, and
remains a humble worshipper at the shrine of knowledge, for knowledge,
she says, is “that which can change the mortal into the immortal.” We
can picture her to ourselves at work in the library of the Louvre,
amidst its 900 precious MSS., and in the library of the University of
Paris, to which she had access through her friend Gerson, the renowned
Chancellor. In a miniature at the beginning of one of her MSS. she is
seen seated, in a panelled recess, on a carved wooden bench, dressed
in a simple blue gown and a high white coif. She is working at a folio
on a large table covered with tapestry, with a greyhound lying at her
feet. It is quite possible that this may be either a conventional
setting, or one due to the imagination of the artist, but as the
miniaturists of those days were, as far as they could be, realists, it
is more than possible that we here see her represented at work in her
favourite nook in the Louvre library, together with the favourite dog
who shared her lonely hours. Gradually solace came to her through
work, and having found so precious a treasure for herself, she, like
our own modern sage, never tired of preaching to others the gospel of
its blessedness.

Whilst Christine wrote and lived her student life--“son cuer hermit
dans l’ermitage de Pensée”--her fame went forth, and princes sought,
by tempting offers, to attach her to their courts, but without
success. Of these, Henry the Fourth of England, already acquainted
with her poems, and Gian Galleazo Visconti, Duke of Milan, were the
most importunate, and particularly the former, who was unaccustomed to
rebuff and failure. But Christine, with repeated gracious thanks and
guarded refusals, remained firm. No reason for her decision is
recorded, but it may well be believed that her patriotism would not
allow her, even with the certainty of ease and emolument, to quit
France at that critical time, or to serve the enemy of her adopted
country.

Although Christine’s reading was very varied and extensive, there were
two subjects--the amelioration of her war-distraught country, then in
the throes of the Hundred Years’ War, and the championship of the
cause of womankind--which specially appealed to her as a patriot and a
woman, and for which she strove with unceasing ardour. In all her
writings she so interweaves these two causes that it is only by
approaching them in the same way that we can understand her view of
their psychological unity. To Christine these interests were
essentially identical, for she recognised how paramount is woman’s
influence in the making or marring of the world--how, in truth, in
woman’s hand lies a key which can unlock a Heaven or a Hell.

There was sore need of a patriot, and in Christine one was found. It
has been well said of her, and by a Frenchman too, that “though born a
woman and an Italian, she alone at the Court of France seemed to have
manly qualities and French sentiments.” France was in a sorry plight.
There was war in the land, there was war in the palace. The sick King
suffered more and more from attacks of madness, and during these
periods the Dukes of Orleans and Burgundy fought for the regency.
Christine began her patriotic work by fervent appeals to Isabella, the
Queen (to whom she offered a MS. now in the British Museum),[31] to
use her influence to put an end to these dissensions which so greatly
added to the troubles of the kingdom. She also lost no opportunity of
proclaiming in her various writings the duties and responsibilities of
kings and nobles to the people, and the necessity, if there was ever
to be peace and prosperity, of winning their regard. At the command of
Philip le Hardi, Duke of Burgundy, and uncle of the King, she wrote in
prose, from chronicles of the time and from information obtained from
many connected with the King’s household, _Le Livre des faits et
bonnes mœurs du roi Charles V_, recounting his virtuous life and deeds
and their advantage to the realm, and introducing a remarkable
dissertation on the benefit to a country of a strong middle-class.
She, of course, reasoned from Aristotle. The subject is a commonplace
one now, but in the case of any one living at the beginning of the
fifteenth century, and brought up, as Christine had been, at a
magnificent Court, it shows rare independence and breadth of thought
to have grasped and proclaimed with such firmness and clearness as is
displayed in her treatise the germ of the policy of all modern
civilised nations--that a middle-class is essential to bring into
touch those placed at the opposite extremes, the rich and the poor.

    [31] Harley, 4431.

To Christine belongs an honour beyond that of having been a patriot
and a champion of her sex--the honour of having revealed Dante to
France.[32] Scattered up and down her writings are many allusions to
the _Divina Commedia_, showing how real a place it must have filled in
her soul’s life. She especially recommends it for profitable study in
the place of the “hateful” _Romance of the Rose_, concerning which she
gave the warning to her son:--

    Se bien veulx et chastement vivre,
    De la Rose ne lis le livre.

    [32] A. Farinelli, _Dante e la Francia_, vol. i. p. 192, 1908.

Like Dante, sad and lonely--“souvent seulete et pensive, regretant le
temps passé”--like him she also realised the thirst for knowledge as
an ever-present want of the soul, and that its ultimate perfection is
only to be attained by following after virtue and knowledge. Although,
as regards profundity, her conception of the world and of life cannot
be compared with that of her great prototype, or even with that of
such an one as St. Hildegarde, still she had read with unflagging
diligence a vast number of profane and ecclesiastical writers, and
seems to have been well versed in the varied knowledge of her time,
especially history. But whilst it is possible to criticise her
learning, tempered as this was by her character and the needs of her
day, it is at the same time possible to acknowledge that in spite of
flaws and an often over-elaborated setting, moral truth sparkles
gemlike throughout her writings. One of her biographers speaks of her
thus: “Her morale is so pure and so universally human that not only
does it remain true to-day, but it will retain imperishable value as
long as ever human society is based on a pure and healthy moral
foundation.”

In her poem _Le Chemin de long Estude_--a title taken from Dante’s
appeal to Virgil at the opening of the _Inferno_--Christine begins by
acknowledging her debt to the immortal poet, saying that much that she
has to tell has already been told by “Dante of Florence in his book.”
Virgil as guide is replaced by the Cumean Sibyl, who appears to
Christine in a dream, and offers to conduct her to another and a more
perfect world, one where there is no pain and misery. To this
Christine consents on condition that “sad Hades, whither Æneas once
was taken,” is not included in the journey. The Sibyl therefore
promises to reveal to her, instead, in what manner misfortune came
upon earth, whilst at the same time showing her on the way all that
is worth seeing in this world, from the Pillars of Hercules, “the end
of the world,” to distant Cathay. However exhausting this programme
may appear to us, Christine, knowing the real passion of the late
Middle Ages for travel--for even those who could not travel in reality
did so in imagination,--makes use of it as a setting for the
introduction of a discussion on the qualities most necessary to good
government. This she does, even at the risk of incurring displeasure
in high quarters, recalling how Dante’s patriotism led to banishment
and death in exile, but she adds, “Qui bien ayme, tout endure.” She
pours forth her classical examples in a chaotic stream, but when she
leaves earth, and ascends to the celestial regions, she not only shows
herself versed in the astronomy of the time, but also expresses some
beauty of thought. The order of the firmament, where all obey law
without ceasing, so that harmony ensues “like sweet melody,” reminds
her of Pythagoras and Plato, and suggests to her what life on earth
might be if good laws were made and observed. In furtherance of her
idea, she appeals to Reason, who presides over the Virtues or Divine
Powers, to interrogate the three earthly disputants, Nobility, Riches,
and Wisdom. In the end Reason awards the prize to Wisdom, condemning
Riches as the great enemy of mankind. Thereupon Wisdom appeals to the
verdicts of Juvenal, Boëthius, St. Jerome, and others to establish
that it is Virtue alone that is of worth, and ennobles a man, and then
sets forth the qualities of a good sovereign. But as this leads to
some difference of opinion, Christine, who was withal a courtly lady,
descends to earth in order to ask the King, Charles the Sixth, to
decide the matter. This dream-poem she dedicates to her royal master
for his diversion in his saner moments, and thus once again introduces
into high places the subject so near to her heart. She lets it be seen
that she herself, like Dante, did not believe in the blending of the
spiritual and the temporal powers. And as regards temporal power she
adds--perhaps borrowing the idea from Dante’s _De Monarchia_, and
anticipating Napoleon’s dream--that in order to ensure peace on earth,
it is necessary that one supreme ruler should reign over the whole
world. “La sua volontade e nostra pace,” sang a soul in Dante’s heaven
of the Moon--the lowest in the celestial system--when questioned
whether it was content with its lowly place. The poet therefore adds,
“ogni dove in cielo e paradiso.” Christine, echoing these thoughts,
would fain apply them to life on earth, giving them their deepest and
fullest meaning.

Though she laboured so unceasingly for the good of her country, she
also did her utmost to defend her sex from the indiscriminate censure
which had been heaped upon it, for the evil spoken seemed to her far
to outweigh the good. A century before, Dante had also idealised
woman--even if, as some think, he personified some abstract
quality--and placed her in heaven beside the Deity. Chivalry had also
idealised woman, but in an exotic, exaggerated manner, which was bound
to reach its zenith, and bound also to have its darker side. So we
find that to speak good or ill of womankind became a conventionalism
in the Middle Ages. Black or white was the tone chosen by the artist
in words. There was no blending, no shading. Women were either
deified, or held to be evil incarnate. The material side of life men
understood, and could depict with some exactness, but to grasp in any
way its subtler aspects required an education which could be attained
only by slow degrees, since it meant the gradual modification of the
long-cherished illusion that brute force is the world’s only weapon. A
want of capacity to discern is often responsible for a depreciatory
opinion, and we can but ascribe this strangely narrow-minded and
superficial attitude towards woman to some such want. Christine set
herself the task of trying to remedy this evil, not by shouting in the
market-place, but by studying men and women as God made them and as
she found them. Before she began her work, a new day seemed to be
dawning. Just as, when classicism was in full decadence, Plutarch
wrote _De mulierum virtutibus_ (of the virtue of women), so, in the
fourteenth century, Boccaccio gave to the world _De claris mulieribus_
(of right-renowned women). We do not expect to find woman treated on
a very high plane by Boccaccio, but we recognise that, in a way, this
work forms a fresh starting-point in the eternal controversy. Perhaps
we should not have had this curious collection of stories of women,
virtuous and vicious, mythological and historical--stories which are
certainly very inferior as art to those of the _Decameron_--had not a
crisis occurred in Boccaccio’s life. One day a Carthusian monk came to
him with a warning message from the dead, and, much troubled in mind,
he resolved to try to begin life afresh. But he was a better
story-teller than a moraliser. He would fain save his soul, but he
liked and courted popularity, and knew well the deeper meaning of the
proverb, “A terreno dolce, vanga di legno.” And so he mingles virtue
and vice, hoping, as he says, that “some utility and profit shall come
of the same.” To us of to-day, the chief interest of this work is that
Boccaccio’s fame perhaps gave a definite impetus to the discussion of
the sex, instead of wholesale assertion, and also that it probably
suggested to Chaucer the idea for his _Legend of Good Women_. How
refreshing to find ourselves in the atmosphere of the kindly Chaucer!
Let us pause for a moment, and recall what he says of women, he who
was not only a knightly Court-poet, but also a popular singer, well
versed in the practical wisdom of life. In the prologue we read, “Let
be the chaf, and wryt wel of the corn,” and in allusion to his
library of sixty books, old and new, of history and love-stories, he
says that for every bad woman, mention was duly made of a hundred good
ones. Time and experience in no way dull this appreciation, for when,
later, _The Canterbury Tales_ appear, his estimate has risen ten-fold,
since in the prologue to “The Miller’s Tale” we read, “and ever a
thousand gode ageyn one badde.” From this time onwards, literature on
the subject increases almost _ad infinitum_. Treatises and imaginary
debates seem to vie with each other for popularity. All these make
intensely interesting reading, for these fanciful discussions, which
are supposed to take place, sometimes between a man and a woman,
sometimes between a mixed company in a garden or villa or some bath
resort where many are gathered together, are really a record of the
intellectual amusements of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
“Que devez-vous préférer, du plaisir qui va vous échapper bientôt, ou
d’une espérance toujours vive, quoique toujours trompée?” “Which sex
loves the more easily or can do the better without love?” “It is not
enough to know how to win love, but one must also know how to keep
such love when it has been won.” Such-like were the subtle problems
which on these occasions folk set themselves to solve.

But whilst love problems could be treated as a pastime, they also had
their serious side. Of this there is an example in Christine’s story
of _The Duke of True Lovers_. Although much in its narration is
evidently the mere invention of the poetess, it is quite possible,
nay even probable, that it has some historical basis. Christine begins
her story by saying that it had been confided to her by a young prince
who did not wish his name to be divulged, and who desired only to be
known as “The Duke of True Lovers.” It has been suggested, with much
likelihood, that this is in truth the love-story of Jean, Duc de
Bourbon, and of Marie, Duchesse de Berri, daughter of the famous Jean,
Duc de Berri, and the inheritor of his MSS. When the story opens, the
heroine of it, whoever she may have been, is already wedded. Hence all
the difficulties of the hero, and indeed of both. Christine, with her
womanly sympathy and psychological insight, makes all so intensely
real that we are quite carried away in imagination to the courtly life
of the fifteenth century. We read of the first meeting; of the Duke’s
love at first sight; of Castle daily life; of a three days’ tournament
given in honour of the lady; of devices for secret meetings and the
interchange of letters; of the inevitable scandal-monger; of a letter
from a former _gouvernante_--whose aid as go-between had been
sought--containing a most comprehensive and remarkable treatise on
feminine morality, the dangers of illicit love, and the satisfaction
of simple wifely duty; of the separation which the position of the
lady, and the gallantry of her lover, alike demanded; of meetings at
intervals; of the mutual solace of short love-poems; and then the
story, perhaps to evade identification, ends vaguely. But as we finish
the story, we cannot help feeling that even if Christine’s setting is
fiction, she yet gives us a glance of real life.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

LADY IN HORSE-LITTER, RETURNING FROM TOURNAMENT.

Harl. MS. 4431, Brit. Mus.

_To face page 132._]

When Christine turned to her serious work in the cause of womankind,
she began by attacking two books, Ovid’s _Art of Love_, and _The
Romance of the Rose_, both of which, in the Middle Ages, it was deemed
wellnigh sacrilegious to decry. Her challenge, _L’Epistre au Dieu
d’Amours_, took the form of an address to the God of Love, professing
to come from women of all conditions, imploring Cupid’s aid against
disloyal and deceitful lovers, whose base behaviour she largely
attributes to the false teaching of these two books. This argument
appeared in 1399, and she soon discovered that she had stirred up a
hornet’s nest. But she had attacked advisedly and fearlessly, and was
quite prepared for any counter onslaught. Her position was
considerably strengthened by the alliance and co-operation of her
staunch friend Gerson, the Chancellor, who himself, in the name of the
clergy, took up arms against the flagrant scurrility to be found in
the portion of _The Romance of the Rose_ contributed by Jean de Meun.
Other powerful allies joined the cause, and, to help to crystallise
their efforts, species of “Courts of Love” were instituted, not alone
for discourse on love, as heretofore, but also in the defence of
women. All who united in this meritorious fellowship undertook to wear
a distinctive badge, and thus proclaim their confession of faith.
Among these Orders one was styled “L’Escu vert à la dame blanche,”
another, “L’Ordre de la Rose,” and so on, suggestive of their purport.
The first-named was founded by the brave soldier Jean le Meingre,
Maréchal de Boucicaut, whose portrait may be seen in his superb Book
of Hours, painted between 1399 and 1407, now in the Musée
Jacquemart-André, Paris.[33] Its membership was restricted to thirteen
knights, who swore to defend the honour of women against all
detractors. To distinguish them from others less gallantly disposed,
they wore on the sleeve an ornament in the shape of a small shield,
enamelled green on the outside, and with the representation, on the
underside, of a woman, enamelled in white.

    ... Vous portez la dame en verde targe
    Pour démonstrer que de hardi visage
    Vous vous voulez pour les dames tenir
    Contre ceulz qui leur porteront dommage!

    [33] “Le Musée Jacquemart-André,” _Gazette des Beaux-Arts_,
    August 1912.

Of the Order of the Rose and its foundation, Christine, in one of her
poems, gives most picturesque and interesting particulars, interesting
because they are evidently taken from an actual scene, though
Christine, in her rôle as poetess, feels it necessary to add touches
suggestive of fairyland rather than of real life. A numerous assembly,
with goodwill at heart, has met together in the magnificent dwelling
of Louis, Duke of Orleans, the King’s brother, Christine being one of
the number. Suddenly there comes into their midst one personifying the
Goddess Venus, surrounded by maidens garlanded with roses and carrying
golden bowls filled with them. The bowls placed on the table, the
Goddess proceeds to announce the rules of the Order, above all
enjoining those present to avoid envy, and in no way to perjure
themselves, since this would be a most heinous and hateful sin. The
badge chosen is a fresh rose, but if any member of the Order should
happen to be in a country where such is not attainable, or when the
season is unpropitious, then a rose fashioned in gold or silver, or
one embroidered in silk, will suffice. With pledges of loyalty,

    A bonne amour je fais veu et promesse
    Et à la fleur qui est rose clamée,
    A la vaillant de Loyauté deesse,
    Par qui nous est ceste chose informée,
    Qu’à tous jours mais la bonne renommée
    Je garderay de dame en toute chose
    Ne par moy ja femme n’yert diffamée:
    Et pour ce prens je L’Ordre de la Rose,[34]

    [34] “Le Dit de la Rose,” 197-204, _Œuvres poétiques de
    Christine de Pisan_, t. ii., pub. par Maurice Roy, 1891.

all the company deck themselves with roses. The charter is given by
the Goddess into the safe-keeping of Christine, who describes it as
written on fine parchment in letters of azure, and fastened with a
silken cord of the same colour. From this cord hangs a rare gem, on
one side of which their patroness, the Goddess of Love, and on the
other Cupid, with his feet on a leopard, are depicted. This moral and
literary contest is perhaps the most brilliant of the many discussions
that took place in the Middle Ages in honour of women. The highest and
the wisest in the land joined in it, but all the honour must be given
to Christine for having, by her brave and reasonable attitude, caused
the problem, which henceforth was to evolve like truth itself, to be
treated on a rational basis. “Toute la foy remaint en une femme,” says
Christine. Were not her words, nearly 500 years later, echoed by Renan
when he says, “Après Jésus, c’est Marie de Magdale qui a le plus fait
pour la fondation du Christianisme”?

_L’Epistre au Dieu d’Amours_ is an extraordinary product of worldly
wisdom and common sense, seasoned with satire. One of the complaints
against disloyal suitors, and one which strikes a singularly modern
note, is that they make protests of love, and false promises, which
must be either paid for dearly, or rejected with scorn. Then the hero,
if he has won the day, proclaims his victory in taverns and other
places of resort, and even in mixed company. Or if, as is more often
the case, he has lost it, he still tries, by suggestive hints, to
appear to his fellows a successful gallant. Surely the worldling of
to-day does not seem to differ very essentially from his brother of
the fifteenth century, or to have progressed any farther along the
path of loyalty!

Christine’s line of argument is that the many must not be condemned
for the shortcomings of the few, and that even when God made the
angels, some were bad. To the charge that books are full of the
condemnation of women, she replies with the simple remark that books
were not written by women. Where is the shade of the worthy Christine
to-day? Does it walk the earth with a flag of triumph or a laurel
wreath whilst its sisters in the flesh are writing on every subject in
heaven and earth and sea? “De nos jours, le monde est aux femmes.”

Is it marvellous, asks Christine, that a woman--“une chose simplète,
une ignorante petite femmellette,” as she expresses it--should be
betrayed by man, when even the great city of Troy was, and when all
the books and romances are full of the betrayal of kings and kingdoms?
And if a woman is not constant by nature, why should Jean de Meun, in
_The Romance of the Rose_, devise so many tricks to deceive her,
seeing that it is not necessary to make a great assault upon a feeble
place? Then she deftly turns the tables on the other sex, reminding
each that he is the son of his mother, and that

    Se mauvaise est il ne peut valor rien,
    Car nul bon fruit de mal arbre ne vient.

And so on to the end, all is argument and banter. The repute of her
letter must have travelled quickly, for whilst Christine was still
combating with dissentients, an epitomised rendering of it appeared
(1402) in English from the pen of Hoccleve, the pupil of Chaucer,
entitled _The Lettre of Cupide, God of Love_.

[Illustration: _Bib. Royale, Munich._

LA CITÉ DES DAMES.

_To face page 138._]

Later, Christine, with Boccaccio’s _De claris mulieribus_ before her,
writes _La Cité des Dames_, an account of the building of an imaginary
city which is to shelter within its strong ramparts the women of all
times and all countries who have distinguished themselves by good and
heroic deeds. This has been aptly called “The Golden Book of
Heroines.” It may certainly be considered her masterpiece on her
favourite subject. She urges that philosophers and poets, with one
accord, have defamed women, and she appeals to God, asking why such a
thing should be, seeing that He Himself made them and gave them such
inclinations as seemed good to Him, and that in no way could He err.
She maintains that God created the soul, and made it as good in woman
as in man, and that it is not the sex, but the perfection of virtue,
that is material. Combating the suggestion that women are not fit to
plead in Court because they have not sufficient intelligence to apply
the law when they have learnt it, she refers to history to prove that
women who have had the management of affairs have shown that, far from
lacking intelligence and judgment, they have possessed both in large
measure. At the same time, whilst defending their capability when
necessity arises, she does not think it necessary for women to
interfere in matters which seem essentially man’s business. Her
remarks on the subject of marriage are certainly practical, and at the
same time disclose a strange unloveliness in contemporary manners. She
is not of St. Paul’s opinion that it is better not to marry, but all
the same she suggests that, unless without means, that woman is
happier who does not marry a second time, seeing that the life of a
married woman is often worse than if she were in the hands of the
Saracens--the terror of the Middle Ages,--and that frequently after
her husband has been out enjoying himself, her only supper, on his
return, is a beating. She counsels the education of women, and
condemns those who suggest that this will conduce to unseemly ways. In
truth, her wonderful sense of justice, and her enlightened opinions
generally, make it a marvellous résumé of statesmanship as far as it
goes. It is a real Utopia. Perhaps to Christine it was a glimpse of
the Promised Land! As we read her views on the education of boys and
girls together, in this happy city, we feel that she might be
discussing with us the problems of to-day. She says that if boys and
girls are taught the same subjects, girls can, as a rule, learn just
as well, and just as intelligently, as boys, and so on. In this
conclusion she forestalls the learned Cornelius Agrippa, a doctor and
philosopher of the sixteenth century, and one of the most original and
remarkable men of his time, who boldly asserts that sex is merely
physical, and does not extend to soul or rational power. She sums up
by strongly advocating study and learning, both for self-improvement
and as a consolation and possession for all time.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

SETTING OUT FOR POISSY.

Harl. MS. 4431, Brit. Mus.

_To face page 140._]

Of her poetical writings on love and the sexes, perhaps the most
enchanting is _Le Livre du Dit de Poissy_. In it she takes us, on a
bright spring morning, with a joyous company, from Paris to the royal
convent of Poissy, where her child is at school. She describes all the
beauties of the country, the fields gay with flowers, the warbling of
the birds, the shepherdesses with their flocks, the willow-shaded
river bank along which they ride, the magic of the forest of St.
Germain, a little world apart of greenery and shade, filled with the
song of the nightingales. Laughing and singing by the way, they reach
the convent gate. Then follows a description of the beautiful carved
cloisters, the chapter-house, the nuns’ dress and their dormitory, the
garden scented with lavender and roses, with one part, where small
animals are allowed to run wild, left uncultivated, and the ponds well
stocked with fish. As the day wanes, they bid farewell to the nuns,
who offer them gifts of purses and girdles embroidered in silk and
gold, worked by their own hands. They return to the inn where they are
to spend the night, and after supper wander forth to listen to the
nightingales, then dance a carole, and so to bed. The ride back to
Paris in the morning, during which a discussion on love matters is
introduced, is painted with the same impressionist touch, and it is
with real regret that we take leave of these happy folk as they alight
in Paris city from their stout nags.

Another similar discourse, _Le Débat de deux amants_, has for setting
a gala entertainment, taking place, like the founding of the “Order of
the Rose,” under the auspices of Louis, Duke of Orleans, who ever
extended a princely protection to Christine. Louis had married
Valentine Visconti, daughter of Gian Galleazo Visconti, founder of the
Certosa, near Pavia, a princess well versed in art and letters, and
withal in pomp and splendour. It is on a day in May, the garden gay
with gallants and fair ladies. We hear the minstrels play, and watch
some of the company, decked with garlands, dancing under the trees. In
the palace there is music and singing. Christine is seated in a
tapestried hall with one or two esquires who prefer to discourse of
love to joining in the jollity. After a time the talk turns on fickle
men, and Christine brings forth from her vast storehouse of knowledge
classical and mediæval examples. As she mentions Theseus, and recalls
his baseness to Ariadne, she points to the tapestry on the wall before
them, where the story is woven. This little touch makes the scene very
real to us, for the record of the purchase of this tapestry, with the
price of twelve hundred francs paid for it, may still be found amongst
the royal inventories.

There is such a volume and variety of works from Christine’s pen that
it is no easy task to make a fair selection. One of the most
significant, since it deals with a subject which permeated mediæval
thought, and on which she was wont to dwell, is _La Mutation de
fortune_, “Fortune more inconstant than the moon,” says Christine. In
it she writes with her heart in her hand, as it were, telling first of
the sore havoc Fortune has wrought amongst those most dear to her. Yet
though her own heart has been torn on the Wheel of Fortune, she stands
before her fellow sufferers like some figure of Hope pointing upward,
where, she says, wrong is surely righted. And thus she turns to the
world in general, not in the spirit of the pessimist, but rather in
that of the philosopher. She well knows that Fortune is no blindfolded
goddess turning writhing humanity on a wheel, but a something rooted
in ourselves, and she has pity for “la povre fragilité humaine.”
Though so independent and advanced in thought, she is still found
clinging in her writings to mediæval forms. As a setting for her
thoughts on Fortune’s changes, she makes use of the favourite simile
of a castle--here the Castle of Fortune--as representing the world,
wherein the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, jostle one
another. She criticises all men, from the prince to the pauper, but
not women, since these have been sufficiently criticised and decried.
It is like the prelude to a _Dance of Death_. Then she tells of the
paintings on the walls of this imaginary castle, and uses this
mediæval fancy, itself borrowed from the classics (_Met._ ii. 5. 770),
to give what is really a history of the world as she knew it, written
to demonstrate the instability of all earthly conditions.

Once again, with her versatile gifts, she turns from philosophy to a
treatise on military tactics and justice, _Le Livre des faits d’armes
et de chevalerie_. However devoid of interest, except as a landmark in
the history of military strategy and customs, this work may be to-day,
it was thought of sufficient importance in the reign of our Henry the
Seventh for the king to command Caxton to translate and print it
(1489) with the title of _The Book of Faytes of Arms_, a book still
sought after by our bibliophiles. It was further honoured by being
quoted as an authority in the reign of Henry the Eighth. Considering
the nature of its contents, this seems quite an extraordinary tribute
to the judgment and ability of the writer.

But the misery of France is ever increasing. Ceaseless civil war and
foreign invasion impoverish the people, and make desolate the land.
The dissolute Court is extravagant and filled with discord. Christine,
fired with patriotic fervour, once more makes an effort, which proves
to be her final one, to arouse the pleasure-loving nobility to some
sense of its obligations to the nation. _Le Livre des trois vertues_,
and _Le Livre de la paix_, appear one after the other. In the former,
which she dedicates to the Dauphine, Margaret of Burgundy, she merely
adds another to the long list of discourses for the guidance of women
which, in Christian times, begins as early as the second century.[35]
This theme forms the subject of so considerable a didactic literature
that it can only be hinted at here. Whether treated from a religious
or from a social point of view, or the two combined, the sum-total of
the teaching is moral training with a view to self-restraint and
subordination. Christine addresses herself to all women, from the
highest to the lowest, but her principal theme is the influence a
princess may and should have on Court life. She further counsels not
princesses alone, but all well-born women, not to attach too much
importance to the things of this world, to be charitable, and to see
to the education of their children, and so to inform themselves that
they may be capable of filling their husbands’ place when they are
obliged to be absent at war or at the Court. She adds a plea for the
country, that war should be opposed, and one for the poor, that pity
should be shown to them. Then she addresses herself to the townswoman,
advising her to see to her household, not to fear to go into the
kitchen, and to avoid all luxury; then to servants, counselling them
on no account to take bribes, adding the practical touch that as God
is everywhere, and only asks of each a good heart, it is not
necessary for them to go to Mass every day; then to the wife of the
labourer, bidding her to guard well her master’s flocks and to
encourage her husband to work; and, finally, she has a word of
sympathy for the poor, holding out to them hope of recompense in
heaven for misery endured here, and exhorting them to have patience
meanwhile. From this patriotic and practical advice to women she turns
to men, and in _Le Livre de la Paix_ sets forth the duties of princes
and of those in power to the people, importuning them to exercise
clemency, liberality, and justice.

    [35] A. A. Hentsch, _De la littérature du moyen âge
    s’adressant spécialement aux femmes_, Cahors, 1903.

But it is too late. The sand in the hour-glass is running low.
Disaster follows disaster, until the final blow is struck at Agincourt
(1415), where the flower of the French nation is cut off, and princes
of the blood are carried away into exile. Christine, with bleeding
heart, and worn with trouble and disappointment, retires to the
convent of Poissy, “un très doux paradis,” perchance to find peace and
consolation within its tranquil walls, and to implore Heaven’s aid for
her sore-stricken country. For fourteen years no sound from her
reaches the outside world. Then, inspired by the glorious advent and
deeds of Joan of Arc, with all her old passion she pours forth a final
hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the woman who has at last aroused
France to patriotism, and so dies in peace at the solemn moment of
Charles the Seventh’s consecration at Rheims.

    O Thou! ordainèd Maid of very God!
    Joanna! born in Fortune’s golden hour,
    On thee the Holy Spirit pours His Flood
    And His high grace is given thee for dower.
    Now all great gifts are thine:--O blessed be He
    That lent thee life!--how word my grateful prayer?
    --No prayer of thine was spoken fruitlessly,
    O Maid of God! O Joan! O Virgin rare!

       *       *       *       *       *

    Mark me this portent! strange beyond all telling!
    How this despoilèd Kingdom stricken lay,
    And no man raised his hand to guard his dwelling,
    Until a Woman came to show the way.
    Until a Woman (since no man dare try)
    Rallied the land and bade the traitors fly.
    Honour to Womankind! It needs must be
    That God loves Woman, since He fashioned Thee!

       *       *       *       *       *

    O strange! This little maid sixteen years old
    On whom no harness weigheth overmuch.
    So strong the little hands! enduring hold
    She seemeth fed by that same armour’s touch,
    Nurtured on iron--as before her vanish
    The enemies of her triumphal day;
    And this by many men is witnessèd;
    Yea, many eyes be witness of that fray!

       *       *       *       *       *

    Castles and towns, she wins them back for France,
    And France is free again, and this her doing!
    Never was power given as to her lance!
    A thousand swords could do no more pursuing.
    Of all staunch men and true she is the Chief,
    Captain and Leader, for that she alone
    Is braver than Achilles the brave Greek.
    All praise be given to God who leadeth Joan!



AGNES SOREL


So much glamour has attached, and rightly so, to Joan of Arc, the
soldier-saviour of Charles the Seventh of France, that another woman,
Agnes Sorel--Charles’s good angel of a less militant order--has been
almost entirely overlooked, and where she has been remembered, has
been treated by the few with the honour due to her, and by the many
merely as Charles’s mistress. But to her it was given to be a great
inspirer of Charles, and much of the good that this weak king and
ungrateful man did for his country may assuredly be in large measure
attributed to her influence, just as the greatest merit that can be
recorded of him personally was his devotion to her whilst she lived,
though the memory of her availed naught after she had passed away.
Agnes Sorel came as it were between the ebb and flow of the late
Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when chivalry, not as a passing
emotion but as an education, still lingered in men’s relation with
women. Respect for womankind grew in the Middle Ages in France under
the double influence of religion and chivalry, of which the cult of
the Virgin and the cult of woman were the outcome. In honour of both,
men strove in tournament and fought in battle. With the cry, “For our
Lady,” or “For God and my Lady,” men hurled themselves into the thick
of the strife as if the goddess, whether divine or human, in whose
name they ventured, had made her champions invulnerable. And, in a
manner as it would seem of action and re-action, the goddess became
humanised and the woman deified. The former tendency may be traced in
miracles attributed to the Virgin, and, later, in the “Mysteries,” and
the latter in tales of chivalry, where love is treated as a gift from
Heaven, and the recipients of it are idealised. Stories which seem to
contradict this, and to refute all accepted ideas of chivalry and
honour, are frequently original only in details, the bases being
borrowed from Oriental tales. Buddha’s country, the land of the
Zenana, supplied much material of an exaggerated nature which in the
West became mere travesty.

It is always difficult to determine exactly the origin of anything so
subtle as a sentiment, especially one which gradually pervades and
influences a people. It is, in its way, at first like a soft breeze,
of which we can only see the effect. But as we try to discover some
definite, if only partial, reason for this interchange of simple human
relations between the Virgin and her votaries, we remember that St.
Francis, the embodiment of exalted human sentiment, had lived, and
that scholasticism, in that phase of it which treated the dialectical
subtleties of words as paramount, was on the wane. Hence spirit,
which had so long been restrained, and which is ever in conflict with
form, again prevailed, and mankind discovered that a loving Mother had
taken the place of a stately Queen in the Heavens. This attitude
towards the Virgin is revealed in the miracles attributed to her
agency. It is also shown in one of the greatest works of piety of the
thirteenth century, the _Meditations on the Life of Jesus Christ_,[36]
which, through the medium of the “Mysteries,” introduced into sacred
pictorial art some of its most dramatic and appealing scenes. Where is
there to be found anything more tenderly human than the incident of
“Christ taking leave of His Mother” before His journey to Jerusalem to
consummate His mission?

    [36] These meditations, attributed in the past, and by some
    even now, to St. Bonaventura, are considered by other
    scholars to be of Cistercian inspiration. P. Perdrizet, _La
    Vierge de Miséricorde_, 1908, p. 15.

This note of the womanly element in its fairest form, gradually
insinuating itself more and more, and permeating life, art, and
literature, is the key to the right understanding of the position
which woman had attained in the civilised world.

Before turning our special attention to Agnes Sorel, let us recall the
condition of France at the beginning of the fifteenth century.

When the lunatic King Charles the Sixth died in 1422, and Charles, his
son, at the age of nineteen, succeeded under the title of “King of
Bourges,” Paris was held by the Burgundians, who were in league with
the English. The Dukes of Burgundy and of Brittany were alike
vacillating in their policy, being at one time attached to the king’s
party, and at another allied to the English. With the exception of a
few castles, the strongholds of lords loyal to the Crown, the English
possessed the whole of France north of the Loire, from the Meuse to
the Bay of Mont St. Michel. Hither the Duke of Bedford was sent as
regent for the English king, Henry the Sixth, then ten months old,
who, by the terms of the Treaty of Troyes (1420), was the lawful king,
the right of succession having been conferred on his father, Henry the
Fifth, when he married Catherine, the daughter of Charles the Sixth of
France.

Charles the Seventh divided his time between Bourges and Poitiers,
where the government was carried on, and Loches, Chinon, and Tours,
the places he dearly loved, and in which he sought the solitude he
craved for. But even in these seemingly peaceful retreats his lethargy
and indolence were disturbed by perpetual intrigues, which it must be
admitted were largely fostered by his own caprices and fickle
affections. Meanwhile a cry of misery was arising from the
war-devastated land. Churches and convents, castles and cottages, were
all fallen into ruin, and brambles grew on the untilled land where
once golden corn had waved. Peasants hid their horses during the day
and brought them out to graze at night. As Alain Chartier wrote at
the time, “Les pays champestres sont tournez à l’estat de la mer, où
chascun a tant de seigneurie comme il a de force.” Men of all
conditions, from the proudest lord to the poorest peasant, joined in
spasmodic and detached efforts to drive out the English, but with the
result that they did little else than harass them. Want of cohesion
was the characteristic of the national resistance until, from a small
village in the east of France, there appeared a deliverer in the
person of Joan of Arc. Instantly, as if her sword were a magic wand,
all the fighting men, impelled and inspired by the strength of her
personality, rallied around her, and victory was assured.

The story of the siege and surrender of Orleans, of the crowning of
Charles in Rheims Cathedral, of Joan subsequently falling into the
hands of the Burgundians, who sold her to their allies, the English,
of her shameful trial and cruel death, are facts so well known that
they may well be passed over here as briefly as possible. Suffice it
to say, that, except for a time, even the triumph of this
maiden-patriot did little to rouse the indolent king, who speedily
returned to his selfish life in Touraine. War, pillage, and anarchy
again devastated France. But gradually a change came over Charles. He
seemed to awake as from a stupor. Dissolute and self-seeking
favourites were dismissed, and the king was surrounded by able and
high-minded men. He bestirred himself to make a final peace with
Burgundy and Brittany, and to take part in the war which was still
smouldering, though there were signs of its approaching end.

What was the secret of such a change? That it was due, in the first
instance, partly to the wise influence of his mother-in-law, Yolande
of Aragon, and partly also to that of his wife, Marie of Anjou, sister
of the good Duke René, seems almost certain, but that it was
intensified when Agnes Sorel came into his life, there can be no
doubt. When we consider the king’s earlier life, and what it was
whilst he was under the influence of Agnes, and his relapse into
indolence and debauchery after her death, we can only attribute much
of this change to her sympathetic and wise guidance. Joan of Arc had
represented the popular element, Agnes Sorel represented the
aristocratic. Joan of Arc aroused the people to united action by her
enthusiasm and success, Agnes Sorel, in her time, helped to complete
the consolidation of the kingdom, by inspiring and sustaining the
king. Perhaps no one man could have accomplished such a revolution. It
took two women to do this, and what they did was not of mere passing
worth. Phœnix-like, France arose from the ashes of the Hundred Years’
War, and it was Agnes Sorel, as priestess, who stirred the embers
which hid the new life.

Voltaire, generally more ready to scoff than to approve, wrote thus of
Agnes Sorel:

    Le bon roi Charles, au printemps de ses jours,

       *       *       *       *       *

    Avait trouvé, _pour le bien de la France_,
    Une beauté, nommée Agnes Sorel.

Was it for the good of France? Let us disregard prejudices, and
examine facts. Even then, if all that is known of her were written, it
could only bear to this rare personality the resemblance which a faint
reflection does to reality.

Agnes Sorel was probably born about 1420 or 1422, in the Castle of
Fromenteau in Touraine.[37] Her father, Jean Soreau, or Sorel, was
Lord of Coudon, and belonged to the lesser nobility. It was in this
beautiful country of forest and meadow-land, of silvery rivers and
meandering streams, that Agnes spent her early years, her education
being principally religious, for religion naturally held the first
place in a society which still retained faith in the supernatural. It
was customary at that time for girls of noble birth to complete their
education either at Court or at the castle of some princely person,
for such places were considered excellent schools of courtesy and
other virtues for the daughters as well as for the sons of the
nobility.

    [37] Both the date and the place of her birth seem uncertain.
    Some writers suggest 1415, and some 1420 or 1422, as the
    date; whilst Froidmantel, in Picardy, is conjectured by some,
    and Fromenteau, in Touraine, by others, as the place. (Du
    Fresne de Beaucourt, _Hist. de Charles VII_, t. iv. p. 171,
    note 4.)

Though the date is uncertain, it was at the Court of Lorraine that
Agnes became maid-of-honour to the Duchess Isabelle, wife of René,
Duke of Anjou and Lorraine, and Count of Provence, a prince
distinguished for chivalry and learning. This intellectual and
chivalrous atmosphere must have been peculiarly congenial to the
sympathetic and versatile nature of Agnes Sorel. We can picture her
listening to the Duke René reading his latest poem to one or two of
his brother-poets in the castle pleasaunce, or discoursing on
philosophy or statecraft, or attending some brilliant pageant or
sumptuous fête. Chivalry, though dead as an institution, still
survived as a recreation, and as an appeal from the past to the
cultured imagination, and René, mediæval knight that he was in
sentiment, dearly loved the gorgeous spectacle of a tournament, with
the knight jousting in honour of his chosen lady. At this Court Agnes
also came under the influence of Yolande of Aragon, widow of Louis,
King of Naples and Sicily, great-granddaughter of King John of France,
mother of the Duke René, and mother-in-law of King Charles the
Seventh, a woman renowned for her extraordinary political capacity.
All these ties, and the remembrance of the French blood in her veins,
emphasised Yolande’s dominant passion--the love of France,--and it may
well be that in this patriotic atmosphere Agnes Sorel became imbued
with a like passion, which later she was to develop in all its
perfection, rivalled only by her devotion to the well-being and glory
of her royal lover.

Patriotism was a virtue of recent growth in France, for, in order to
thrive, it requires unity of idea, and during the Middle Ages the only
idea common to all was Christianity, which, from the nature of its
teaching of humility and fraternity, does not make for patriotism. It
may cement the structure, but it does not form the basis. It was only
after years of suffering and unrest that men learned to sink their
individual and local interests in those of the nation as a whole.
Then, and only then, could patriotism arise, and only under such
conditions could it flourish.

How long Agnes lived at the Court of Lorraine (one of the most refined
and cultured Courts of the time), and how her first meeting with the
king came about, is uncertain. It has been considered likely that
between 1431 and 1435 Isabelle of Lorraine went to Chinon to beseech
the king to use his influence to obtain the release of her husband,
imprisoned by his cousin, a rival claimant to the duchy of Lorraine.
It is possible that Agnes, even if only born in 1422, may have
accompanied her, but even if she did not, this visit of Isabelle’s
may, indirectly, have led to the meeting between the king and Agnes.
Whilst still a prisoner, René succeeded to the crown of Naples on the
death of his brother, Louis d’Anjou, and as the country was in a
disturbed condition it was deemed prudent for Isabelle, his wife, to
act as his substitute, and, as _lieutenante générale_, she set forth
to establish his claim. History is silent on the point as to whether
Agnes accompanied her or not. It may be, as some seem to think, that
she remained in Anjou with Isabelle’s eldest daughter, Marguerite,
afterwards Queen of England. We should like to think that it was
during this time that she attracted the notice of Charles, for this
would lend additional interest to the exquisite miniature in the Musée
du Louvre (at one time in the Book of Hours of Etienne Chevalier, now
for the most part at Chantilly), which it seems probable represents
Agnes Sorel as a youthful shepherdess, with the Castle of Loches in
the background and Charles the Seventh riding towards her. As we have
already suggested elsewhere,[38] this may have been a poetical
rendering of their first meeting. However this may be, it seems
probable that it was soon after the year 1435[39] that she first
attracted the notice of Charles, and that, later, she took up her
residence in Touraine, no doubt gaining her influence over the king at
first by her beauty, which all her contemporaries proclaim, and
afterwards by that mysterious combination of ability and grace, of
intelligence and physical vitality, which held him captive for many
years. During this time she, like a true woman, and no ordinary
place-hunter, made his devotion to her react upon himself, for the
good of his country and to his own honour. She not only counselled him
wisely herself, but persuaded him to surround himself with wise
counsellors.

    [38] _Athenæum_, June 25, 1904.

    [39] Du Fresne de Beaucourt, _Hist. de Charles VII_, t. iii.
    p. 286.

Of these counsellors, and the able and devoted men who served the king
in divers ways, some few stand out more prominently than the rest,
because of their position of intimacy in the royal circle, and their
special and enduring friendship with Agnes Sorel. Such were Etienne
Chevalier, Treasurer of France; Pierre de Brézé, of a noble Angevin
family, and Sénéchal of Normandy after the expulsion of the English;
and Jacques Cœur, the king’s superintendent of Finance, whose house at
Bourges, with its angel-ceiled chapel, still delights the traveller.

Etienne Chevalier was for some time secretary to the king, and after
filling one or two smaller posts connected with finance, was made
Treasurer of France, and member of the Grand Council. In addition to
administrative capacity, he possessed a brilliant intellect and a
great love of art. It is to his initiative that we owe the only
suggestions in portraiture of Agnes Sorel. It was to him also that the
king confided the supervision of the erection of the monuments to her
memory at Jumièges and Loches--Jumièges where she died in 1449, and
where her heart was buried, and Loches her favourite place of sojourn,
and to whose church and chapter she had made large gifts. To Loches
her body was borne in royal splendour, and there laid to rest in the
choir of the church in a simple tomb. We can imagine the loving care
with which Etienne Chevalier watched the sculptor, and possibly even
gave him suggestions, as he fashioned in alabaster her recumbent
effigy representing her with hands clasped as if in prayer, her feet
resting against two lambs, and her head guarded by two angels with
outstretched wings. Perhaps this stone effigy was the one true
portrait of Agnes, but the head and face were partially destroyed
during the Revolution, and restored in their present form in 1806, so
that little of the original now remains.

[Illustration: _Loches._

TOMB OF AGNES SOREL.

_To face page 158._]

This tomb, which to-day may be seen in a small vestibule of the
Château Royale (now the Sous-Préfecture), has a strange and chequered
history. Perhaps scarce another has suffered such singular
vicissitudes, so many removals, or more ruthless violations. Soon
after the death of Charles the Seventh (1461), the canons of Loches,
whom Agnes had largely endowed and of whom she asked naught save to be
remembered in their prayers, petitioned Louis the Eleventh for its
transfer to a side chapel, since they considered it unfitting for the
dust of such an one to repose in the choir. Louis, using his subtlety
to better purpose than was his wont, replied that if they removed the
tomb, they must return her gifts. Naturally these worthy ecclesiastics
silenced their consciences and kept the tomb where it was. However, in
the year 1777, in the reign of Louis the Sixteenth, the priestly
conscience again awoke to the enormity of its presence within the
choir, and, with the king’s consent, it was removed to the nave.
Before re-burial the coffin was opened in the presence of various
church dignitaries and State officials. Among the latter was a doctor
who left an authoritative account of the proceedings, from which we
can approximately surmise the height of La Dame de Beauté, and verify
the record of her abundant fair hair. The exterior coffin of oak was
only 5 feet 6 inches long. Within this, and protected by another of
lead, was a shell of cedar wood in which, after the lapse of more than
three centuries, lay all that was mortal of Agnes Sorel. Her fair hair
was plaited in a long tress, and two curls rested on her forehead. As
one of those present, more curious than his fellows, stretched out his
hand to touch, all fell to dust. Death and Time were her guardian
angels. But even this desecration did not suffice to drain the cup of
unmerited vengeance. In 1793 the tomb was rifled, the sculptured
features, so lovingly wrought, defaced, and her dust cast to the
winds. But what matter? Agnes had done her work--work which had to be
done, and which she alone could do.

Another of the little band of chosen spirits of which Agnes was the
soul and centre, was Pierre de Brézé, Lord of Varenne and Brissac, who
early showed himself a man of affairs, and was admitted to the King’s
Council when he was but twenty-seven. In war, administration, and
finance, he proved himself equally trustworthy and skilful, and to
these qualities he added others of a brilliant intellectual nature. He
advanced from one post of trust to another, until the king himself
presented him with the keys of the city and castle of Rouen. Thus he
became Sénéchal of Normandy, an honour which remained in his family.
One of his grandsons, Louis de Brézé, a son of Charlotte, daughter of
Agnes Sorel and Charles the Seventh, was the husband of Diane de
Poitiers.

Jacques Cœur, whose life was so intimately associated with the Court
during Agnes’s lifetime, and so sadly marred and ended after her
death, was the son of a simple merchant of Bourges. Following in the
wake of many adventurous and ambitious merchants of the time, he
journeyed to the East and amassed a large fortune, which he placed at
the disposal of the king. This enabled Charles to carry on the war in
spite of his impoverished exchequer, and to make a final and
successful effort against the English. But, like many another on whom
Fortune has smiled, evil tongues and envious hearts began, ere long,
their vampire work, and after the death of his friend and patroness,
Agnes Sorel, Charles made no effort on his behalf, but left him at the
mercy of his calumniators in the same base and heartless way in which
he had abandoned Joan of Arc. Jacques, his goods confiscated, and his
life in danger, was obliged to fly the country, and died fighting, in
the Pope’s service, against the Turk.

Of the beauty of Agnes Sorel there can be no doubt, for all
contemporary chroniclers and poets tell of it. Even the Pope, Pius the
Second, allowed himself to add his tribute of praise to the general
homage. Considering that there are so many types of physical beauty,
appealing to as many different temperaments, there must have been
something rare and remarkable in Agnes to have attracted and held
bound all who came in contact with her. We can but conclude that this
unanimous judgment could only have been the result of that mysterious
union, so illusive, so indefinable, of spiritual with physical beauty.
The records of the time merely tell us that she had blue eyes, and
fair hair in abundance. The only picture, and this not done from life,
by which we can judge her--for the miniatures by Fouquet, at
Chantilly, from Etienne Chevalier’s Book of Hours, though exquisite in
delicacy, are too minute for much characterisation--is, even if we
accept it as the original from Fouquet’s hand, an overcleaned work in
the Museum at Antwerp.[40] This, or the original painting, formed a
wing of the so-called diptych painted to adorn the tomb of Etienne
Chevalier and his wife in the Cathedral of Melun, the other wing--now
in the Royal Museum, Berlin--representing Etienne Chevalier himself,
in the attitude of prayer, his patron saint, St. Stephen, beside him.
There seems reason, however, to suppose that this offering of
Etienne’s was in fact a triptych, and that the missing wing pictured
his young wife, then lately dead (1452). If this was so, Etienne and
his wife would have appeared in adoration on either side of the Queen
of Heaven, here personated by Agnes Sorel, thus bringing the panel
with Etienne’s portrait into harmony with the central panel, which
otherwise it fails to be.

    [40] Du Fresne de Beaucourt, _Hist. de Charles VII_, t. iv.
    p. 171, note 2.

[Illustration: _Musée de Chantilly._

BOOK OF HOURS OF ETIENNE CHEVALIER.

_To face page 162._]

Of the miniatures at Chantilly, the whole series of which forms a most
tender and rare tribute to wife and friend, only brief mention can
here be made of those concerning Agnes. The most simple and beautiful
in sentiment and design is that of the _Annunciation_, in which the
seated Virgin, in the likeness of Agnes Sorel, with bowed head
receives the angel’s message. The scene is laid in a Gothic chapel
(perhaps the Sainte Chapelle with slight adaptations to suit the
artist’s fancy),[41] with statues of the Prophets all around, and
Moses, holding the Books of the Law, as the central figure of the
group. This assemblage of Old Testament seers certainly typified the
Old dispensation, whilst the Annunciation prefigures the New, and to
us the whole may not unfitly form an allegory of the new order which
Agnes Sorel was to help to bring about. In another miniature--the
_Visit of the Magi_--Charles the Seventh, accompanied by his
Scottish guard, and with the Castle of Loches in the background,
himself kneels as one of the kings before the Virgin, here also
represented in the likeness of Agnes. And so on, throughout the
series, in many of the scenes of the Virgin’s life we find her bearing
the features of Agnes until an older and sadder type becomes necessary
in the _Crucifixion_, the _Entombment_, and the _Announcement of the
Death_ and the _Death_ of the Virgin. When, however, death has
transfigured age and sorrow, the likeness of Agnes reappears in the
_Assumption_, and _Coronation_, and, the crowning glory, the
_Enthronement_ of the Virgin.

    [41] Cf. _Grandes Chroniques de France_, fol. 292, Bib. Nat.

[Illustration: _Musée de Chantilly._

BOOK OF HOURS OF ETIENNE CHEVALIER.

_To face page 163._]

In a Book of Hours, at Munich, painted about 1500 A.D. for Jacques
Cœur’s grandson (in part perhaps by Jean Bourdichon, the artist of the
superb Book of Hours of Anne de Bretagne now in the Bibliothèque
Nationale, or at least by some pupil or follower of his), there are
three miniatures that seem of special interest in connection with
Agnes Sorel. One is a representation of the Virgin of the
Annunciation, and another that of the Madonna with the Holy Child. In
both these the features of the Virgin Mother appear to faintly echo
those of Agnes as we know her, as the crowned and ermined queen in the
picture at Antwerp. Still more interesting is the third miniature,
giving a view--here used as a setting for the _Procession to
Calvary_--of the front of Jacques Cœur’s stately dwelling at Bourges.
Here doubtless many a time Agnes and the king were entertained. Hither
Jacques returned from sundry journeys to the East, laden with
treasures to beautify his surroundings. Hence he fled, the victim of
success. Over the principal entrance is a canopied recess, once
sheltering an equestrian statue destroyed during the Revolution. This
now empty space once held a statue of King Charles the Seventh, armed
cap-à-pie on a galloping caparisoned charger, as he may be seen
represented on medals of the period. It is not a little significant of
this thankless monarch that he here seems to be turning his back on
the house of his faithful servant and supporter, and to be riding
away. Other details worthy of mention in this Book of Hours are the
realistic background to the picture of the _Visit of the Magi_, with
its snow-covered village church, houses, and fields; the Italian
drug-pot in the Magdalen’s hands in the scene of the Crucifixion,
showing the intimate intercourse with Italy; and the Mater Dolorosa
seated _alone_ at the foot of the Cross,--a tragic note taken from the
_Mystery of the Passion_.

There is only one unanimous opinion concerning Agnes Sorel, and that
is as to her beauty. For the rest, it would seem as if prejudice and
flattery held the scales. The mean is difficult to discover, and
perhaps it is only possible to get somewhere near it by studying
results--the remarkable change, as already noticed, in Charles’s life
and conduct whilst under her influence.

In the face of conflicting records it is no easy matter to determine
when Agnes Sorel first became the king’s mistress. In 1435, when the
Treaty of Arras was concluded between Charles and the Duke of
Burgundy, Cardinal de Sainte-Croix (afterwards Pope Pius the Second)
was Papal legate at the French Court, and aided in the negotiations.
He tells in his memoirs that the relation between Charles and Agnes
was known publicly at the time, and that the king could do nothing
without her, even having her at his side at the royal councils. The
trustworthiness of this statement has, however, been so questioned,
that it seems safer to endeavour to arrive at the truth from other
sources, although, if the statement can be relied on, it seems to
follow, almost as a matter of course, that Agnes must have been born
earlier than 1422. It is an admitted fact that between 1433 and 1438
the manner of Charles’s life entirely changed. In the year 1433 the
infamous and once all-powerful favourite, La Tremoille, who had been
the king’s evil genius for six years, and was largely responsible for
the king’s treatment of his wife, Marie of Anjou, was dismissed at the
instance of the politic Yolande. Yet even so, the king often relapsed
into indolence and apparent indifference to his kingly duties, and it
was not till after 1438, when he summoned a national Council at
Bourges, that Charles showed himself to be a new man. It is also not
long after this that we read of favours granted by the king to
Agnes’s relations. From that time, Charles ceased to spend his time in
dreamland, as it were, in the sweet Touraine country, and engaged
himself in affairs of State, listening to and accepting wise counsels,
favouring the restoration of schools and universities--which, in the
uncertain state of the country, had almost ceased to exist--and
encouraging the final efforts to expel the national enemy, even at
times personally joining in the fight. If we see in this, in a measure
at all events, the guiding spirit of Agnes, the secret of her
influence is not very difficult to discover. Apart from her beauty,
which, with Charles, would be a potent factor, Agnes had a woman’s
insight and skill in her relation with him, ever holding up to him the
glory and obligations of kingship, at the same time herself entering,
with all the vitality of her extraordinary nature, into his favourite
pastimes. We know that in one or other of her many residences near
Chinon or Loches, she and the king often spent the evening playing
piquet or chess (the latter being his favourite game), and then, on
the morrow, rode forth together to the chase. So the days were passed
in work and simple outdoor pleasures, Agnes taking no recognised
public part in the king’s life, but devoting herself heart and soul to
the task she had in hand. But besides these relaxations of peace,
there was also the reality of war; for the war still lingered on,
though feebly. The English had lost their ally, the Duke of Burgundy,
as well as Bedford, the able Regent, and there was no fit man to take
the latter’s place. Paris opened her gates to Charles in 1436, and in
the following year Charles, after having reigned for fourteen years,
made his first State entry into the capital of his kingdom, mounted on
a white charger, the sign of sovereignty. In 1444 a treaty was
concluded at Tours with the English, and, to make the compact doubly
sure, Margaret of Anjou, a niece of the king, was married to Henry the
Sixth of England. For about a month the Court and its princely
visitors gave themselves up to fêtes and pageants, and it was during
this time of rejoicing that the position of Agnes was officially
recognised. She was made lady-in-waiting to the queen, and took a
prominent part throughout the festival. Charles gave her the royal
castle of Beauté, on the Marne, near the Bois de Vincennes, “le plus
bel chastel et joly et le mieux assis qui fust en l’Isle de France,”
desiring, as was said, that she should be “Dame de Beauté de nom comme
de fait.” From the time of her public recognition she appeared with
the king at all the brilliant festivities celebrated in honour of
treaties and marriages. She also sat in the royal council, a position
which, as a king’s mistress, she was the first to occupy, though we
know that Henri II. took no step without first conferring with Diane
de Poitiers, and that Madame de Maintenon sat in Louis the
Fourteenth’s privy council.

The change which came over France after the Treaty of Tours was
marvellous, alike in its extent and its rapidity. Commerce was again
resumed between the two nations; men and women once again ventured
without the city walls, to breathe, as it were, the fresh air of
liberty; and those who had been called upon to fight, returned to
their work in the fields or the towns. We cannot better voice the
feeling of the people than by borrowing the song of a poet of the day:

    Le temps a laissé son manteau
    De vent, de froidure et de pluie,
    Et s’est vêtu de broderie,
    De soleil rayant, clair et beau;
    Il n’y a beste ne oiseau
    Qu’en son jargon ne chante ou crie:
    Le temps a laissé son manteau.

Now that Agnes had assumed a definite rôle at Court, she lived
principally at Loches, where the king assigned to her “son quartier de
maison” within the castle, and also gave her a residence without the
walls. Here she shone like a radiant star; for although the king did
not have much personal influence on the movement in art and letters,
his Court was the meeting-place of many distinguished and intellectual
men. Among them we find the name of Alain Chartier, the poet, and
sometime secretary to the king, and one of the ambassadors who went to
Edinburgh to ask the hand of the little Margaret of Scotland for the
Dauphin. We remember him now chiefly in connection with the charming
story told of this girl-wife of the Dauphin Louis. Betrothed to Louis
when she was a child of three, and sent to France to be brought up at
the Court, she was married at twelve to this boy of thirteen, who
could not possibly appreciate her simple, sweet nature which endeared
her to all others. One day as she was passing with her ladies through
a room in the castle, she saw Alain Chartier lying on a bench asleep.
She approached quietly, and kissed him, much to the surprise of her
attendants that she should “kiss so ugly a man.” And she made answer:
“I did not kiss the man, but the precious mouth whence so many
beautiful and fair words have issued.” Poor little poetess!
Fortunately her life was a short one. She died when she was just
twenty-one, with these words on her lips: “Fi de la vie de ce monde,
ne m’en parlez plus.” The scientific historian of to-day is inclined
to dismiss this story as a pleasing though rather foolish romance. But
even so, Alain Chartier may be remembered as a poet and philosopher,
as well as a brave and wise patriot during some of France’s darkest
hours--a worthy contemporary of Agnes Sorel and Joan of Arc. Fearing
neither the nobles nor the people, he blames the former for their love
of luxury and personal indulgence, and exhorts both to think of the
public good, and to aid in their country’s defence, instead of
allowing themselves to be engrossed with their private affairs. Then,
whilst acknowledging that as he has not the strength to bear arms, it
is only with his pen and his speech that he can serve his country, he
reminds them that it was the historian’s pen and the orator’s
harangue, just as much as the warrior’s lance, that made the glory of
the Romans.

Louis the Dauphin, come to man’s estate, and self-seeking and
treacherous, was no friend to Agnes, who had incurred his hatred by
her fearless disclosure to the king from time to time of conspiracies
against his person, in which Louis was the prime mover. After repeated
reconciliations, the king in despair finally banished him to his
domain of Dauphiné. The traitor, quitting the royal presence for what
he deemed exile, swore to be avenged on those who had driven him
forth, and if some of the records of the time speak truly, four years
later his opportunity came, and he kept his oath.

The last scene of Agnes’s life was pathetically interesting. Her end
came almost suddenly. The king, listening to advice, had resolved to
continue the war in Normandy,[42] and, at the instigation of Agnes, if
we may believe the words of a courtly writer of the time, had himself
gone to the front. Rouen was taken, and Charles entered in triumph.
The streets were decked with flowers and branches, and the houses hung
with rich draperies, and everywhere the leopards and quarterings of
England had been replaced by the fleur-de-lis. Charles, preceded by a
gorgeous procession of archers, each company arrayed in the livery of
its lord, and carrying his special banner, followed, under a canopy,
on a horse caparisoned to the ground with blue cloth sprinkled with
fleurs-de-lis of gold, surrounded by princes and the principal
captains and officers of the Crown. With his wonted observance of
religious duty, slowly he made his way to the cathedral through the
shouting multitude, and to the sound of many fiddles and the fanfare
of trumpets. There he descended, kissed the relics as he knelt beneath
the great portal, and then entered its hushed and solemn dimness to
return thanks. But scarce had the air ceased to ring with the plaudits
of the people, when the report of a plot against the king, devised by
the Dauphin, is said to have come to the ears of Agnes, and she
hastened to the king at Jumièges, whither he had retired for a short
rest during the unusual and inclement winter. Here, stricken by a
mysterious sickness, by some thought to be typhoid fever, by others
attributed to poison administered at the instigation of Louis, she
died in February 1450, in her manor of Mesnil, near the Abbey of
Jumièges. The king was with her to the end, and could only be induced
to withdraw when her lifeless form sank back in his arms. So died this
wonderful and fascinating woman who had lived and laboured for her
country through perhaps the most critical period of its history.

    [42] Lavisse, _Hist. de France_, vol. iv. part 2, p. 229, footnote.

It is impossible to entirely ignore what has been written to Agnes’s
personal discredit, though much of it may well be looked upon as
exaggeration, and open to suspicion. That the king was not her only
lover may be true, but in the absence of satisfactory documentary
evidence of this, perhaps the various intrigues attributed to her may,
for the most part at least, be regarded as the creations of scandal.
Still, bearing in mind the condition of France at the time of her
accession to power, the extent of the influence she admittedly
exercised in the councils of the king, and the great change which came
over the royal fortunes and the fortunes of the country during the
years of her ascendancy, it is scarcely possible to refuse to her some
right to share in the recognition so lavishly bestowed upon the other
great woman of that time--Joan of Arc. The one may be said to have
been the complement of the other. Both were necessary to the needs of
the day, and the glory of successful accomplishment should be shared
between them.



A NOTE ON MEDIÆVAL GARDENS



MEDIÆVAL GARDENS[43]

    [43] The quotations from the _Roman de la Rose_ are taken
    from Mr. F. S. Ellis’s translation, published by Messrs. J.
    M. Dent & Co. in the “Temple Classics.”


No one can study French mediæval lore, or Gothic cathedral, or Book of
Hours, without realising how great a love of Nature prevailed in the
late Middle Ages. The poems tell of spring, “the season of delight,”
of gardens which suffice “for loss of Paradise,” and of birds “with
soft melodious chant.” In the dim stillness of the cathedral, Nature
is expressed in infinite variety. Foliage grows in the hollows of the
mouldings, and sometimes, as at Chartres, even the shafts, as they
tower into the gloom, end in half-opened leaves, suggestive of spring,
of hope, and of aspiration. Many a sunny façade shows us scenes of
rural life--sowing, reaping, vine-dressing, and so forth--fashioned as
a calendar in stone, and many a peasant must have rejoiced as he saw
himself and his occupation thus represented in effigy. Fortunately for
the poor toiler, the Church not only taught that “to labour is to
worship,” but further honoured work by thus representing it at the
very entrance to the sanctuary, so making it, as it were, the “open
sesame” to higher things.

In Books of Hours and illuminated MSS., before the complete border of
flowers, birds, and small grotesques was developed, we find ornamental
flourishes, like the growth of ivy and hawthorn, splendidly free in
design, and painted with evident joy even in the minutest bud or
tendril. Everywhere may this love of Nature striving for expression be
seen. But we must turn to the poems and romances if we would fully
realise it in all its simplicity and truth, since it is in these alone
that we get at the actual mediæval feeling unalloyed with all that we
ourselves have, perhaps unwittingly, read into it.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

BOOK OF HOURS.

French, 14th Century, Brit. Mus.

_To face page 176._]

“All hearts are uplifted and made glad in the time of April and May,
when once again the meadows and the pastures become green.” So says
one of the old romancers. And this joy in returning spring seems to
have pervaded mediæval thought and expression. Little is this to be
wondered at when we call to mind the long dreary winters spent in cold
and ill-lit castles, or in dark, draughty houses and hovels. Before
glass, long regarded as a luxury, came into general use in dwellings,
the only protection from rain and cold consisted in wooden shutters,
or movable frames with horn slabs (necessarily small), or varnished
parchment. In truth, the only warm, bright place was the chimney
corner, and here, as near as might be to the blazing logs, the
long days of winter were spent in chess-playing, broidery,
lute-playing, and love-making, the monotony of this only occasionally
broken by the arrival of some wandering minstrel who sang of war and
love, or of some packman laden with sundry wares prized of womankind.
But in winter such wayfarers were rare, and life was, perforce, one of
boredom and discomfort. Thus there was exceeding joy when “woods and
thickets donned their rich green mantling of resplendent sheen.”

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

HARL. MS. 4425, BRIT. MUS.

_To face page 177._]

It is generally of springtime in a garden--a garden of green glades
and alleys, fruit-trees and flowers, such as was very dear to the
mediæval soul--of which we read. The _Roman de la Rose_ opens with a
description of a garden, hemmed round with castle wall--a pleasaunce
within a fortress--and planted with trees “from out the land of
Saracens,” and many others, to wit, the pine, the beech (loved of
squirrels), the graceful birch, the shimmering aspen, the hazel, the
oak, and many flowers withal--roses and violets and periwinkle, golden
king-cups, and pink-rimmed daisies. The poet describes with careful
detail the design of the garden:

    The garden was nigh broad as wide,
    And every angle duly squared;

how the trees were planted:

    Such skilful art
    Had planned the trees that each apart
    Six fathoms stood, yet like a net
    The interlacing branches met;

and how “channelled brooks” flowed from clear fountains through “thymy
herbage and gay flowers.”

The debt which the mediæval world owed to the East is shown both in
the fruits and the spices which are described as growing in the
garden, and in the pastimes said to have been enjoyed in its cool
shade. We read of pomegranates, nutmegs, almonds, dates, figs,
liquorice, aniseed, cinnamon, and zedoary, an Eastern plant used as a
stimulant. When the poet would tell of dance and song, he goes by

    A shaded pathway, where my feet,
    Bruised mint and fennel savouring sweet,

to a secluded lawn. Here he sees one whose name is “Gladness”:

    Gently swaying, rose and fell
    Her supple form, the while her feet
    Kept measured time with perfect beat:

       *       *       *       *       *

    While minstrels sang, the tambourine
    Kept with the flute due time I ween.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Then saw I cunning jugglers play,
    And girls cast tambourines away
    Aloft in air, then gaily trip
    Beneath them, and on finger-tip
    Catch them again.

In every garden there was a fountain or sheet of water with a small
channelled way carrying the water to the castle and through the
women’s apartment. Sometimes these waterways were made use of by the
lover as a means of communication with his beloved, as we read in the
romance of _Tristan and Isolde_, where Tristan, to apprise his
mistress that he is at their trysting-place in the garden, drops into
the water small pieces of bark and twigs, which are quickly carried to
the chamber where Isolde is waiting and watching. And one eventide a
perilous encounter befalls. Tristan has been banished the Court, for
evil tongues have whispered in King Mark’s ear of his love for Isolde,
and have further whispered of secret meetings in the garden, beside
the fountain. Now near the fountain is a pine-tree, into which King
Mark resolves to climb, and perchance to discover the meeting of the
lovers. As daylight fades, Tristan scales the wall, and hastens to
throw into the water the little signals for his lady. But as he stoops
over the pool he sees, reflected in its clear surface, the image of
the king, with bow ready bent. Can he stop the floating twigs as they
are hurried along on their mission? No. The water carries them away
out of sight, and Isolde must come. She comes, but Tristan does not go
to meet her as was his wont, but remains standing by the water. She
wonders at her lover’s seeming unconcern, but as she approaches him,
suddenly, in the bright moonlight, she, too, sees in the water the
reflection of the king, and the lovers are saved.

A pine-tree is so often mentioned as a special feature in a mediæval
garden that one is led to think that its use may either have been a
survival from the days of Tree Worship, seeing that the tree was
sacred to Adonis, Attis, and Osiris[44] (all, perhaps, varying forms
of one and the same divinity), or have been suggested by some northern
Saga. It makes its appearance in the _Chanson de Roland_, which has
come down to us in a thirteenth-century form, incorporating the
earlier Epic of _Roland_, probably composed towards the end of the
eleventh century. In this we find mention of it when Charlemagne,
after he is said to have taken Cordova, retires to a garden with
Roland and Oliver and his barons, the elder ones amusing themselves
with chess and tric-trac, and the younger ones with fencing, the king
meanwhile looking on, seated under a pine-tree. Later in the day tents
are set up, in which they pass the night, and in the early morning
Charlemagne, after hearing mass, again sits under the pine-tree to
take counsel of his barons.

    [44] J. G. Frazer, _Adonis, Attis, Osiris_, 1906.

In the _Roman de la Rose_, the fateful fountain of Narcissus is
described as being beneath a pine-tree, which is represented as being
taller and fairer than any that mortal eye had seen since the glorious
pine of Charlemagne’s time, showing that here at least the poet is
making use of tradition.

[Illustration: _Photo. Brückmann._

FLEMISH MASTER.

Fifteenth Century. Stephenson Clarke Collection.

_To face page 181._]

But to make our way into a mediæval garden, and see all that grows
therein, we must needs get within the precincts of the castle, for
inside its fortified enclosure the castle, like a small village, was
self-contained. And this was no easy matter, if we may judge from
the vivid description to be found in _Huon de Bordeaux_, a poem
concerning a Bordelais lord of the ninth century. After sundry
adventures, Huon sets out on a journey to Babylon, and seeks an
audience with the Emir. He tells of his arrival at what he describes
as the castle, and how, after long parley with the porter, the
drawbridge is let down and the great gate opened, and he finds himself
in an arched way, with a series of portcullises showing their teeth
overhead. After further parley, and further opening of gates, he
enters a large courtyard, and goes thence into the garden, which is
planted with every kind of tree, aromatic herb, and sweet-scented
flower. In the garden is a fountain with its little channelled way,
supplied with water from the Earthly Paradise. This description may
seem a little fantastic, but it is only the poet’s way of telling us
what we might ourselves experience if we would go in imagination to
some thirteenth- or fourteenth-century castle, and seek to gain
admittance.

Sometimes the garden was within the castle fortifications. It was then
necessarily circumscribed, and would, more or less, be laid out with
formal pathways and stone-curbed borders, also with trees cut in
various devices (a reminder of Rome’s once far-reaching influence),
and a tunnel or pergola of vines or sweet-scented creepers running the
length of the wall to form a covered walk for shelter against sunshine
or shower. But where the garden was without the fortifications, but
yet within the castle enclosure, as was always the arrangement if
possible, opportunity was afforded for wooded dell and flowery slope,
as well as for the orchard with its special patch for herb-growing.

The herb-plot was one of the most important items in a mediæval
garden; for here were grown not only herbs and roots for healing, but
also sweet-scented mint and thyme for mingling with the rushes strewn
on the floors. Sometimes the rushes themselves were fragrant, and
such, lemon-scented when crushed, may even to-day be found in the
neighbourhood of Oxford, probably growing in the very place which at
one time supplied many a college hall with its carpet of fresh green.

[Illustration: _Bodician._

MS. ROMANCE OF ALEXANDER.

Fourteenth Century.

_To face page 183._]

In the larger gardens might also be found labyrinths and aviaries,
with bright-plumaged birds from the East. Here, too, were often
enclosures for wild beasts, much prized by the lord of the castle, to
whom they may have been proffered as peace-offerings, or as friendly
gifts from some neighbouring lord. Strange beasts were royal gifts;
for kings, we read, made such offerings to each other. Even as early
as the ninth century, Haroun al Raschid sent an elephant to
Charlemagne. It was brought to Aix-la-Chapelle by Isaac the Jew, and
survived its long walk seven years, and it would be interesting to
know by what route it journeyed thither in those days. These private
zoological gardens may possibly account for the comparative
accuracy with which the early miniaturists painted such beasts as
lions, bears, and leopards, which otherwise they might have had no
chance of studying.

One of the greatest delights of the garden was the bower in which the
warm months were passed. Here meals were taken, and merry pastimes
enjoyed, as long as daylight lasted. Hither came tumblers and
dancing-girls, and sometimes performing animals. A poor captive bear
would be made to stumble over the rough roads for miles in order to go
through its grotesque antics before some joyous company of dames and
gallants. But spring and youth was the time to be gay, and nothing
came amiss to these light-hearted folk.

The bower was also the “privy playing place,” and all care was taken
to make its leafy screen grow close and thick. Perhaps one of the most
interesting references to a green arbour--interesting because of the
romance which was the cause of its mention--is in a poem by King James
I. of Scotland, telling of sad years in prison, which ended in love
and liberty. James, whilst still a young man, was imprisoned in
Windsor Castle, and writing to solace himself with something more
tangible than the mere contemplation of his beloved one, and to while
away time, describes the garden with “herbere green,” which he saw
through the barred window of his prison-house. Leaning his head
against the cold stone wall, by night he gazed at the stars, by day
at the garden. And weary and woe-begone as he was, he says, “to look,
it did me good.”

    Now there was made fast by the tower wall
    A garden fair, and in the corners set
    A herbere green, with wands so long and small
    Railed all about: and so with trees close set
    Was all the place, and hawthorn hedges knit
    That no one though he were near walking by
    Might there within scarce any one espy.

       *       *       *       *       *

    So thick the branches and the leafage green.
    Beshaded all the alleys that there were,
    And ’midst of ev’ry herbere might be seen
    The sharp and green sweet-scented juniper,
    Growing so fair with branches here and there,
    That, as it seemed to any one without,
    The branches spread the herbere all about.

       *       *       *       *       *

    And on the slender green-leaved branches sat
    The little joyous nightingales, and sang
    So loud and clear, the carols consecrat
    To faithful love.[45]

    [45] _King’s Quair_, verse 31 _seq._

This “garden fair” was the scene of the romance which solaced this
royal prisoner, and helped him to bear his irksome lot, and to be able
to exclaim, after nearly eighteen years’ captivity--a captivity since
boyhood:

    Thanks be to the massive castle wall,
    From which I eagerly looked forth and leant.

Looking from his window he espied, notwithstanding “hawthorne hedges”
and “beshaded alleys,” Lady Johanna Beaumont (whom he wedded on his
release) walking in the garden. Neither poet nor historian tells how
they found means to communicate with one another, but tradition,
which is sometimes twin-brother to truth, has handed down the story of
a go-between who conveyed missives and tokens.

[Illustration: _Photo. Brückmann._

RHENISH MASTER.

C. 1420, Frankfort Hist. Mus.

_To face page 185._]

In the accompanying picture we see a corner of a mediæval garden,
hemmed round with castle wall. In it the artist has adapted an
everyday scene to a religious purpose, by giving my lady a crown, and
the baby an aureole, to suggest the Holy Mother and Child, whilst one
of the gentlemen-in-waiting is provided with wings, so as to make him
more in harmony with such saintly company. But this is only what might
have been seen on any bright morning in late spring or summer, in some
castle pleasaunce. My lady reads a book, whilst her maidens amuse
themselves, one holding a psaltery on which the child tinkles, to its
evident delight and wonderment; another, with a perverted sporting
instinct, seems to be trying to catch fish with a ladle (note the
usual little channelled way, on which a bird is perched, refreshing
itself), whilst a third is picking fruit. The three squires are
doubtless talking of the chase, for, in my lady’s presence, love would
hardly be their theme. And all around are beautiful flowers--roses,
lilies, and irises. Over against the enclosing wall is the usual bank
of earth, faced with wood to keep it the necessary height, and planted
with many flowers. This raised portion enabled those in the garden to
get a view over the surrounding country, and to have a point of
outlook in case of attack. It also served as a seat; for at
intervals, between the flowers and sweet-scented herbs, portions were
covered with turf.

[Illustration: _Photo. Macbeth._

HARL. MS. 4425, BRIT. MUS.

_To face page 186._]

Of all the flowers in the garden the rose “red and pale” was the
greatest favourite, and many different sorts were planted there. To so
many purposes were they put, and so great was the demand for them,
that large quantities of roses frequently served as the payment of
vassals to their lord. They were used for strewing the floor at the
wedding-feast, or at the entertaining of some great baron. The fresh
petals were sprinkled over the surface of the water in the bath, and
were distilled to make the rose-water with which the knights and
ladies washed their hands and faces when they left their
much-curtained beds. Further, they were specially prized for garlands,
the making of which was one of the favourite occupations of the ladies
of the Middle Ages. Dante, who sums up the spirit of the Middle Ages
from the simplest reality to the sublimest ideal, alludes to garlands
and garland-making as amongst the joys of the Earthly Paradise. In his
poet’s vision of the pageant of the Church Militant he sees the last
company wreathed with red roses, emblems to him of Charity or Love.
Boccaccio, in a more mundane atmosphere and a less august assemblage,
also introduces us to this mediæval love of garlands. In a preamble to
one of his tales he gives a dainty picture of the manners and pastimes
of the gay folk of his day. Of the merry company,  which his fancy
makes to quit plague-stricken Florence for the country, where they
tell stories to prevent monotony, he relates that, after dining in the
cool shade, and before the story-telling begins, “the gentlemen walked
with the ladies into a goodly garden, making chaplets and nosegays of
divers flowers, and singing silently to themselves.” Both sexes wore
them on festive occasions, and in summer young girls wore no
head-covering save a garland. The knight at the tournament decked his
helm with a chaplet of some chosen flower, deftly woven by the fair
one in whose name he made venture; and many a merry company, wreathed
with flowers or foliage, rode forth on May-day, with trumpets and
flutes, to celebrate the festival.

Another favourite flower for garlands was the cornflower, as we learn
from the poets, who tell of ladies dancing the carole (a popular dance
in which all moved slowly round in a circle, singing at the same
time), their heads crowned with garlands of cornflower. Violets and
periwinkles, and meadow flowers, white, red, and blue, were also
gathered to indulge this pretty fancy.

The gillyflower is another flower frequently mentioned. This name has
been applied to various flowers, but originally it belonged to the
carnation, and was used for such in Shakespeare’s time. In the _Roman
de la Rose_ it is called the gillyflower-clove, thus definitely
defining it. One of its virtues, according to an old writer, was “to
comfort the spirites by the sence of smelling,” and also “to be of
much use in ornament.” But indeed most flowers were not only used for
chaplets, and for strewing on the floor, but were also painted on the
chamber walls, and embroidered on the hangings, to serve in winter
days as sweet memories and as sweeter hopes.

Apparently the earliest records of gardens, after Roman times, date
from the ninth century, and are mostly to be found amongst monastic
archives. A garden was an important, and even essential, annex of a
monastery, not only because of the “herbularis” or physic garden, from
the herbs of which the monks compounded salves and potions for the
wounded knight or the plundered wayfarer who might take shelter within
its protecting walls, but also because of the solace which the shady
trees and the gay flowers brought to the sick, for a monastery was
generally a hospital as well. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, speaking of an
abbey garden, gives a charming picture of one of these cloistered
pleasaunces for the sick and the aged. He says:

     Within the enclosure of this wall many and various trees,
     prolific in various fruits, constitute an orchard resembling
     a wood, which, being near the cell of the sick, lightens the
     infirmities of the brethren with no moderate solace, while
     it affords a spacious walking place to those who walk and a
     sweet place for reclining to those who are overheated. Where
     the orchard terminates the garden begins. Here also a
     beautiful spectacle is exhibited to the infirm brethren:
     while they sit upon the green margin of the huge basin, they
     see the little fishes playing under the water and
     representing a military encounter by swimming to meet each
     other.

This warlike note seems strange and almost discordant in the midst of
the peace of the cloister; but many, before seeking shelter there, had
been doughty knights, and St. Bernard, man of the world as he was,
would realise that even this mimic warfare might bring diversion to
their tranquil seclusion.

What a contrast to all this joy in the Middle Ages in gardens and
flowers are the sober reflections of Marcus Aurelius! Philosopher as
he was, he would have us learn from plants the lesson of cause and
effect, the continuity of life. He says:

     The destruction of one thing is the making of another; and
     that which subsists at present is, as it were, the seed of
     succession, which springs from it. But if you take seed in
     the common notion, and confine it to the field or the
     garden, you have a dull fancy.

It is with a sense of relief that we turn from the thoughts which a
garden suggests to this stoic, to those not less profound, though
perhaps more simple, of a Chinese writer of the fourth century:

     Ah, how short a time it is that we are here! Why then not
     set our hearts at rest, ceasing to trouble whether we remain
     or go? What boots it to wear out the soul with anxious
     thoughts? Let me stroll through the bright hours as they
     pass in my garden among my flowers.


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.





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to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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