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Title: Studies in Mediæval Life and Literature
Author: McLaughlin, Edward Tompkins
Language: English
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    NEW YORK                         LONDON

    The Knickerbocker Press


    COPYRIGHT, 1894

    _Entered at Stationers' Hall, London_

    Electrotyped, Printed and Bound by
    The Knickerbocker Press, New York




    INTRODUCTION                                      v

    THE MEDIÆVAL FEELING FOR NATURE                   1

        OLD GERMAN GALLANT                           34

        PEASANTS                                     71

        THIRTEENTH CENTURY                          100


    A MEDIÆVAL WOMAN                                152

    APPENDIX                                        183




Edward Tompkins McLaughlin, the writer of the essays contained in this
volume, was born at Sharon, Connecticut, on May 28, 1860. He was the son
of the Reverend D. D. T. McLaughlin, a graduate of Yale College of the
class of 1834. His mother's maiden name was Mary Whittlesey Brownell.
She was the daughter of the Reverend Grove L. Brownell, who was settled
for many years over the Congregational church of Cromwell, Connecticut.
Thus it will be seen that the author of this work belonged on both sides
to what Oliver Wendell Holmes has aptly called the Brahman caste of New

At the time of his birth his father was pastor of the Congregational
church of Sharon, Connecticut, but in 1866 left that place for Morris in
the same county. There he remained until 1872 when he gave up parish
duties entirely, and retired to Litchfield, which he thenceforward made
his permanent home.

With the exception of a short time spent in the Litchfield Academy, the
son was fitted for college almost wholly by his father, who was himself
a finished scholar in Latin and Greek. He entered Yale in the autumn of
1879, and received the degree of A.B. in 1883. From the very beginning
of his university life he was distinguished for his interest in English
literature, and during the entire course of it displayed remarkable
proficiency in the pursuit of that study. To him, before his graduation,
fell the highest honors which the college has to bestow in that

After receiving his bachelor's degree he remained another year in New
Haven as a graduate student. During that time he devoted himself with
increased ardor to the special branches of study in which from the
outset he had been interested. In the following year he was made tutor
in English. This position he held until 1890, when he was appointed
assistant professor of the same subject. At the meeting of the
Corporation of the University in May, 1893, he was elected by it to the
chair of Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres. Happily married to a wife of
congenial tastes, who speedily learned to sympathize with him in the
studies which he had made peculiarly his own, he had every reason to
expect a long career of usefulness, which would be attended with
distinction to himself and would confer distinction upon the institution
with which he was connected. But his health had never been vigorous, and
in the very summer vacation following his appointment a fever, which
came upon him almost without warning, and which seemed at first of
slight importance, carried him off after an illness that lasted little
more than a week. He died on the 25th of July, 1893, at the age of
thirty-three. He lies buried at Litchfield.

Such is a brief sketch of the life of the author of this volume. He had
at the time of his death many projects on hand, some partly carried out,
some only in contemplation. In 1893 he had edited a volume of
selections from English writers under the title of _Literary Criticism
for Students_; and since his death a school-edition of Marlowe's _Edward
II._, prepared by him, but left mainly in manuscript, has come from the
press. But these were in a measure tasks imposed upon him by the needs
of students, and not those undertaken in consequence of his own
inclinations. During the last year of his life, however, he had been
devoting himself to the preparation for publication of the following
essays. He had long been a student of mediæval literature, not merely of
that found in the English tongue, but of the much fuller and more varied
work that had been produced at an early period on the continent. The
writers of France, of Germany, and of Italy, belonging to that period,
were in truth so familiar to him that he was sometimes disposed to
assume that general acquaintance with them on the part of others which
it is the fortune of but few to possess. Some results of this study he
now set about putting into permanent form. The first rough draft of the
essays here printed had been finished when the fatal illness fell upon
him that carried him away.

There is no intention of apologizing either for the matter or the manner
of the pieces contained in this volume. They are in no need of it, and
in any event what is published must stand or fall upon its own merits.
Yet it is the barest justice to the author of these essays to state that
not in a single instance do they represent the final form they would
have assumed, had he lived to review and revise the first sketches he
made. In the case of two of them, which were nearest to the condition in
which they were ultimately to appear, evidences of their incompleteness
in his own eyes are plainly seen in the manuscripts. Against particular
passages and sometimes whole paragraphs there were marginal notes,
indicating that the expression was to undergo alteration of various
kinds. In several instances a place was marked for the insertion of a
transition paragraph which had apparently never been written out, though
its character was suggested. These, of course, had all to be
disregarded. The condition of things, furthermore, was much worse with
the four which had not been so fully completed as the two just
mentioned. In the case of these the matter had to be collected and
pieced together, at no slight expenditure of time and trouble, from
scattered leaves of manuscript, in which it was not always easy to trace
out the exact order.

Unfortunately, one essay, intended to be the longest and most important
of all, could not be included in this volume. Professor McLaughlin had
been for many years an ardent admirer of Dante. To a study of the early
life of the great Italian poet he had devoted years of patient research.
It was the one subject in which he had the deepest interest, and upon
which he had expended the most labor, and he purposed to make the essay
dealing with it the principal piece in the work he was preparing. But,
as was not unnatural, it was the one essay which needed most the
revising hand of its composer. The gaps in it were too numerous and
important to justify its insertion in the unfinished condition in which
it existed, and this particular piece, upon which the author himself set
most store, has been reluctantly laid aside.

But while it is simple justice to state the facts just given, it must
not be inferred that these essays, unfinished and even fragmentary as
they might have seemed to the writer, will so appear to the reader. Few
there will be who will detect that any part of them has failed to
receive the full attention to which it is entitled. Nor is it likely,
indeed, that the sentiments expressed in these essays would have
undergone any material modification, whatever changes might have been
made in the manner in which they were set forth. Doubtless some of the
points now found in them would have been amplified, others would have
been retrenched. Other views again, to which no allusion is made here,
would have been introduced. Still, so complete in themselves are the
essays in most particulars, that no thought of their incompleteness
would have arrested the attention of any save the smallest possible
number of readers, had not the condition in which they were left been
mentioned in this introduction.

But even had these essays needed much more than they do the revising
hand of the author, none the less cordially would they have been
received by those who were familiar with his personal presence.
Especially is this true of students possessed of literary taste, who
have been under his instruction, and it is largely in compliance with
their wishes that the publication of this volume was determined upon.
For as a teacher Professor McLaughlin, though still young, had attained
eminence. He had in particular the rare quality of inspiring those under
him with the same zeal for learning and the same love of literature that
animated himself.

The teacher of English, it must be confessed, has set before him a task
of special difficulty. In the case of other tongues the business of
translation, with the verbal and grammatical investigation implied by
it, must always constitute the principal part of the work of preparation
for the class-room; and the skill and knowledge with which it is
performed will of necessity be the main element in testing the
proficiency and success of the student. But in the case of English this
main part of the usual preparation has been reduced to a minimum. The
business has already been done at the pupil's hands. He knows, at least
after a fashion, the meaning of the words, even if he does not always
comprehend the meaning of the phrase or sentence as a whole in which
they are found. The hard task is, therefore, given the teacher of
English of starting in his instruction at the point where the teacher of
other languages ends. He is, furthermore, to make his subject one of
pleasure and profit to that select body of students, who are eager to
gain from the pursuit of it all the benefit possible. He is at the same
time expected to exact some degree of labor from those who, whether by
their own fault or the fault of others, have no interest in this
particular subject, if indeed they have interest in any subject
whatever. The temptation naturally presents itself to sacrifice the
former class to the latter. Especially does this appeal to instructors
who are deficient in the literary sense, or who possessing it, lack the
ability to arouse it in those under them. The easy process is resorted
to of turning the study into one of a purely linguistic character, in
which the discussion of words will take the place of the discussion of
literature. This is a cheap though convenient method for the teacher to
evade the real work he is called upon to perform, and while it may be
followed by some incidental advantages, it is almost in the nature of a
crime against letters to associate in the minds of young men, at the
most impressionable period of their lives, the writings of a great
author with a drill that is mainly verbal or philological.

It was the rare fortune of Professor McLaughlin that he solved this
problem, presented to every instructor in English, with a felicity that
does not fall often to the lot of those engaged in the same occupation.
It was not so much in imparting knowledge that his peculiar distinction
lay; it was in his success in inspiring interest in the subject and zeal
for its prosecution. It is, therefore, more especially to those who have
been under his teaching that this little volume is addressed as a
memorial of one to whom many will acknowledge is due the first bent
their minds received to the study and appreciation of what is best and
highest in literature. What its author would have accomplished with his
remarkable powers of acquisition and assimilation, had he lived to carry
out and perfect plans which he had in contemplation, it is idle to
conjecture; and the world, which cares but little for what is actually
done in the field in which he was largely working, cannot be expected to
concern itself with that which was never more than projected. But there
are some to whom the result of his labors, shown in this volume, will
prove of interest for what it is; while to those who have known him
personally, it will, even in its comparatively imperfect state, furnish
a suggestive intimation of what might have been.

                                            T. R. LOUNSBURY

    March 22, 1894.




On the 26th April, 1335, Mt. Ventoux, near Avignon, was the scene of a
remarkable occurrence. Petrarch was the hero, and on the evening of that
day, while the impression was yet strong upon him, he wrote an account
of it to a friend. The incident was nothing less than climbing a
mountain for æsthetic gratification. That he cared to do it showed that
Petrarch was on the outskirts of mediævalism.

The narrative is so interesting that I may translate a part of it; for
the great humanist's letters are inaccessible to general readers. He
says that he had thought of climbing the mountain for many years, since
he had known the country from early boyhood, and the great mass of rocky
cliff, entirely rugged and almost inaccessible, was constantly and
everywhere visible. He took with him his brother and two servants. As
they were starting on the ascent, they fell in with an aged shepherd,
who tried to dissuade them. Fifty years before he had climbed to the
summit, moved by a boyish impulse--and he supposed himself the only one
who had ever done it; his recollections were full of awe and terror.
But the poet pressed on, beguiling the weariness, which at times
amounted almost to exhaustion, by moralizing on the labor as a type of
spiritual attainments. At the summit of the highest peak, "moved deeply
at first by that vast spectacle, and affected by the unusual lightness
of the air, I stood as if overwhelmed. I looked, and under my feet I saw
the clouds." His thoughts turned to the classical myths, and the history
of his beloved Italy. He recalled that ten years before, on that same
day, he had left Bologna and his studies. How many changes in his ways.
His wrong loves--he loved them no longer, or rather he no longer liked
to love them. He thought of his future.

     "Thus rejoicing in what I had gained, regretful of my
     weakness, and pitying the common instability of human
     affections, I seemed to forget where I was and why I had
     come. At last I turned to the occasion of my expedition. The
     sinking sun and lengthening shadows admonished me that the
     hour of departure was at hand, and, as if started from sleep,
     I turned around and looked to the west. The Pyrenees--the eye
     could not reach so far, but I saw the mountains of Lyonnais
     distinctly, and the sea by Marseilles; the Rhone, too, was
     there before me. Observing these closely, now thinking on the
     things of earth, and again, as if I had done with the body,
     lifting my mind on high, it occurred to me to take out the
     copy of St. Augustine's _Confessions_ that I always kept with
     me; a little volume, but of unlimited value and charm. And I
     call God to witness that the first words on which I cast mine
     eyes were these: 'Men go to wonder at the heights of
     mountains, the ocean floods, rivers' long courses, ocean's
     immensity, the revolutions of the stars,--and of themselves
     they have no care!' My brother asked me what was the matter.
     I bade him not disturb me. I closed the book, angry with
     myself for not ceasing to admire things of earth, instead of
     remembering that the human soul is beyond comparison the
     subject for admiration. Once and again, as I descended, I
     gazed back, and the lofty summit of the mountain seemed to me
     scarcely a cubit high, compared with the sublime dignity of

In these sentences we find the new life and the old in the same mind.
Such an action would have been impossible for a genuine son of the
middle ages, but could Petrarch stand on a mountain top to-day, such an
outcome of it would be equally impossible. His feeling for nature was
intense even to a sense of the charm of ruggedness in hills, as
Burckhardt, who refers to this letter in his work on _The Italian
Renaissance_, shows by ample quotations; but the intense lover of nature
in the nineteenth century, though his ethical sense be as deep as
Wordsworth's, finds a different influence in such a scene. Indeed, read
in Wordsworth himself, the modern contrast:

    "Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth
    And ocean's liquid mass, in gladness lay
    Beneath him; far and wide the clouds were touched,
    And in their silent faces could he read
    Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
    Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
    The spectacle; sensation, soul, and form,
    All melted into him; they swallowed up
    His animal being, in them did he live,
    And by them did he live: they were his life.
    In such access of mind, in such high hour
    Of visitation from the living God,
    Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired.
    No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request,
    Rapt into still communion, that transcends
    The imperfect offices of prayer and praise."

How far apart is the piety of the two poets, how different their
absorption. This identification of the human mood with Nature, and the
spiritual elation that arises from the union, is thoroughly
characteristic of the present century. Wordsworth's peculiar beauty, as
Hartley Coleridge told Caroline Fox, "consisted in viewing things as
amongst them, mixing himself up in everything that he mentions, so that
you admire the man in the thing, the involved man." And Hartley's
inspired father uttered a great criticism on the modern feeling for
nature, when in the _Ode on Dejection_ he cried,

    "Oh, lady, we receive but what we give,
    And in our life alone doth nature live."

No literary contemporaries were ever more apart than Wordsworth and
Byron, yet _Childe Harold_ has the same note:

    "I live not in myself, but I become
    Portion of that around me; and to me
    _High mountains are a feeling_.
     .   .   .   .  the soul can flee
    And with the sky, the peak, the heaving plain
    Of ocean, or the stars, mingle and not in vain."

We discover the same sentiment, more delicately held, in Keats, as in
some of his sayings about flowers, and Shelley, speaking of the longing
for a response to one's own nature, says:

     "The discovery of its antitype, this is the invisible and
     unattainable point to which love tends.... Hence in solitude,
     or in that state when we are surrounded by human beings, and
     yet they sympathize not with us, we love the flowers, and the
     grass, and the waters, and the sky. In the motions of the
     very leaves of spring, in the blue air, there is found a
     secret correspondence with our heart, that awakens the
     spirits to a dance of breathless rapture, and brings tears of
     mysterious tenderness to the eyes, like the enthusiasm of
     patriotic rapture, or the voice of one beloved singing to you

Yet this spirit, with which our later poetry is almost everywhere
touched, "this mysterious analogy between human emotions and the
phenomena of the world without us," as von Humboldt expresses it, in its
present comprehensiveness is new to literature. To feel for mountains,
forests, or the ocean, with mingled awe, love, and ecstasy, seems so
natural to us, that we can hardly realize that Gray was striking a novel
and significant chord when he wrote at the Grande Chartreuse, "One of
the most solemn, the most romantic, and the most astonishing scenes....
Not a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with
religion and poetry."

In Petrarch's letter we observe the deficiency in absorbing enthusiasm
for the grander forms of nature, as well as his sense of the isolation
of such sentiment from true spiritual life. Yet this letter is the most
significant indication which we possess from the middle ages of a
capacity for enjoying the sublimity of heights. In _Præterita_, Ruskin,
while describing his eagerness at the first sight of the Alps, as a boy,
has written two or three sentences that we may employ to illustrate the
contrast between Petrarch and his predecessors:

     "Till Rousseau's time there had been no 'sentimental' love of
     nature ... St. Bernard of La Fontaine, looking out to Mont
     Blanc with his child's eyes, sees above Mont Blanc the
     Madonna; St. Bernard of Talloires, not the Lake of Annecy,
     but the dead between Martigny and Aosta. But for me, the Alps
     and their people were alike beautiful in their snow, and
     their humanity; and I wanted, neither for them nor myself,
     sight of any thrones in heaven but the rocks, or of any
     spirits in heaven but the clouds."

Others, beside the Bernards, men from whose culture and intelligence we
should expect fine appreciation, felt nothing august or inspiring in the
material world. So far as we have any record, the fourteenth-century
laureate was the first of the moderns to climb a mountain for the
æsthetic pleasure of the view. Burckhardt's suggestion that this honor
belongs to Dante, on the strength of a passage in the fourth canto of
the _Purgatory_, is surely not tenable; for the top of Bismantova
possessed a citadel in Dante's time to which business may easily have
called him. All through the middle ages, the lofty elevations between
central Europe and Italy were constantly being crossed. The most
cultivated men were going back and forth as couriers on business of the
Church, and the political relations, especially between Italy and
Germany, kept up a continual stream of travel. Yet one recalls no lines
in any mediæval poem that describe or express sensations of the least
interest concerning the sights that have bowed the strongest souls of
our era, that have been felt by thousands, and put into words by so many

There is, indeed, in the beginning of a passage from a famous scholar,
John of Salisbury, an apparent exception to this strange indifference;
but a few clauses correct the hasty judgment. Writing from Lombardy, he
explained why he could not send a letter from the Great St. Bernard: "I
have been on the mount of Jove: on the one hand looking up to the heaven
of the mountains; on the other, shuddering at the hell of the valleys;
feeling myself so much nearer to heaven that I was more sure that my
prayer would be heard." Yet this was due to no rapture of soul,
for--"Lord, I said, restore me to my brethren, that they come not into
this place of torment." He goes on to specify the perils of ice,
precipice, and cold, and nothing disturbs him so much as that his ink
was frozen. But there is not a suggestion of anything worth looking at.
Even Cæsar, as von Humboldt reminds us, composed a rhetorical treatise
while crossing the Alps. But the poet of Vaucluse did climb a mountain
for the love of the view, and the very fact that his æsthetic attention
was distracted by ethical introspection is an indication of that serious
sensibility which was destined to become such an essential element in
our feeling for nature; what for every Wordsworthian is summed up in the
second mood of _Tintern Abbey_.

This incapacity for appreciating mountainous sublimity involved a
blindness to the rugged and picturesque on smaller scales. In minor
chords, and in combinations of tone superficially discordant, we have
learned to recognize some of nature's richest harmonies; this is one of
our marks of development. Closely linked, too, with this first of modern
passions for nature, indeed unified with it by the qualities of strength
and massiveness, is our feeling for the ocean and great woods.

    "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
    There is a rapture on the lonely shore:
    There is society where none intrudes,
    By the deep sea, and music in its roar."

Even deeper than the idea of companionship here is the mystical sense of
absorption into that physical world which seems the very dwelling-place
of the infinite soul, which finds one of its most remarkable
manifestations in an intense and almost defiant sensation of human
transitoriness and unimportance, and which is frequently blended with
very exultation in the reflection that presently we ourselves shall be
unified forever with the unconscious life that stretches out before us:

    "Rolled round in earth's diurnal course
    With rocks, and stones, and trees."

There is a strange fascination to the modern mind, in presence of the
majesties of nature, in this thought of humanity's return to the
earth-mother. Innumerable generations have come home to her, as many or
more are to be born that they may follow them, and she remains. Perhaps
we are never so serenely conscious of self, as in these rare moments
when we bear without a pang the thought of losing personal identity.
There is something more here than the certainty of at least
materialistic immortality, and the impression of infinite repose and

The projection of our immediate sensation into the long future silence
suffuses nature with pantheistic life, until the eager and buoyant
thrills of spiritual realization render one grateful to have been
permitted to gain such a sensation at what seems the trivial cost of
feeling oneself the mere creature of a day. Such a mood as this
certainly comes but seldom, but probably every one who has ever
experienced any imaginative sensibility to a grand landscape will recall
a heightened sensation that is beyond description.[2]

But still stranger than the failure to catch the finer suggestions in
the more strenuous forms of nature, is the way in which such sights are
ignored. In southern Europe, mountains, storms, rocks, the ocean, are
scarcely ever described, even as objects of awe or terror. When in the
course of a story they have to be mentioned, the treatment is brief and
matter of fact. Heinrich von Veldeke in his famous epic, makes nothing
of his necessary introduction of a storm at sea, nor does Gottfried, or
indeed any one of this whole period.

_Gudrun_, that epic of the people which deserves to stand near the more
famous _Niebelungen Lied_, treats constantly of the ocean, yet never
with any feeling except dread of shipwreck. This poem, however, shows a
more northern tone in one or two descriptions of winter, that are at
least elaborated. In the scene, for instance, when Herwig and Ortwin
arrive at the shore where Hildeburg and Gudrun, almost naked, are
washing the clothes for their cruel mistress, we find some realistic
touches, such as their trembling before the March wind, in which their
hair was streaming as they toiled on the beach, while before them the
sea was full of cakes of ice that had broken up under the early spring.
In another connection, too, the poet compares something to a thick
snowstorm, driven by mountain winds. The sense of fitness in a
sympathetic natural environment for the human action, that has been so
generally regarded in literature, as by Shakespeare, is indeed
occasionally found in mediæval poetry; so in an interesting French
romance that relates the trials of a heroine who barely escapes with her
life, after the loss of everything dear: "The lady is in the wood and
bitterly she wails. She hears the wolves howl, and the screech-owls cry;
it lightens terribly, and the thunder is heavy, rain, hail, and
wind--'tis wild for a lady all alone."

Exceptions occur now and then. Dante, for example, was impressed by the
mountains; no readers of the _Purgatory_ need to be reminded of his
experience in climbing them. The setting for a mood of unrealized love
in one of his lyrics is in winter, among the whitened hills: "He wooed
the lady in a lovely grassy meadow, surrounded by lofty hills." But the
arbitrary verbal repetitions of the _sestina_ modify the original face
of the image of the mountains towering about the lover's plain, and the
pensive beauty of the whole poem may be connected with an allegory. But
I believe that even in Dante we never catch the sense of exultation in
the earth's power and majesty.

Our modern feeling for forests is not only at times sombre and
oppressive; we also derive a sense of sublime composure from them. This
latter sentiment was hardly shared by the mediævals. Dante was only
following earlier poets when he located the opening of Hell by a gloomy
wood, and his repeated metaphor of life as a forest, "confusing,"
"gloomy," and "dark," accords with the feeling of his age. He would not
have appreciated Chateaubriand. He has left us, however, a rare and
interesting reference to the soughing in the pines on the Adriatic,
which shows how well his ear could interpret its solemn beauty. The
mystical apple-tree, moreover, near the close of the _Purgatory_, whose
blossoms are so exquisitely defined, indirectly reminds us how
exceptional is a mention of fruit trees in flower. Yet the Provençal,
French, and German lyrics constantly begin with the joyousness of
spring, and the happy contrast from the season that destroys flowers and
foliage. Nothing is more conventional than these nature preludes. Over
and over, till we close our books impatiently, we hear reiterations of
the charm of spring and summer. There is a slender kind of grace and
sincerity that would lend interest to many of these, if they had come
down by themselves; but they lie together in books in wearisome
uniformity. A dandelion in April is much prettier than the dandelions in
June. These preludes are usually in keeping with the love-phrases that
follow, cold and imitative. For poets thought and felt in exterior
generalities, rather than in detachment and inner consciousness. Their
typical landscape may be seen in a passage from Gottfried von
Strassburg,--one of Germany's most brilliant poets--where Tristan and
Isolde have fled to the forest grotto, in fear of King Mark. The grotto
is fitted up luxuriously, in keeping with the temper of the entire poem,
but since it is in the wilderness, far away from roads or paths, in a
description of its surroundings we might certainly look for a sense of
the picturesque. But so far from caring for the wild and rugged,
Gottfried does not even like a quiet woodland simplicity.

     "Above the entrance stood three broad lindens, no more; but
     below, stretching down the slope, were innumerable trees that
     hid the retreat. On one side was a level stretch where a
     fountain flowed, a fresh, cool stream, clearer than the sun.
     Above it, too, stood three beautiful shady lindens that
     shielded the spring from rain and the sun. Bright blossoms
     and green grass struggled with each other sweetly on the
     field. One caught also the delightful songs of birds which
     sang more delightfully there than anywhere else. Eye and ear
     each had its pleasure, there was shade and sun, air and
     breezes soft and pleasing."

He goes on to describe the lovers, in a passage from which I translate
the opening:

    When they waked and when they slept,
    Side by side they ever kept.
    In the morning o'er the dew
    Softly to the field they drew,
    Where, beside the little pool,
    Flowers and grass were dewy cool.
    And the cool fields pleased them well,
    Pleased them, too, their love to tell,
    Straying idly thro' the glade,
    Hearing music, as they strayed.
    Sweetly sang the birds, and then
    In their walk they turned again
    Where the cool brook rippled by,
    Listening to the melody,
    As it flowed and as it went:
    Where across the field it bent,
    There they sat them down to hear,
    Resting there, its murmur clear.
    And until the sunshine blazed,
    In the rivulet they gazed.

These lines are characteristic of Gottfried, even to the lingering
verbal repetition, and the picture certainly is pretty, as is the whole
account of the lovers' life that follows. Nothing in early German
literature comes closer to refined modern sensuousness than Gottfried's
best passages; there is a dreamy passion in them, and sometimes they
flash. His rich voluptuous strain has more of the poet than the
free-liver, and his general tone is curiously modern. It would be a
showy phrase to call his _Tristan_ the _Don Juan_ of the middle ages,
for the poems are very dissimilar, yet it is safe to say that we think
of Byron as we read him. Contrast these representative poets of the
thirteenth and nineteenth centuries in this matter of their feeling for
nature. For once among German settings we have a wild scene. But we
observe how studiously it is modified into the conventional meadow, with
trees in uniform little groups, a grassy field is sprinkled with
flowers, there is a spring, and the little stream that escapes from it
instead of tumbling down over a rocky bed into a glen, flows across the
field. Gottfried mentions mountains and rocks that lie round about, only
to point out that they are types of the difficulties and perils to be
undergone before reaching love's shrine. The almost inaccessible retreat
was necessary as a shelter for the fugitives from Mark's court; the poet
has done his best to obliterate the reality. If we turn to Byron, and
look for instance at that incomparable passage in which he relates the
early love of Juan and Haidee, we observe where he voluntarily places
his lovers:

    "It was a wild and breaker-beaten coast,
    With cliffs above and a broad sandy shore;
    Guarded by shoals and rocks as by a host,
    With here and there a creek, whose aspect wore
    A better welcome to the tempest-tost;
    And rarely ceased the haughty billows' roar."

    "And thus they wandered forth, and hand in hand,
    Over the shining pebbles and the shells,
    Glided along the smooth and hardened sand,
    And in the worn and wild receptacles
    Worked by the storms, yet worked as it were planned,
    In hollow halls, with sparry roofs and cells,
    They turned to rest; and each clasped by an arm,
    Yielded to the deep twilight's purple charm."

And, to pass over the description of sky, sea, moon, and starlight, that
follows, as elements in the nature-setting, notice the scene where Juan
is sleeping:

    "The lady watched her lover, and that hour
    Of Love's, and Night's, and Ocean's solitude,
    O'erflowed her soul with their united power,
    Amid the barren sand and rocks so rude,
    She and her wave-worn love had made their bower."

It would be easy to parallel these two situations; the older by no means
ends with the middle ages, for Eden's "blissful bower" is no exception
in modern poetry before the romantic age: while in our own century
counterparts to this conception of untrained and strenuous natural
surroundings for even the happiest of emotions will occur to every
one.[3] The idle triteness in those inevitable scenes of spring, was
manifest to some of the poets themselves. So the Comte de Champagne
declares foliage and flowers of no service to poets, except for rhyming
and to amuse commonplace people. The great Wolfram himself derides the
conventionality of all romance narratives falling in spring and early

    Arthur is the man of May;
    Each event in every lay,
    Happened or at Whitsuntide
    Or when the May was blooming wide.

And Uhland cites from the lives of the troubadours the contemporaneous
criticism upon a minor poet of the twelfth century, who wrote in the
old style about leaves, and flowers, and the song of birds,--nothing of
any account. We may recollect that such criticisms go far back of the
middle ages: Horace glances at his contemporaries' conventional
descriptions of a stream hastening through pleasant fields.

In the widely popular romances of Enid we find illustrations of Welsh,
French, and German treatment in the hands of leading authors, and there
is one point in the narrative where we may compare their feeling for the
natural environment. Readers of Tennyson will recall the passage in the
wandering, where, after one of Geraint's struggles with bandits, he
comes upon a lad carrying provisions. Chrestien's treatment of the
episode is clear and straightforward; the youth and two comrades are
taking cheese, cakes, and wine to the count's meadows for the haymakers.
The young man notices the travellers' worn appearance, and invites them
to sit down "in this fair meadow, under these ironwood trees," to rest
and eat.

Hartmann von Aue (whose paraphrase of the French poem is, by the way,
far from the merit of his _Iwein_) narrates the incident in the same
manner, omitting the poetically specific touches of the haymaking, and
the shady spot in the field; but characteristically inserting some
courteous concern on the part of the young man, for the comfort of Enid.
But if we turn to the _Mabinogion_ we come upon something very

     "And early in the day they left the wood, and they came to an
     open country, with meadows on one hand, and mowers mowing the
     meadows; and there was a river before them, and the horses
     bent down and drank the water. And they went up out of the
     river by a lofty steep, and there they met a slender
     stripling with a satchel about his neck, and they saw that
     there was something in the satchel, but they knew not what
     it was. And he had a small blue pitcher in his hand, and a
     bowl on the mouth of the pitcher."

How charming it is, even to the lovely touch of color. We know here that
the unremembered writer saw nature and cared for it as we do. Indeed,
this mediæval Welshman satisfies us quite as well as does even
Tennyson's transcript:

    "So through the green gloom of the wood they passed,
    And issuing under open heavens beheld
    A little town with towers, upon a rock:
    And close beneath, a meadow gemlike chased
    In the brown wild, and mowers mowing in it:
    And down a rocky pathway from the place
    There came a fair-hair'd youth, that in his hand
    Bare victual for the mowers."

There we have a simplicity treated with Tennysonian artifice, which
"victual" does not succeed in correcting; beautiful in its way, though
its way is perhaps not so fine as the prose. Yet we notice the modern
spirit in the appreciation of the "brown wild" as well as the meadow,
and out of the more general and evasive "steep" is developed the
picturesque "rocky pathway."

Except for the interest in establishing these forms of
nature-appreciation from such older and more original sources, we might
have satisfied ourselves with illustrations of them from Chaucer's early
poems, where his descriptions are almost wholly derivative. His feeling
for "the smale, softe, swote gras," that was sweetly embroidered with
flowers; the earth's joyous oblivion of the cold, in her enthusiasm of
May; his constant delight in the "smale foules," and the like, are
purely conventional, though the unction with which he writes shows his
real enjoyment. There are touches in Chaucer, however, that we miss in
his romance predecessors, such as his eye for delicate effects--most
interesting as marking the growth of accurate observation and sensitive
rendering, like the description of twilight in _Troylus and Creyseyde_,

    "White thynges wexen dymme and donne
    For lakke of lyght,"

or the graceful illustration in the same poem of a sudden troubling of
one's mood:

    "But right as when the sonne shyneth brighte
    In March that chaungeth ofte tyme his face,
    And that a cloude is put with wynde to flyght,
    Which overspret the sonne, as for a space,
    A cloudy thought gan through his soule pace."

Such a touch makes us feel how modern he is. Yet he does not love the
picturesque. Under the influence of a Breton lay, he writes in the
loveliest of all his tales, of the rugged sea-coast on whose high bank
Dorigen and her friends used to walk (since "stood hire castel faste by
the see") and look down upon "the grisly rokkes blake," which, in her
apprehension for her lord's safe return, she would call "these grisly,
feendly rokkes blake." But we feel that even had Arviragus been at her
side she would never have regarded the coast as we should regard it.
Still we observe the advance in observation and literary expression. In
the _Knight's Tale_, the wild picturesque is employed again to connote
the terrible, but no poet, from Statius to Boccaccio, his guides in the
passage, had written such lines as his setting for the temple of the
God of War:

    "First on the wal was peynted a forest
    In which there dwelleth neither man nor best,
    With knotty, knarry, bareyne trees olde
    Of stubbes sharpe and hidous to biholde,
    In which ther ran a rumbel and a swough,
    As though a storm sholde bresten every bough."

Nothing even in _Childe Roland_ sketches desolating natural effects with
more power. Yet Chaucer had a superior, in the sympathetic eye and
adequate expression for the stern and stormy phases of nature, in a
countryman of whom perhaps he never heard. We do not know the name of
the author of _Sir Gawayn and the Grene Knyght_. But the poem marks on
the whole the noblest conception in our literature before Spenser. It
possesses moral dignity, romantic interest, simplicity, and directness,
united with deep seriousness of style, creative imagination in dealing
both with character and with nature. Chaucer wrote nothing so spiritual,
though much of course more artistic and poetically valuable. In regard
to this one matter of the interpretation of nature, it would be
difficult to point out passages in the whole range of mediæval
literature so fine and so remarkable as such descriptions as follow, of
the northern winter scenes through which Gawayn passed on his weird

    A forest full deep, and wild to a wonder,
    High hills on each side, and crowded woods under,
    Of oaks hoar and huge, a hundred together.
    The hazel and hawthorne were grown altogether
    Everywhere coated by moss ragged, rough;
    Many birds on bare branches, unhappy enough;
    That piteously piped there, for pain of the cold.

    Wondrous fair was the earth, for the frost lay thereby;
    On the mist ruddy gleams the sun cast, as on high
    He coasted full clearly the clouds of the sky.

    They beat along banks where the branches are bare,
    They climbed along cliffs where clingeth the cold,
    The clouds yet held up, but 'twas ugly beneath.
    Mist lowered on the moor, dissolved on the mountains.
    Each hill had a hat, a huge misty cloak.
    Brooks boiling and breaking dashed on the banks,
    Shattered brightly on shore.

That is what we find in the North, and such English feeling for the
sublime is nothing new; it goes far back beyond these lines into the
generations that seem misty as the air which their poets are wont to
describe. Mr. Stopford Brooke's recent volume on Anglo-Saxon poetry
makes it unnecessary to enter into the subject of old England's eye and
ear for nature. Its accounts of the sympathy for the bold and fierce
bear out what one might guess without knowledge--that the stern northern
climate and familiarity with ocean life found large poetical expression.
Luxury, southern artifice of sentiment and literary manner, had not
invaded the rugged men of the North; they delight in describing
elemental conflicts, and sometimes with studied elaboration. But if the
pictures of the German and French poets are uniform in their mildness,
those of these Anglo-Saxons are marked by their stormy aspect. We
exchange spring for winter.

The same contrast holds true when we take up the Scandinavian poets;
they show much feeling and power, but little susceptibility to the
beauty of gentleness and grace. Mr. Brooke has remarked upon a
similarity between the _Tempest_ of Cynewulf and Shelley's _Ode to the
West Wind_. A closer parallel may be observed in the _Lines Among the
Euganean Hills_ and the so-called Helgi poet; where we find a curiously
identical image of rooks and hawks flying into the early morning with
wings sparkling from the mists through which they have passed. The Norse
poems are fond of screaming eagles, and ravens on the high branches.

That weird northern imagination too has vivid pictures, as the shields
of the night-warriors shining in the waning moon. Nature also
occasionally speaks to their personal moods, both by harmony and
contrast. A poet's boat is swept fiercely by the tempest, as he dies
with thoughts of his "linen-clad lady" in his heart. Another watches the
sea dashing against the steep cliff, and thinks of his far-away love, in
the control of his rival. Like the early English, they feel exultation
in sea and storm. They know them intimately and their descriptions are
spirited and faithful. They love them, but they love fiercely, terribly,
as they do their women. Yet even as in their human passions, there are
tranquillities. "They rode their steeds through dewy dales and dusky
glens: the air, a sea of mist, shook as they passed by." We linger
behind the storming horsemen for a moment, to look back as the silence
steals in again through those dusky glens.

But to return to what is our real subject, the sentiment for nature in
what we may term the polite literatures of mediævalism.

The reason for their feeling about winter is summed up in one of the
Latin student songs, "the cold icy harshness of winter, its fierceness,
and dull, miserable inactivity." It kept them within, when their
interests and concerns were so mainly out-of-door. The poets are for
ever singing in praise of spring, not so much because they loved it for
itself, as because it brought them a life that was gay and easy. They
seldom introduce touches of appreciation in their descriptions of the
wintry season. Snow may have appeared lovely to them, but we observe
Dante as doing something singular when he compares the talking of
ladies, which was mingled with sighs and tears, to raindrops
interspersed with beautiful snowflakes (_cp._ _Inf._, 14, 30; 24, 5),
and one of the most memorable lines in his friend Guido Cavalcanti's
poems is the one which mentions the dreamy sinking down of snow, falling
when the air is windless. The old-time gentlemen apparently hugged the
fire and drank of "their bugle-horn the wyn," and ate "brawn of the
tusked swyn," when winter came, instead of watching the snow, through
their little windows.

There are many phases of nature which it seems to us impossible not to
notice and enjoy, of which we seldom find a trace. We should expect them
in the large body of lyrical verse, and still more in the copious
romance literature, which corresponds to the modern novel, both in
incident and in the invitation to bits of passing local color. Clouds,
for instance, aside from their glory of line and mass, and the grace and
loveliness of their lighter forms, are curious and oddly suggestive, as
Antony reminds Eros, and they are constantly before the eye; yet let any
reader of mediæval poetry recall how imperceptible a part they play in
it, even as plain facts of description. A line in one of the Latin songs
expresses the feeling: their thought of clouds is, how delightful not to
see them. Moonlight, too, is seldom dwelt on as poetical; the most
romantic touch that comes to my mind in connection with it, is in
Chrestien de Troyes, where it shines over the reconciliation of
estranged lovers. Just as we find little notice of sunrise, sunset,
clouds, and moon, we find little feeling for the stars. They are
mentioned occasionally in a facile way, though scarcely ever with
manifest sentiment. There are two or three passages, however, in
_Aucassin et Nicolette_, that show the daintiest sort of sentiment for
moonlight and stars. Here, for instance, where the lovers are confined
for the sake of thwarting their love:

     "'Twas in summer time, in the month of May, when the days are
     warm, long, and clear and the nights calm and cloudless.
     Nicolette was lying one night in her bed, and she saw the
     moon clearly shining through a window, and she heard the
     nightingale singing in the garden and she thought of Aucassin
     her lover, whom she loved so much."

So making a rope of the bedclothes she lets herself down into the

     "Then she caught her gown by one hand in front and by the
     other behind, and tucked it up on account of the dew which
     she saw was heavy on the grass, and she went down through the
     garden.... And the daisy-blossoms that she broke with the
     toes of her feet, that lay over on the small of her foot,
     were even black, by her feet and legs, so very white was the
     dear little girl. Along the streets she passed in the shadow,
     for the moon shone very clear, and she went on till she came
     to the tower where her lover was."

And again when the lover is in pursuit of her, after she had built
herself a lodge in what she thought a safe retreat; he does not know
where she is, and his thoughts are so absorbed that he falls and puts
out his shoulder, and then creeps into her vacant shelter:

     "And he looked through a break in the lodge and saw the stars
     in the sky, and he saw one brighter than the rest, and he
     began to say:

      'Pretty little star, I see
      Where the moon is leading thee.
      Nicolette is with thee there,
      My darling with the golden hair;
      God would have her, I believe,
      To make beautiful the eve.'"

Yet even here there is nothing of the deeper sensibility to midnight
sky, common alike to ancient and modern seriousness. Yet we find notes
also of this. It is hard, for example, to think of giving up the
genuineness of Dante's letter refusing to return to Florence, if only
for the rare touch of everywhere seeing the sun and the stars (_nonne
solis astrorumque specula ubique conspiciam?_), that bears out such
evidences as the last word of each of the divine canticles and other
fine proofs that he felt the high wonder and peace of the stars at
night. Who can doubt that he did--that every deep nature always has? Yet
the poetical evidence for it is curiously scanty throughout these
centuries. It is a surprise to come upon such an exclamation as this of
Freidank's: "The constellations sweep through heaven as if they were
alive,--sun, moon, the bright stars,--there is nothing so wonderful!"

Indeed, I can recall no writer to whom the material world seems to
suggest such inner sensations as he who called himself Freidank, the
German free-thinker. He was not much of a poet, so far as his verses go,
but his soul knew life as mystery. He also made one of the band of
reformers three centuries before Luther. He saw the corruption of the
Church, yet he revered the sacred institution; in spite of his faith, he
was a Christian rationalist. Some of his sentences almost startle us, as
words before their season: "If the Pope can forgive sins by indulgence,
without repentance, people ought to stone him if he allows any one to go
to hell." "God is constantly shaping new souls, which he gives to
men--to be lost. How does the soul deserve God's wrath before it is
born?" He is haunted by the secret of life: "How is the soul made? No
one tells me that. If all souls could be in a hand, none could see or
grasp their glory." "Earth and heaven are full of the Godhead. Hell
would be empty, were God not there." "Whatever the sun touches, the
sunlight keeps pure. However the priest may be, the mass is still pure.
The mass and the sunshine will always be pure." "I never cease wondering
how the soul is made. Whence it came, and whither it fares--the path is
hidden. Nay, I know not who I am myself.[4] Lord God, grant me that I
may know thee, and also myself." So when Freidank hears the roar of the
wind, its invisible might reminds his skepticism that the soul may well
be great, though none can see it: while he watches the wide mist which
no hand can seize upon, a symbolism of the soul comes to him again. He
is oppressed by the restless energy of being: "Our hearts beat
unceasingly, our breaths are seldom still:--and then, our thoughts and
dreams!" As he rides through spring, he observes the infinite diversity
of nature:

    Many hundred flowers,
    Alike none ever grew;
    Mark it well, no leaf of green
    Is just another's hue.

"Many a man looks out at the stars, and tells what wonders take place
there. Let him tell me now (something closer at hand), what is the weed
in the garden. If he tells me that truly, I shall be more ready to
believe the other." It is the germ of Tennyson's _Flower in the Crannied
Wall_. Nature's commonplaces hold the heavenly mystery in a common bond
with their own. Such subtle blendings of the outward and inward vision
could come only from a refined and pensive spirit--such as his who sums
up thus the discipline of life: "Many a time the lips must smile when
the heart weeps."

One of the marked deficiencies of all these descriptions of nature is in
the indefiniteness of the terms employed. In minute accuracy, Dante, to
be sure, is one of the world's greatest masters; but elsewhere it is
rarely that we come upon anything concrete or specific. It is not until
centuries later, indeed, that, so far as nature goes, we find habitual
composition "with the eye upon the object," but, as it seems, most
mediæval poets never carried their observation beyond the barest general
impressions. We do not expect Tennyson's "More black than ashbuds in the
front of March," or Browning's eye for the fact that when "the leaf-buds
on the vine are woolly," the red is about to turn gray. The outer
world's "open secret" is not open enough to make us demand minute
attention. But it is surprising that they did not more frequently record
easy impressions, and in their inventions introduce definite details.
The poetical effect of even apparently prosaic precision is at times
imaginative, but the art of this was kept for the later romanticists.

There is a lyric, however (belonging, I believe, to the twelfth
century), by a poet of northern France, and written as a satire on the
love-romance literature of the age, which contains one or two happy
instances of just this missing trait. So charming it is in itself that I
have translated it as a whole, though it belongs to an essay on the
lyrical romances, instead of on nature. What a light touch the unknown
writer shows, what dainty fancy! Sir Thopas is hardly a parallel to this
blending of poetry with humor, a humor too gracious to be derisive,
whose genial satire sparkles and dances to meet its sister wave of
sentiment and beauty, till they ripple together, and each seems to have
absorbed the other. The opening stanza is the poet's introduction of
himself, and from the olive we may draw an inference respecting his
local associations:

    Will ye attend me, while I sing
    A song of love,--a pretty thing,
        Not made on farms:--
    Nay, by a gentle knight 'twas made
    Who lay beneath an olive's shade
        In his love's arms.


    A linen undergown she wore,
    And a white ermine mantle, o'er
        A silken coat;
    With flowers of May to keep her feet,
    And round her ankles leggings neat,
        From lands remote.


    Her girdle was of leafage green;
    Spring foliage, with a fringing sheen
        Of gold above;
    And underneath a love-purse hung,
    By bloomy pendants featly strung,
        A gift of love.


    Upon a mule the lady rode,
    The which with silver shoes was shode;
        Saddle gold-red;
    And behind rose-bushes three
    She had set up a canopy
        To shield her head.


    As so she passed adown the meads,
    A gentle childe in knightly weeds
        Cried: "Fair one, wait!
    What region is thy heritance?"
    And she replied: "I am of France,
        Of high estate.


    "My father is the nightingale,
    Who high within the bosky pale,
        On branches sings;
    My mother's the canary; she
    Sings on the high banks where the sea
        Its salt spray flings."


    "Fair lady, excellent thy birth;
    Thou comest from the chief of earth,
        Of high estate:
    Ah, God our Father, that to me
    Thou hadst been given, fair ladye,
        My wedded mate!"

Everything here is definite and concrete, and how delightful the picture
all is. Such plastic art as the "rose-bushes three" is not unworthy of
the great modern poets of whom its magic and romantic definiteness
reminds us,--as the "five miles meandering of Alph, the sacred river,"
or the "kisses four" with which the pale loiterer shut the eyes of La
Belle Dame sans Merci. The description of the nightingale on its high
branches, too, is a noticeably accurate touch, as we compare it, for
example, with Coleridge's nightingale descriptions.

The explanation for the usual vague and indefinite description is not
found in saying that they could not describe minutely. We meet with
abundant details of such material interests as embroideries or armor.
There is artistic emotion in Villehardouin's account of the glorious
sight of Constantinople, as it rose before the crusaders, just as
distinctly as in Lord Byron's letter. But, to their simple eyes, nature
not only failed to suggest associated fancies, like Shakespeare's

     "Wrinkled pebbles in the brook,"

or Wordsworth's ash,

     "A soft eye-music of slow waving boughs,"

but they see natural objects as units, without lingering upon their
parts. When we find, for example, a line that marks the jerky flight of
a swallow, we are surprised at the specific touch; we look almost in
vain for such landscape details as the colors of autumn. Neidhart von
Reuenthal is marking his originality, when he speaks of the red
tree-tops, falling down yellow.

The want of observation and the shallow sympathy with nature shown by
most poets before Dante are much more surprising than their preference
for placid effects. It is unusual, for instance, to meet such a
suggestive note of association as in the stanza by the Frenchman Gaces

    The birds of my own land
      In Brittany I hear,
    And seem to understand
      The distant in the near;
    In sweet Champagne I stand,
      No longer here.

This paraphrase, indeed, is unworthy of the charming simplicity of the
original. Surely, when Matthew Arnold made his sweeping characterization
of mediæval poetry as grotesque, he forgot what a straightforward
evolution of narrative or of quiet sentiment, and what a transparent
expression, we find in some of these minor poets. They are as direct and
unadorned, as they are graceful. It is almost impossible to translate
them without substituting for the fresh and delicate touch, some
metaphysical warping of the idea, or some rhetorical consciousness in
words. What for instance could be more elegantly remote from the
grotesque than this literal translation of Brulles' expression of his
sensibility to the song-birds of his home: "The birds of my country I
have heard in Brittany; by their song I know well that in sweet
Champagne I heard them of old."

       *       *       *       *       *

We may sum up these outline statements to this effect.

The northern poets described storm, winter, the ocean, and kindred
subjects, with considerable force and fulness. In the cultivated
literatures to the south, natural description was mainly confined to the
agreeable forms of beauty; the grand, awesome, and inspiring were
scarcely felt, and the literal fact of their physical expression was
hardly ever noticed. The exterior world was not made a subject of close
observation, nor was its poetic availability realized as a setting for
action, or as an interpreter of emotion.

The people of the north, through being habituated to severer weather,
not merely as a fact of climate, but from their rougher, less politely
organized habits of living, [we should especially observe their activity
on the sea,] regarded the violent seasons and aspects of nature with the
sympathetic acquiescence of custom. Moreover, this influence tended to
develop sturdier and more rugged character, race-temperament obviously
being in part a geographical result, which acts with the forces of
social organization, especially those that affect the moral qualities,
such as rude or luxurious living. This vigorous character was more
susceptible to impressions of native power, as well as from association
more interested in recalling them. Accordingly, we find the early
northern poetry an anticipation of the seriousness of modern English
literature, and, as well, of its unequalled recognition of physical
symbolisms of the sublime. Where the northern force blended with more
southern lightness and elegance, as it did in the _Mabinogion_, we find
a deeper poetic sentiment; where it coincides with moral earnestness, we
find such nature sensation as in the poetry of _Sir Gawayn_. But the
literature of the Germans and their romance originals, aim at courtly
levities; they artificialize sentiment and thought, as well as manner.
The deeper and more spiritually sympathetic minds did not as a rule
devote themselves to _belles-lettres_. The Church drew them into her
sober service, and even though they wrote, the close theological faith
was not favorable to their poetic expansion. Most of all, there was but
little individualism, and any artistic sensation of our modern complex
inner consciousness was still crude, even when it existed at all.

One point, however, should be observed in any inquiry into the reasons
for the inadequateness of these ages' feeling for nature; that many
latent sympathies may never have found a voice. Many through the
centuries before our later ease of publication, may have felt the modern
sensations, without ever thinking of putting them into words. In any new
movement, of art as of practice, a great leader of expression is needed.
Men are sheep to their leaders in various admirations, and many genuine
æsthetic tastes are acquired, through stages of more or less unconscious
imitation. Browning puts this in an acute sentence where Fra Lippo Lippi
explains his usefulness as a painter:

    ".  .  . We're made so that we love,
    First when we see them painted, things we have passed
    Perhaps a hundred times, nor cared to see."

There were few new departures, there was little originality, in the
methods of mediæval literature. Descriptions of the physical world as a
field of power and sublimity would have fallen dead on the ears of a
public who had never dreamed that storm and cliffs were beautiful. What
if Wordsworth had tried to support himself and win fame by singing at
castles? Nor is it easy, though the taste has been established, to
describe a sunset, or the sublimity of the Alps. We say to each other
"How beautiful!" "How grand!" seldom more. Rare imagination and the tact
of genius are necessary to tell what we really need to show. The sense
of physical sublimity is complex. Its distinctive element is moral or
spiritual emotion. For a full delineation it requires a more subtle,
verbal repertory than those popular poets usually possessed. Yet these
modifications no longer apply when we come to Dante, and superior as his
interpretations are to his predecessors' we miss even in him, as we miss
in the great poets for four hundred years afterwards, appreciation of
the material world's sublimity.

Macaulay and others have said that it was not until man had become the
master of nature that he learned to love its stern and violent aspects.
But thunder storms, for example, are as dangerous now as they ever were,
at least to a traveller. Still, Byron wrote of them with raptures amid
the Pindus mountains as his predecessors did not.

Winter was scarcely colder or bleaker for mediæval poets than for
Scottish peasants a century ago, yet Burns would sing as they could not:

    "E'en winter bleak has charms for me,
    When winds rave through the naked tree."

Others have accounted for this change by the era of science, with its
close scrutiny of the world, and its enthusiasm for physical knowledge.
But the scientist masters the world as a reality where the poet sees it
as a symbol. The two modern tendencies may be the result of a common
cause--that recognition of complexity, and disposition to observe, which
is a main fact in man's expansion.

A better explanation may be found, I believe, in modern refinement and
ethical sensitiveness.

Side by side with the new appreciation of nature may be observed a
steady growth in sensibility. Our modern moods of inward
contemplation--we are famous for them--our modern zeal for humanity down
to its lowest grades; nay, even our tenderness for the brutes, have been
distinguishing marks of the poet guides under whom we have learned to
appreciate our new physical symbolisms of human emotion. Modern
melancholy, as well, a melancholy more subtle and thoughtful, more
poetical too, than that of mediævalism, has touched men with its pensive
fascination. Philosophical pantheism such as Wordsworth's or Tennyson's,
feels deity in nature; the new Christianity incarnates divinity in
universal man. Man is more than he used to be, his moods are deeper, his
thought freer. He seeks more ardently than of old, because with less
constraint, the mystery in whom he lives and moves and has his being. He
no longer quails before the majesty and awe of its forever elusive
presence. For he knows that though he cannot find it, it enfolds him
with love and beauty, it cries back to his passion and pain in winter
and storm; from the solemn mountains it reminds him of himself, an
unconquerable partner of its own eternity.



[1] _Lit. Fam._, iv., 1.

[2] Since this passage was written, I have met with the following
extract from a letter of Tennyson's, dated in 1874, though with no
direct reference to the experience being associated with nature: "All at
once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of
individuality, the individuality itself has seemed to dissolve and to
fade away into boundless being; and this not a confused state, but the
clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond
words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of
personality (if so it were), seeming no extinction, but the only true

[3] Any student of Dante, who recalls his lovely early sonnet, _Guido,
vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io_, and compares it with Shelley's almost
parallel conception of lovers sailing away in indivisible companionship,
in the latter part of _Epipsychidion_, will obtain an excellent
illustration of this same difference of feeling about the natural
setting for a happy love. In Dante the sentiment is vague, and only what
is peaceful, while Shelley's ideal haunt of lovers admits owls and bats
with the ring-dove, an "old cavern hoar" left unadorned, mossy
mountains, and quivering waves.

[4] We recall his great countryman's modern cry: "Wohin es geht, wer
weiss es? Erinnert er sich doch kaum, woher er kam."




Any one who has read Freytag's excellent studies of German social life
will recall a curious illustration in his first volume of the lawless
violence of thirteenth-century knighthood, in the imprisonment of Ulrich
von Liechtenstein by his liegeman Pilgerin. The account not only proves
the author's point, but it goes on to suggest a good deal besides. For
the victim's unsophisticated and plaintive manner under his misfortune,
the fashion in which he relates what he suffered, his allusions to his
own life and character, and most of all to the consolations of his love,
are all stimulating to one's curiosity about the writer. When we go to
the mediæval shelves of a German library we find this curiosity
satisfied in a long poem by the unfortunate Ulrich, and immediately we
are in that chivalric age which wins most of its romantic lustre from
its devotion to womanhood.

If our guesses at a truth beneath the stories of widowed ladies rescued
from bandits of the forest and recreant knights, or of lovely ladies
rescued from worse than death by the capture of castles through the
prowess of generous champions--stories which every one knows and
incredulously likes--send us to a study of the times when they were
composed, we find that the age, when stripped of romantic
embellishments, in its actual life felt a sentiment for women unequalled
by earlier times. We wonder what caused it. Can it have been the
increase in the culture of the Virgin, that beautiful and beneficent
phase of mediæval religion? In its larger development, this appears
rather the parallel expression of some common influence, these
adorations of the divine and human conceptions of woman seeming to be
mutually impulsive, and drawn alike from some undetermined tendency of
social and spiritual refinement. Or was it the Crusades? For a German
essayist has suggested that we may count this increase of sentimentalism
among their many influences upon western Europe; the beauty of the women
and the more luxurious habits of the East, its more effeminate
emotionalism, finding impressionable subjects in the hearts of those
stranger knights lying, wakeful for home, beneath southern stars.
Perhaps the conjecture is equally reasonable that the influence came
from French poets who, as they travelled with the early Christian
armies, caught such suggestions from snatches of oriental poetry. Yet it
seems more natural to regard the growth of knightly sentiment toward
ladies as the more delicate manifestation of a spontaneous increase of
social personality, which was stimulated by that general motion in mind
and heart which we observe in the progress of chivalric and crusadal
life, and based, as we must not forget, upon that Teutonic character,
whose ancient deference to woman is recorded by Tacitus side by side
with his account of knighting youthful soldiers with spear and shield.

But, to waive the question of its origin, we find its main expression in
the old society, in that protracted and conventional wooing which, we
should remember, was not usually directed toward marriage. As gentlemen
grew hyperbolical and fantastic in their professions of regard and
devotion, feminine coquettishness and love of admiration naturally
became fastidious and exacting. Ladies grew arbitrary and capricious,
and began to demand substantial proofs of their lovers' concern for
them. It became a trait of elegant culture for a lady to pose as
inexorable, while still retaining her control over the wooer; while he,
complaisant to the sentimental fashion, sighed in a cheerful melancholy,
obeyed, adored, and waited. The mistress set tasks, often no trifles,
which the loyal subject must perform--hard feats of arms, long and
perilous journeys, abnegations of pride or comfort. When these were
accomplished, he sometimes returned to receive a new test, involving a
continued delay of his reward. These mediæval ladies were as pitiless as
the mystic spiritual dictatress of Browning's _Numpholeptos_, to their

                       "Seeking love
    At end of toil, and finding calm above
    Their passion, the old statuesque regard."

In the fourteenth century something of this romantic tyranny survived.
We find Chaucer, for instance, in one of his early poems, mentioning in
praise of his heroine that she did not impose dangerous expeditions to
distant countries, or extravagant exploits upon her lover:

    "And saye, 'Sir, be now ryght ware
    That I may of you here seyn
    Worshippe, or that ye come agayn.'"

Extended probations, courtships long enough to satisfy Ruskin, were an
established convention. Wolfram von Eschenbach, in the seventh book of
_Parzival_, represents Obie as indignantly telling her royal lover, who
has asked her to marry him after what seems to him a reasonable
love-making, that if he had spent his days for five years, in hard
service, under full armor, with distinction, and she had then said "Yes"
to his desire, she would be yielding too soon.

Jane Austen, in the novel to which Trollope gave the palm of English
fiction before _Henry Esmond_, has expressed in Mr. Collins's address to
Elizabeth exactly the notion of the significance in a rejection, held by
well-bred gentlemen six centuries earlier:

     "'I am not now to learn,' replied Mr. Collins, with a formal
     wave of the hand, 'that it is usual with young ladies to
     reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to
     accept, when he first applies for their favor; and that
     sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third
     time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have
     just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere

But these exercises, as was suggested, were not usually directed toward
the altar. A characteristic of the age is the relation, less or more
sentimental, between a married knight and a lady not his wife; a
relation rather expected of the former, and countenanced in the latter.
This peculiar dual system of domestic and knightly love may be ascribed
to various influences, such as the prosaic influence of early and
dowered marriages, subject to parental arrangement, or the feudal life
which for considerable periods kept gentlemen away from their own homes
in residence in the larger castles, or the idleness of such a society,
or again the popularity of love-lyrics and romance-recitals, which
would tend to sentimentalize their audience. At any rate, it came to be
a fashionable idea that the highest love was independent of marriage,
and the most poetically inclined,--the troubadours and the
minnesingers--were famous for their impassioned and submissive service
of married ladies. It is from these poets' accounts of their own
love-trials that we learn most about this phase of mediævalism, and in
their contented sufferings we see once more that the joy of all romantic
love is in the lover.

Although there is danger of generalizing too widely from literary
indications, we may believe that chivalric society was appreciably
marked by formal amatory disciplines. Was it all for nothing these
ceremonial disciplines? Can it be that these Don Quixote prototypes, who
trifled away their frivolous days in lady-worship so trivial, did
anything to help the Prince to take Cinderella from the ashes? The
ashes, then the fairy coach; first the drudge, then the sentimental
plaything, then at last the friend. In those days, as perhaps always,
the lover objectified himself in his love, to the extent of finding in
her his own _ideal feminine_. The very fact that this self, which he
probably called into conscious life only as he created it in another,
represented the most refined side of his thought, as is shown in the old
poets' recurrent epithets of "constant, chaste, good," etc., made the
devotion a refining and dignifying experience, especially for the days
when men and women had less in common than they have now. These
lady-services, where the lover often was denied intimacy for a
considerable time, kept up the illusion which the devotee himself may
have half felt was sentimental and artificial. We may reply to little
Peterkin that some good did come of it at last, even for the more
commonplace of these servants of abstract womanhood. Even if the
"visionary gleam" left no permanent illumination, the men were better
for seeing it brightening through their darkness now and then. At its
best, lady-loving gave the mediæval knights consideration for women and
a measure of gentleness. If it only stimulated some to fight hard, they
would have fought anyway, and the motive was a shade less brutal than a
directly selfish one.

But such an eccentric social idea, especially when the poetic
exhilaration of its earlier hours has passed by, was sure to bring out
extravagant sentimentalists, whose romantic sensibility with no check
from practical judgment, ran wild steeplechases of nonsense. Such, for
example, was the Provençal poet, Peter Vidal, one of the most famous
troubadours, who carried his romantic infatuations so far that he became
crack-brained. The name of one of his ladies was Lupa, Mistress Wolf;
and if he had contented himself with assuming a wolfish device for his
coat-of-arms, as he did, and having himself called Mr. Wolf, he would
have done nothing very peculiar, for that age. But it occurred to him
that it would be a graceful symbol to wear a wolf's skin, and after he
had procured one which quite covered him, he got down on all-fours, and
trotted through the street; and all went charmingly until one day, while
he was exhibiting himself in this fashion about his lady's estate, a
pack of dogs was deceived by the metaphor, and the allegorical lover was
badly bitten before rescue arrived.

But the most detailed example of mediæval gallantry is that presented in
the work already mentioned, the autobiography of the thirteenth-century
minnesinger, Ulrich von Liechtenstein. The poem is a prolix narrative
of his amatory religion, extending through some sixteen thousand lines,
and containing a large number of lyrics composed in the wooing of two
ladies to whom he consecrated his literary and romantic life. We utterly
tire of the commonplaces in which he praises them. We reflect that not a
single specific incident is ever introduced to illustrate the inner
character of either; the descriptions have no color, except in the
heartlessness of the first beloved, whose virtue and humor alike Ulrich
apparently misses. Yet this presumably undesigned caricature of the more
poetic twelfth-century chivalric love gives important suggestions of the
times, and Ulrich himself is a knight and a poet worth knowing.

The impression that his romance makes upon a modern reader is something
like that of a beetle hovering above a lily. He played zany to the
gentlemen of an early generation who had amused their leisurely lives by
courtly lady-service; as he emulated their feats of sentimental
gallantry, he stumbled and fell. The odd thing is that after each fall
he called for his tables: "Meet it is I set it down." Undoubtedly many
marvelled and admired, as they looked on: others marvelled and laughed.
Perhaps he mistook the laughter for applause. It may be that the sound
was lost in the applause of his own simple-minded complacency. But yet,
though this gallant was born to a foolish horoscope, his life gained a
good fortune denied multitudes who lived sensibly,--he saw the stars of
his destiny, and he loved them. Their combination caused a silly career,
yet individually they were admirable,--simplicity of nature, theoretical
reverence for womanhood, patient love, regard for stately old usages.
If defective eyesight makes a man fancy a burdock a rosebush, and if he
tends and cherishes the absurd idealization,--at least, the man has a
sentiment for roses.

The earliest fact which Ulrich has confided to us, is that in his
childhood he used to ride about on sticks, in imitation of the knights,
and while in that simple age he noticed that the poetry which people
read, and the conversation of wise men which he overheard, kept
declaring that no one could become a worthy man without serving
unwaveringly good ladies, and that "no one was right happy unless he
loved as dearly as his own life some one whose virtue made her fitly
called a woman." Whereupon, he thought in his simplicity that since pure
sweet women so ennoble men's lives, he, whatever happened, would always
serve ladies. In such thoughts he grew up until his twelfth year, when
he began a four or five years' term as page to a lady who was good,
chaste, and gentle, complete in virtues, beautiful, and of high rank.
She was destined to give Ulrich much trouble, and the lover's sweet
solicitude began at once, as he started in his teens. For his constant
attention found nothing in her but what was good and charming, and he
feared--this boy of thirteen--that she might not care for him. His ups
and downs of fortune are reported for us in the popular mediæval form
(used for example by Map, and one as late as by Villon), of a dialogue
between his heart and his body. Heart is hopeful, but Body has the
better wit. Yet even if she is too high-born to notice him, he will
always serve her late and early, and in the interim between his childish
page-waiting, and the bold knighthood to be his when he grows up, he
gathers pretty summer flowers, and carries them to her. When she took
them in her white hand, he was happy.

As the time came near for him to leave her household, the youth grew
emotional: when at table water was poured over those lovely white hands,
he transformed her finger-glass into a tumbler. A German dry-as-dust has
laughed at Ulrich for this.

But the tender little Teutonic blossom could unfold its youth no longer
in the sunshine of its lady-desire. The stern father appeared, and
transferred the lover, his "grief showing well the power of love," to
the service of an Austrian Margrave. "My body departed, but my heart
remained"; and Ulrich pauses for a moment to point out the strangeness
of the paradox. "Whenever I rode or walked, my heart never left her; it
saw her at all times, night and day."

His new master was a knightly gentleman, professedly a lady-servant, and
the lessons that Ulrich had caught as a child from the conversation in
his father's hall were reinforced by this Margrave Henry. He was taught
the best style of riding, the refinements of address to ladies, and
poetical composition, and assured that whoever would live worthily must
be a lady's true subject. "It adorns a youth--sweet speech to women....
To succeed well with them, have sweet words with true deeds."

After four years of such instruction, his father's death called him home
to inherit his property, and he spent the three years that followed by
tourneying in the noviciate of knighthood. At Vienna, in 1222, during
the great festival in celebration of the marriage of Leopold's daughter,
where five thousand knights were present, and tourneying and other
entertainments of chivalry were mingled with much dancing, Ulrich made
one of the two hundred and fifty squires who received their spurs. But
the occasion was otherwise memorable to him, for here he saw his lady
again. She recognized him, and told one of his friends of her pleasure
at seeing become a knight one who had been her page when a little
fellow. The mere simple foolish thought that she would perhaps have him
for her own knight, as he tells us, was sweet and good, and put him in
high spirits. Indeed this was all the contentment which the blushing
young knight desired:

     "Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in

Ulrich did not wake from his to do anything so practical as to speak
face to face with her, but gaily rode off to a summer of adventure in
twelve tournaments, wherein he invariably fared well, thanks to his

German sentiment has always shown a butterfly's sensibility to winter
and rough weather, and with the last of autumn, Ulrich's spirit grows
heavy. He longs to see his lady, he knows that now he would speak to
her. There are no tourneys to distract him, and in care of heart he
rose, lay down, sat, and walked. As it chanced, a cousin of his knew
this only lovely one, and the taxing office of a lover's confidante fell
heavily upon her, and remained for some years. After beating about the
bush with her for a while, he confessed the truth, only to receive
point-blank advice to give up so hopeless an aspiration. Never! on the
contrary she must help him in his perseverance by visiting the lady and
presenting her with a copy of the verses which Ulrich has been composing
for her as a confession of his love. His cousin consented, but her
mission resulted in a scornful rejection of the suit, softened by
compliments upon the poem. He was advised to abandon his quest, for the
lady seriously objected to his mouth. "Nothing but grim death can drive
me from her; I will serve her all my life," he exclaimed. But he felt
that the criticism upon his mouth was a fair one, and he determined to
pay attention to it.

Poor Ulrich, with so much sentiment, yet with such physical
deficiencies; with such correct perception of the use of lips, yet
having such uninviting ones of his own. In one of his songs he tells us:

    When a lady on her lover
      Looks and smiles, and for a kiss
    Shapes her lips, he can discover
      Never joy so great; his bliss
          Transcends measure:
    O'er all pleasures is his pleasure.

But until he was quite in his twenties, his experience of this
blessedness must have been of those

                   "By hopeless fancy feigned
    On lips that are for others";

for Ulrich confesses to the deformity of what he calls three lips; that
is, a bad hare-lip.

But this protagonist of mediæval Quixotism has energy and nerve, as well
as sentiment. In spite of his cousin's dissuasions (this plain-minded
lady tells him to take the body God has given him, instead of arrogantly
improving upon his creation), Ulrich rides off to find the best surgeon
in the country, and submit to an operation. But the doctor decides that
the time of year is unsuitable; he must wait until winter is past, keep
his three lips until May.

At last spring comes and Ulrich returns to the doctor. Upon the way he
meets a page of his lady's, to whom he confides the purpose of his
journey, and whose presence he secures as a witness. Early one Monday
morning the surgeon received his patient, laid out his instruments
before him, and produced several straps. At sight of the latter, martial
dignity recoiled, and Ulrich refused to allow himself to be bound. It
was to no purpose that he was told of the danger involved in even a
twitch; he said with spirit that he came of his own will, and if
anything happened amiss he alone would be to blame. Whereupon he sat
calmly upon a bench, and without a tremor allowed the surgeon to "cut
his mouth above his teeth and farther up. He cut like a master, I
endured like a man."

Ulrich describes the discomfort which he experienced during the healing
of the wound, in details which give an unpleasant notion of the methods
of mediæval surgery. As he was able to eat and drink scarcely anything,
he wasted in flesh, and his only comfort was the thought of her for whom
he had suffered. During the confinement, he composed another dancing
song in her honor, which, after his recovery he entrusted to his cousin,
who forwarded it with a letter of her own. Presently an answer came. The
lady is to spend the next Monday night near by, in the course of a
journey, and she will be very happy to see her friend's relative, and
learn from himself how things are. Time changes the significance of
letters, among other things. This lady-like note, which gave such a
heart-leap to Ulrich's sentimental hope, interests scholars to-day as
being the earliest prose letter in German.

On Tuesday morning, when Ulrich appeared at the chapel where the lady's
chaplain was singing mass before her, she bowed without speaking. After
the service she rode off, and Ulrich had found no chance to meet her.
His cousin, however, told him that everything was favorable, and that
the lady would allow him to ride with her that day. So he galloped off
in gay spirits, and soon overtook the cavalcade. But alas for his
self-possession; when he reaches her his head drops and he cannot find a
single word. Another knight was riding with her. Ulrich's heart makes a
speech to his body, reproaching it for cowardice; "If you go on without
speaking to her now, she will never be good to you again." So he rides
up to her and gets a sweet glance, but still he cannot speak. Heart
nudges Body and whispers: "Speak now, speak now, speak now!" All through
the day Body tries, he tries over and over, but he cannot. Alas, as a
poet of his own day said:

    "Mit gedanken wirt erworben niemer wîbes kint:
        .     .     .     .     .     .     .
    Des enkan sî wizzen niht."[5]

When they reach their lodging-place for the night, he wishes to assist
the only one in dismounting, but she is not sufficiently flattered by
his attentions to accept them; she says that he is sick and useless, and
not strong enough to help her down. The attending gentlemen laugh
merrily at that, and the ever sweet, constant, good, and so forth, as
she slides from her horse, catches hold of Ulrich's hair, without any
one's noticing it (however that can have been done), and pulls a lock
out by the roots. "Take this for being afraid," she whispers; "I have
been deceived by other accounts of you." Reproaching himself, and
wishing God to take his life, he stood gawkily where she left him,
absorbed in remorse for his awkwardness, until a knight admonished him
to step aside and allow the ladies to go by to their rooms. Whereupon he
rode off to his inn, and swore that he was ill.

As he tossed restlessly through the night, he talked with himself as
usual, lamenting his birth, and assuring himself that should he live a
thousand years he could never again be happy. "Not to speak one word to
her! My worthlessness has lost my lady." But in the morning he rode up
to her on the street. No silence this time: "Thy grace, gracious lady!
Graciously be gracious to me. Thou art my joy's abiding place, the
festival of my joys." Like many shy people, Ulrich talked fluently
enough when he was once started, and he was only in the midst of his
protestations when the lady interrupted him. "Hush, you are too young;
ride on before me. Talking may hurt you, it never can help you. It would
be amiss for others to hear what you are saying. Leave me in peace; you
grow troublesome." Then she beckoned to another knight, and directed
that she should never again be attended by less than two gentlemen.

It was in the book of lady-service that no repulse was a discouragement.
"This morning," says the heroine in Bret Harte's parody of _Jane Eyre_,
"this morning he flung his boot at me! Now I know he loves me." Ulrich
rode off, thinking that he had met with good success in telling her a
part of his love, before the interruption.

Another summer passed in tourneying, and during another winter he tried
to amuse himself by making poetry for his lady. This time he sent her a
more pretentious tribute, his first "Büchlein," a poem of some four
hundred lines. Like most of its kind, it is formal, sentimentally
prolix, and supplicatory, yet not without a certain pleasant interest.
He begs her from the wealth of her loveliness to grant him some trifling
favor which she never can miss:

    What is worse the bloomy heath,
    If a few flowers for the sake
    Of a garland some one break?

He wishes it were himself that the messenger is about to deliver to her:

    Little book, I fain would be,
    When thou comest, changed to thee.
    When her fair white hand receives
    Thine assemblement of leaves,
    And her glances, shyly playing,
    Thee so happy are surveying.
    And her red mouth comes close by,
    I would steal a kiss, or die.

But the unsatisfactory manuscripts were returned at once. The lady told
the bearer that she recognized the merit of the poetry, but she would
have nothing to do with it. Like many poets of those days when monks and
ladies constituted the educated classes, like his predecessor, the great
master of high mediæval romance, Ulrich could neither read nor write,
and for such delicate personal affairs as correspondence with his lady
he depended upon his confidential clerk. This confidant of his passion
was absent when the "Büchlein" came back, but the eager eyes of the poet
looked through the pages over which they had evidently wandered before
he dismissed his labors to their fate, repeating the lines from memory
as he looked over the characters which should interpret his loving
patience to the lady who would not let him speak it to her; and as he
looked, he detected an addition to what he had sent, an appendix of ten
lines. The slighted letter found a home in his bosom, and for ten days
he awaited his secretary's return. His happy hopes--those ten days were
so cheerful. But when the little response was at last interpreted, away
with hopes and cheerfulness. To make plainness trebly plain, his cruel
correspondent had copied out three times the sentiment: "Whoever desires
what he should not, has refused himself."

Summer again, and the lover has diversion in the sports of chivalry. Any
one interested in the details of mediæval tournaments will find in
Ulrich's narrative a valuable and lively record of the tourney held at
Friesach in 1224. His sense for material splendor is well shown by his
full accounts of the costuming and tent equipments. The trustworthiness
of the minor points may be questioned when we recall that the
_Frauendienst_ was composed more than thirty years later, but as a
sketch of thirteenth-century chivalry, no doubt it is accurate. The
heralds running hither and thither, and shouting as they arranged for
the contests, with their cries to "good gallant knights to risk honor,
goods, and life for true women"; the squires crowding the ways, loud
noise of drums, flute-playing, blowing of horns, great trumpeting,--we
have the old picture, made vivid in English by Chaucer in the _Knight's
Tale_, and by Tennyson.

Ulrich rode in disguise, prompted by the sentimentalist's
self-consciousness, always delighted in attracting attention and making
himself talked of. According to his own account, he did good hearty
tourneying, breaking ten spears with one antagonist, seven with
another, five with a third, six with a fourth, in a single day. The
meeting continued for ten days, and Ulrich grows prolix in his
particulars, though he is modest enough about his own exploits,
pronouncing himself neither the best nor the worst of the participants.
The accidents of jousting, through which many were left at Friesach with
broken limbs and other injuries, and the misfortunes which compelled
others to have recourse to the Jews for loans, did not disturb the
musical contestant. At the end he rode cheerfully off to his cousin with
another song for the same inattentive ear. She promised to report, as
she sent it, that no one in the great tourney had excelled him.

This lyric is the poem by which modern German students of their old
literature have been best pleased, and we shall hardly dissent from
Scherer's commendation. For it is both a typical minnesong, in its
treatment of nature and love, and also fortunate in its union of
sentiment, force, finish, and a ring of personal meaning. Omitting two
of its stanzas, it goes as follows:

    Now the little birds are singing
      In the wood their darling lay;
    In the meadow flowers are springing,
      Confident in sunny May.
    So my heart's bright spirits seem
      Flowers her goodness doth embolden;
      For in her my life grows golden,
    As the poor man's in his dream.

    Ah, her sweetness! Free from turning
      Is her true and constant heart;
    Till possession banish yearning,
      Let my dear hope not depart.
    Only this her grace I'll pray:
      Wake me from my tears, and after
      Sighs let comfort come and laughter;
    Let my joy not slip away.

    Blissful May, the whole world's anguish
      Finds in thee its single weal;
    Yet the pain whereof I languish,
      Thou, nor all the world, canst heal.
    What least joy may ye impart,
      She so dear and good denied me?
      In her comforts ever hide me,
    All my life her loving heart.

But elegant and tender as in the original these verses are, their object
returned a slighting answer, and added that the messenger must not be
sent again. People would come to have suspicions. Ulrich made another
set of verses, and went off to another joust. There one of his fingers
was seriously wounded, and in his anxiety to save it he offered a
surgeon a thousand pounds for a cure. The treatment was unsuccessful,
and, after showing a good deal of temper, he went to a new surgeon, on
the way beguiling himself of his pain by composing another poem upon the
old theme. But a shock was at hand; a friend divulged to him his closely
kept secret. "This lady [still unnamed to us] is the May-time of your
heart." What though this friend believed that the lady cared for him?
"My head sank down, my heart sighed, my mouth was dumb," in terror lest
it might be through his fault that the object of his devotion had been
discovered. For secrecy was the first of a chivalric lover's virtues,
even about the object of his passion. Yet the pain was not without
compensation, inasmuch as this gentleman, who declared that he had
already kept the secret for two years and a half, volunteered to make
another appeal. So off to the home of the inexorable went anew the
story of unflinching devotion, the loss of a finger in a tournament for
her glory not unmentioned. Ulrich's cause was pleaded with fervor, and
in winning style. The lover was praised and prayed for. The song he had
sent was even sung, instead of being formally delivered. A faithful and
versatile legate was this proxy wooer, but it was all to no purpose. The
lady declared that she would grow old in entire ignorance of any love
but her husband's. She warned the messenger that Ulrich would find
himself in trouble if he should persist in annoying her with such
sentimental folly; she would not receive such attentions from the
highest-born--not even from a king.

The news saddened, but did not cast down. "What if she refuses me?"
cried Ulrich; "that shall not disturb me. If she hates me to-day, I will
serve her so that later she shall like me. Were I to give up for a cold
greeting, could a little word drive me away from my high hope, I should
have no sound mind or manly mood. Whatever the true, sweet one does to
me, for that I must be grateful." But now another summer was over, and
he diverted himself by a pilgrimage to Rome. After Easter he returned,
on his way composing this sweetly conceived and rather pretty lyric:

    Ah, see, the touch of spring
    Hath graced the wood with green;
    And see, o'er the wide plain
    Sweet flowers on every spray.
    The birds in rapture sing;
    Such joy was never seen:
    Departed all their pain,
    Comfort has come with May.

    May comforts all that lives,
    Except me, love-sick man;
    Love-stricken is my heart,
    This drives all joys away.
    When life some pleasure gives,
    In tears my heart will scan
    My face, and tell its smart;
    How then can pleasure stay?

    Vowed constantly to woo
    High love am I; that good
    While I pursue, I see
    No promise of success.
    Pure lady, constant, true,
    The crown of womanhood,
    Think graciously of me,
    Through thy high worthiness.

The knight passed his summer in Steierland under arms, and after
pleasant experiences he sent his messenger again, only to have his suit
repelled with the same coldness and decision as before. The report was
even more discouraging, for the lady, who had been told of his losing a
finger in her service, had now learned that he still had it; nor was she
moved by the assurance that it was almost useless. The desire to keep
the wounded member had led him to large expense of money and time, but
he cared for it no longer. He set about the composition of another long
elegy, which explains how his heart loves her, and weeps for her favor,
as a poor and orphaned child weeps after comfort; so ardently he loves
her, that he gladly sacrifices anything, and as a pledge of his constant
fidelity, he sends her one of his fingers, lost in that service for
which it was born.

After the poem was ready, he directed a goldsmith to make a fine case,
in which he enclosed it. But he put in something more; he had the
convalescent finger amputated, and sent it to the chiding critic as a
proof that he had not lied in saying that he had lost it for her. Yet
even this failed to please so unsympathetic a mistress. She said she
wondered how any one could be so foolish as to cut off his finger: he
would have been able to serve ladies better by keeping it. However, she
would retain the token of his consideration, but a thousand years of his
service would be lost on her. Ulrich was jubilant, for he was confident
that with this memento, she would always think of him.[6]

Now a large idea visits this sanguine gentleman. Gone to Rome on a
pilgrimage, that is what he will pretend; he rigs himself out with a
wallet and staff which he obtains from a priest, and trudges off. But
something more novel and magnificent is haunting his ingenious mind. It
is to Venice that he goes--cautiously, so as not to be observed. Upon
his arrival, he takes lodgings in an out-of-the-way inn, so that no one
may hear of him. There he spends the winter, making a liberal
expenditure for costumes for himself and a retinue. He dresses himself
as Queen Venus, in complete feminine attire, even to the long braids of
hair which figure so prominently in the descriptions of the ladies of
that age.

When spring came, he sent a courier over the route that he intended to
take on his journey homeward, with a circular-letter that contained a
list of thirty places at which Lady Venus would appear, and joust with
all contestants. A ring which makes beautiful and keeps true love, was
offered to whoever might break a spear against her. If she should cast a
knight down, he should become a loyal knight to women everywhere; if he
were to overthrow her, she would give him her horse. But to no one would
she show her face or hand.

Thirty days later he started on his disguised errantry. His retinue
consisted of a marshal, a cook, a banner-bearer, two trumpeters, three
boys to take charge of three sumpters, three squires for the three
war-steeds, four finely dressed squires, each holding three spears, two
maids--good-looking, he tells us,--and two fiddlers.

    Who raised my spirits, fiddling loud
    A marching tune, which made me proud.

Behind these he rode himself, dressed, like the entire cavalcade,
entirely in white,--cape, hood, shirt, coat reaching to his feet,
embroidered silk gloves, and those hair-braids hanging to his waist. "In
my love-longing heart, I rejoiced thus to serve my lady."

The narrative of this "Venus-journey" is prolonged, detailed, and
tedious, and only two or three episodes need be mentioned. At Treviso, a
crowd of women are gathered about his lodging, when he comes out on his
way to early mass, and he takes comfort in thinking how well-dressed he
is. In the church, a countess suggests kissing him, conformably to the
kiss of peace custom; the attraction is stronger than the desire for
disguise, and he lifts his veil. She sees that Lady Venus is a man, but
she kisses him nevertheless. "That raised my spirits," Ulrich confides
to us, "for a lady's kiss is delightful"; and he goes on to say that
"every one who ever kissed a lady's mouth knows that nothing is so sweet
as the kiss of a noble lady. A high-born true woman who has a red mouth
and a fair body, whenever she kisses a man he can judge of a lady's
kiss, and of it he is ever glad. A lady's kiss is still better than
good, and it fills a heart with joy." No wonder that many ladies
collected at his inn, to bid so sentimental a knight God-speed. From
their prayers he assures us that he gained good fortune, "for God cannot
slight ladies' petitions," an imputation of gallantry to God, for which
we find curious mediæval parallels.

Wherever the knight goes, numerous contestants are awaiting him, in this
idle age when no one had anything to do. Some of these, also, assume
disguises, one as a monk, another in female costume, his shield and
spear æsthetic with flowers. But the travelling combatant is always the
winner. At one point during the journey he steals off for a couple of
days to a place which he has never mentioned previously: namely, to his
home. The love-stricken lady-servant speaks with the most unaffected
simplicity of the joy with which he rode away to see his wife:

     "Who was just as dear to me as she could be.... The good
     woman received me just as a lady should receive her very dear
     husband. I had made her happy by my visit. My arrival had
     taken away her sadness. She was glad to see me, and I was
     glad to see her; with kisses the good woman received me. The
     true woman was glad to see me, and joyously I took my ease
     and pleasure there two days."

This appears tautological, but it also seems sincere.

But a wound was in store for his sensibility. One day he had gone to a
retired place for a bath, and his attendant had gone to bring a suit.
While thus left quite alone and unprotected, a lady sent by her servant
a suit of female garments, a piece of tapestry, a coat, a girdle, a
fine buckle, a garland, a ring with a ruby red as a lady's sweet mouth,
and a letter. To receive such a gift from a lady not one's love was
treason. He bade the page take the things away, but he would not; nay,
he presently returned with two others, carrying fresh beautiful roses,
which they strewed all about Ulrich in the bath, while he raged and
fumed to think of the insult offered to his unprotected condition. To
think of receiving a gift from any but his own lady! And, of all gifts,
a ring!

The next present that came was received very differently. After all
these years of neglect, the mistress of his life sent Ulrich an
affectionate message, and a ring which her white hand had worn for ten
years, as a token that she took part in the honors which he was gaining,
and rejoiced in his worthiness. Possibly the knight's name was gaining
currency as genuinely valorous. But fancy his ecstasy! "This little ring
shall ever lift up my heart. Well for me that I was born, and that I
found a lady so true, sweet, blissful, lady of all my joys, brightness
of my heart's joys," and so forth. He was informed that many knights
were waiting to contest with him at Vienna. "What harm can happen to me,
since my lady is gracious? If for every knight there were three, I could
master them all."

Outside of amorous and knightly themes, Ulrich's mind is not active, but
he occasionally shows a philosophical observation on social topics, as
in the present context, where he comments on female vanity in dress:

     "Woman's nature, young and old, likes many clothes. Even if
     she does not wear them all, she is pleased to have them, so
     that she can say, 'an if I liked, I could be better dressed
     than other people.' Good clothes are becoming to beautiful
     women, and my foolish masculine opinion is that a man should
     take pleasure in dressing them well, since he should hold his
     wife as his own body."

Certainly Ulrich took pleasure in dressing himself well.

The Venus-journey ended, and Ulrich counted up the results. Two hundred
and seventy-one of his spears had been broken, and he had broken three
hundred and seven; he had brought honor upon his lady by his loyalty and
valor; and had shown her constant devotion, even though he had
momentarily fallen in love with a bewitching woman at one of his
stopping-places, and taken advantage of his disguise to kiss various
fair ones at mass. Is it possible that the anonymous heroine heard of
such trivial infidelities? At any rate, the next visit of the messenger
brought a bitter dismissal, with cruel charges of inconstancy. She would
always hate him, and never hold him dear; she was angry with herself for
giving him a ring; she bade him return it at once. Alas, poor Ulrich!
Never had he entertained a false thought; if he had ever been guilty of
one, he would in no wise have survived it. "I sat weeping like a child;
from weeping I was almost blind. I wrung my hands pitilessly; in my
distress my limbs cracked as one snaps dry wood." Well may the poet
declare that exhibition of grief no child's play. As the lover and his
bosom friend sat weeping together, Ulrich's brother-in-law admonished
him that such behavior disgraced the name of knight; moreover, there was
no reason for melancholy now, when the champion ought to be happy in the
fine reputation just made. "If women hear how you are behaving, they
will always hate you for this weak mood." Ulrich tried to tell about his
grief for the lady whom he had served so long, but the strain was too
great: "The blood in truth burst out from my mouth and my nose, so that
I was all blood." It was perhaps natural for his friend to thank God
that "before his death he had been permitted to see one man who truly
loves." Yet he bade him be courageous. "Nothing helps so much with
ladies as good courage. Melancholy doesn't succeed with them at all.
Joyousness always has served well with women."

Water is stable compared with Ulrich's temperament. Close upon the
anguish of this renewed rejection he goes home for a ten-days' visit
with his wife,--"my dear wife, who could not be dearer to me even though
I had another woman for the lady of my life." Within eight lines this
mercurial poet speaks of his comfort with his wife, and of the suffering
of his love-languishing heart.

Another message from his dream brought a renewed expression of coldness.
She felt kindly to him, but she never would grant favor to any one. But
another song and messenger secure at last the promise of an interview.
Yet notice the conditions. Evidently this lady was a humorist, to whom
her former page was amusing when her less complaisant mood did not find
him tiresome. And perhaps she thought that he could not accept her
terms. She says she will see him if he will come the next Sunday morning
before breakfast, dressed in poor clothes, and in company with a squad
of lepers who have a camp near her castle. But even then he is to
indulge in no hope of her love. The distance is so great that he thinks
he will be unable to cover it in time; but he is told that he must, for
"women are very strange; they wish men constantly to carry out their
desires, and to any one who fails to do so they are not well disposed."
On Saturday he rode thirty-six miles, lost two horses by the forced
journey, very likely over rough country, and was wearied by the exertion
of so hard an effort. But he succeeded, and as soon as they reach the
neighborhood of the castle, he and his two companions put on poor
clothes--the shabbiest they could procure,--and with leper cups and long
knives for their safety among such outcasts of society, they go to the
spot where thirty lepers are huddled together. Mediæval charity and
religion are illustrated by this incident; the miserable beggars explain
that a lady of the castle is ill, and therefore they often receive food
and money in recompense for their prayers for her recovery. Beating his
clapper like one of them, he goes toward the castle gate, and meets an
envoy maid who bids him beware of failing to obey every command
literally, and adds that her mistress will not see him yet awhile. That
personal vanity which always marked him had submitted to stains of herbs
to disguise his face, as well as to miserable and ragged dress, and off
he went, in the servitude of love, and sat among the lepers, ate and
drank among them--nay, even went about begging for scraps, which,
however, he threw under a bush. The foul odors and the filthiness of the
wretches about him made the day almost insufferable, but at last night
came, and he hid himself in a field of grain, getting well stung by
insects and drenched in a cold storm. But he told himself that "whoever
has in his troubles sweet anticipation, he can endure them." In the
morning he went to the castle again, and was encouraged to believe that
he would be received that evening. So he returned and ate with the
beggars; then he escaped to a wood, and with true old German
nature-sentiment, he sat down where the sun fell through the trees and
listened to the birds--many were singing--and forgot the cold.

Toward evening he secured another interview with the maid, and received
directions for the night. He and his companion hid in the ditch before
the castle, skulking from the observation of the patrol, until well
after dark; then when the signal light appeared at a certain window he
went beneath it, and found a rope made of clothes hanging down. In this
he fastened himself, and hands above began to raise him, but when he was
half way up they could raise him no farther, and he was let down to the
ground. This happened three times; and yet, guileless Ulrich, you had no
glimmering that perhaps it was a joke? The companion was lighter than
his lord, and it occurred to the two that they had better change places.
So they did, and the substitute was lifted into the window by the
waiting ladies above, and then Ulrich himself arrived there. He was
given a coat (an accident below had compelled him to leave his on the
ground), and, blissful moment, he was ushered into the presence of the
woman whom he had so long served without even a glimpse. It was a
brilliant social scene which broke upon those enamoured eyes, indeed too
brilliant and too social to correspond with a lover's sentiment for
"dual solitude." His soul's desire, richly dressed, sat upon a couch,
surrounded by a bevy of ladies. Her husband, it is true, was not
present, but with an absence of tact (as it must have seemed to Ulrich)
she fell to talking about him and her complete happiness in his love.
Their mutual confidence is so strong that he is quite willing to have
her receive any visitors whom she pleases, and she added that her true
mind served him better than any safeguard which he could put upon her.
Awkward as such a line of conversation made it, Ulrich began to tell the
story of his heart, and entreats her to respond to his devotion. She
assured him that she had no thought of ever loving him; she had
consented to this interview only to assure him of her kindly feeling,
and satisfy him from her own lips that he must cherish no romantic hope.
If he continued to ask her to love him, he should lose her favor. "I was
horrified," he declares, "and started up at the threat."

At this point in the interview he withdraws to talk to his cousin, who
was with other ladies in an adjoining apartment, and who advised him to
return and plead again. But an abrupt dismissal sends him into a moody
reflection, which culminates in a desperate resolve. Now or never; he
sends her word of his determination, and then rushes in and tells her
that if she will not say she loves him, he will kill himself then and
there. The lady sees that such a suicide would be compromising, and
tries to persuade him that perhaps she may some time. Ah, no such
coyness; she must confess her love to-night. Finally, as a last
resource, she thinks of employing the usual right of a courted
woman--putting her lover to a test of his devotion. He has already given
her so many that a trifling, a merely formal one will serve now. Let him
just get into the clothes-rope again and be lowered part way down, and
pulled back; then she will say she loves him. A glimmer of suspicion
flits over his mind, but she gives him her hand as a pledge, and he gets
into the rope. Now he is hanging outside the window, still holding the
dear hand, and such sweet things as she whispers, as she leans out--no
knight was ever so dear to her; now comes his contentment, all his
troubles are past now! She even coddles his chin with her disengaged
hand, and bids him kiss her. Kiss her! In his joy he lets go the hand he
was holding, to throw both arms about her neck, when suddenly he is
dropped to the ground so swiftly "that he ran great peril of his

In the rooms above a score of voices ringing with laughter, on the
ground a too credulous child of Mars and Venus, cursing his day. Ulrich
spies a deep pool and is about to drown himself, when his companion
arrives with a little present sent by the lady. She promises--(the
gentleman afterward confesses that this is a falsehood of his own to
preserve Ulrich from despair)--that if he will return in three weeks,
she will assure him of her real affection. But now it is near day, and
they must hasten off; providentially there is a tournament awaiting
them, which will distract his attention. But he sends his friend back to
have a talk with the lady, who is in a rather humorous mood, and says
that Ulrich made so much noise when he fell that one of the guard
thought it was the Devil. But though she laughs, she evidently has had
enough of such fun, for she tells the messenger that if his lord wishes
her favor he must make the journey over-sea. Ulrich agrees to go, but he
is warned against the almost hopeless dangers of that most formidable of
pilgrimages; he is reminded that no one ever took such a perilous
journey except for God, and that he would surely sacrifice his soul, if
he lost his life thus for a woman.

But one grows tired of the story, which runs on with ups and downs, over
the long thirteen years through which Ulrich served this lady. Toward
the end of the period he was plainly growing impatient. He wrote more
lyrics, which suggest here and there that devotion without love in
return is foolish, and that he is contemplating a change. Finally he
conceived himself treated shamefully (we are not told what the
discourtesy was which he could not idealize), and he made a final break
with his old worship. But now the time passed wearily, and he felt that
he must still have a lady to serve. "How joyfully once the days went by;
alas, no longer have I any service to render. How happy ladies' service
makes one." But the knight has learned the lesson of his trials, and
this time he arranges for a judicious passion. He runs over all his
female acquaintance, to see which of them he had best select. Finally he
fixes upon one who, of course, is beautiful and good, and wholly free
from change; who has finished manners and gentle ways, chastity and
force of character, and to her he offers his service, which she accepts.

From this point in Ulrich's memoirs we have an increasing number of
lyrics; he likes them all, but complains that one or two were not
appreciated by the public, though whoever was clever enough to
understand his poetry, he tells us, did appreciate it. Perhaps we are
not clever enough to understand it all; but some of the songs, as he
himself says, "are good for dancing and very cheerful; the martial ones
were gladly sung when in the jousts fire sprung from helmets," and more
than one of his poems is a contribution to the graceful though minor
work of the later minnesingers. For example:

    Is the wood,
    Heath and field; debonair
    Now is seen
    White, brown, green,
    Blue, red, yellow, everywhere.
    You see spring
    Joyously, in full delight;
    He whose pains
    Dear love deigns
    With her favor to requite--
    Ah, happy wight.

    Knows love's care,
    Free from care well may be;
    Year by year
    Brightness clear
    Of the May shall he see.
    Blithe and gay
    All the play
    Of glad love shall he fulfil;
    Joyous living
    Is in the giving
    Of high love to whom she will,
    Rich in joys still.

    He's a churl
    Whom a girl
    Lovingly shall embrace,
    Who'll not cry
    "Blest am I"--
    Let none such show his face.
    This will cure you
    (I assure you)
    Of all sorrows, all alarms;
    What alloy
    In his joy
    On whom white and pretty arms
    Bestow their charms?

And again:

    Sweet, in whom all things behooving,
    Virtue, brightness, beauty, meet,
    Little troubles thee this loving,
    Thou art safe above it, sweet.
    My love-trials couldst thou feel
    From thy dainty lips should steal
    Sighs like mine, as deep and real.

    Sir, what is love? Prithee, answer;
    Is it maid or is it man?
    And explain, too, if you can, sir,
    How it looks; though I began
    Long ago, I ask in vain;
    Everything you know explain,
    That I may avoid its pain.

    Sweet, love is so strong and mighty
    That all countries own her sway;
    Who can speak her power rightly?
    Yet I'll tell thee what I may.
    She is good and she is bad;
    Makes us happy, makes us sad;
    Such moods love always had.

    Sir, can love from care beguile us
    And our sorrowing distress?
    With fair living reconcile us,
    Gaiety and worthiness?
    If her power hath controlled
    Everything as I've just told,
    Sure her grace is manifold.

    Sweet, of love there's more to tell thee;
    Service she with rapture pays;
    With her joys and honors dwell; we
    Learn from her dear virtue's ways.
    Mirth of heart and bliss of eye
    Whom she loves shall satisfy;
    Nor will she higher good deny.

    Sir, I fain would win her wages,
    Her approval I would seek;
    Yet distress my mind presages;
    Ah, for that I am too weak.
    Pain I never can sustain.
    How may I her favors gain?
    Sir, the way you must explain.

    Sweet, I love thee; be not cruel;
    Thou to love again must try.
    Make a unit of our dual,
    That we both become an "I."
    Be thou mine and I'll be thine.
    "Sir, not so; the hope resign.
    Be your own, and I'll be mine."

The latter part of this prolix autobiography is occupied by a detailed
account of a long tourneying trip, which he contrived as a parallel to
his Venus-journey, this time under the disguise of King Arthur. But the
narration of that ends at last, and Ulrich becomes reflective upon the
seasons and his lady. "Whoever sorrows at winter, and is made glad by
summer, lives like the bird which rejoices in sunny May. How distressing
is bad weather! Yet whatever the weather, her goodness gives me joy
which storms cannot disturb." Presently he tells us his feelings about
the life around him, for the social critics of mediævalism felt the
inequalities of fortune and happiness quite as strongly as do the
social critics of to-day. Some time earlier Ulrich, in criticising a
number of knights whom he met, showed a noteworthily refined feeling for
generous qualities, and resistance against hardness and selfish aims. In
spite of this love-singer's belief in cheerfulness ("no one does well to
be sad except about sins," he wrote), the roughness of the age troubled
him, as it had troubled earlier and greater authors of his nation.
"Instead of being good, the rich work one another harm; the only
profession is that of plundering, the service of ladies is forsaken. The
young men are spendthrifts, and with pillaging consume their youth."
Indeed, the golden hour of chivalry had struck when Ulrich wrote, in his
later life, just past the middle of the thirteenth century. But this
sentimental absurdity, whose fanciful devotion and melodramatic moonings
we find so preposterous, kept a strain of the higher manhood. He was
good-hearted; he believed in the refined side of life, so far as he knew
it; in a rough time and place he loved gentleness; though born with a
large streak of the fool, he had also a pleasant element of the
simple-minded gentleman; and as he grew old amid fading ideals, over
which he had hung with effeminately romantic faith, the brutal and
joyless hardness of men perplexed and saddened him. Yet his simplicity
was his trouble's best physician; nature, the beauty and goodness of
true womanhood, his sense of inner virtue as opposed to worldly
estimates, and his poetry--in these he found comfort.

"Whatever people have done, I have been happy and sung of my love."

After Ulrich has told the story of his worldly and sentimental career,
he stops to think over the cause to which that career has been
consecrated. Has he made a mistake? Never! "When beauty and goodness
unite in woman, she is admirable; one whose goodness is clothed with a
noble spirit wears the best of garments. Even though a woman has little
beauty, if she has the raiment of goodness, men yet call her fair. Be
sure that no clothes better become a lady than goodness--it is better
than beauty, though that is excellent. By goodness a poor woman will
become truly a lady, and this the rich cannot be without it; nay,
shapely and noble though she may be, without this she is still no
womanly woman." ...

"Whoever loves the sight of pretty women," he goes on, "and will not
notice their goodness but only their bright charm, is like one who
gathers pretty flowers for their bright beauty's sake, and twines them
into a garland; then, finding that they are not fragrant, he is sorry
that he gathered them. But whoever understands plants, lets those grow
which have no sweet odor, and breaks off fragrant flowers."

For over thirty years he has served ladies, and he knows no truth so
certain as this, that nothing equals the mutual happiness of a true
woman and a loving man.

Yet sentiment can play only a minor part in life, after all. There are
four main objects of exertion, and upon these, as he ends his book, the
poet stops to reflect: The grace of God, honor, ease, and wealth. Some
strive for one, some for another, while others aim ineffectively at all,
win none, and hate themselves.

And what has this old German gallant to say of himself? In all these
revelations of his life, we catch no suggestions of selfishness or
meanness, but while fancying himself enacting high chivalric drama, he
has been wearing cap, and bells, and motley, lance in his left hand, a
bauble in his right. Then, too, he has been so self-satisfied with his
rôle. Well, the play is finished now, and Ulrich is sitting in the
green-room, thinking. His coat is flung aside, with one last jingle the
bells fall to the floor, he has dropped his bauble, and as he bows his
head and in his musing runs his fingers through his hair, the coxcomb
falls too. It is here in the green-room that he speaks his epilogue:

     "Of this last class am I; I have lived my life trying not to
     give up the three for any one. I desired and even hoped that
     I might obtain all the four. This hope has still deceived me,
     and I am made a fool by it. One day I will serve Him who has
     given me soul, life, thought, whatever I have; the next as a
     man I will strive for honor; then for wealth; on the fourth
     day I am for ease. Thus inconstant, I have passed my entire

Nothing accomplished--nothing even steadily aimed at. Nothing? With
characteristic buoyancy the gray-haired poet puts aside this sombre mood
of dissatisfaction with his fifty odd years. For in one point, at least,
he has been true. In this book, written only because his lady commanded,
he has spoken very many sweet words for worthy women, and throughout his
life he has been faithful to his love. "And I do believe that the very
true sweet God, through his very high goodness, will think on my
fidelity to her, and my constant service."



    "A woman is never won by what is in one's thoughts:
        .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
    Of that she can know nothing."

[6] With this extravagant but probably veracious incident, one naturally
compares the sacrifice of Guillem de Balaun's finger nail.

[7] These poet lovers seem to have been frequently laughed at. For
instance, Pierre Vidal was promised in their amusement anything by the
ladies whom he loved. Na Alazais was so indignant when he took
encouragement to steal his one kiss, that he was compelled to flee, and
go with Richard to the East.



Our liveliest pictures of old German peasantry come, as we should
expect, from a singer of the knightly class. The masses had fewer and of
course less accomplished poets, and these would be most likely to please
their audiences by touching with the glamour of fashionable life such
work as they cared to make contemporary and imitative. Realistic social
transcripts usually come from culture. It may be that Neidhart von
Reuenthal had been brought up at the ducal court or in a castle, but
there is as good reason for conjecturing that his origin was among the
scenes of country life that he describes. Most of the courtly poets
belonged to the lower class of knights, and between this and the better
order of peasants there was no wide dividing line; indeed, a farmer with
a little land of his own and four free ancestors ("von allen vieren anen
ein gebûre," as Neidhart says bitterly of his enemy the swaggering Ber),
by the old Saxon law stood higher than a knight not of free blood. The
agricultural class in the thirteenth century was becoming more impatient
of the costly conflicts of their military superiors and was also
suffering severely from the pillaging domestic raids of lawless knights,
who, as they grew bolder, established centres of reckless free-booting
to which they attracted wayward youth of the middle classes. Cities were
also getting larger, and the tradesmen joined with the established
gentry in thinking slightingly of the farming population. Accordingly
there was jealousy on one side and arrogance on the other, yet there was
still a meeting-place between the two classes. Depleted nobles would
marry daughters of wealthy peasants, and a gentleman whose fief lay
among well-to-do farmers might easily meet them in social relations.

A grant from the Bavarian Duke evidently isolated Neidhart from his own
companions, and he appears to have mingled freely with the peasantry,
though we cannot determine how early the contact began. He was born in
the latter part of the twelfth century, we may say about 1185, perhaps,
and with the exception of absence on Leopold VII's crusade of 1217-1219,
he apparently kept his home in his native Bavaria until about 1230, when
he lost the Duke's favor and turned as a homeless wanderer to Austria,
where he received welcome and another fief. The last date inferred from
his songs is 1236, in connection with the Emperor's coming, and he was
dead before the composition of Meier Helmbrecht, which is earlier than

So far as imitations prove popularity, he was one of the most popular of
mediæval poets. It is easy to understand the pleasure that his verses
must have given, striking as they did into a new field, and executed
with literary skill, full of verve and humor, and appealing to strong
class prejudice. We must think of him as a gentleman fond of society, of
refined courtly habits, with an aristocratic contempt for pinchbeck
upstarts, yet not unwilling now and then to play the good-natured
acquaintance with middle-class people.

Though he ranks as a knight, his tastes were not military. He was
lively, quick-witted, and satirical; clever at musical invention;
genuinely interested in poetry. Moreover, he gave early evidence of an
independent literary taste, that dared to yawn at the methods practised
by the great minnesingers of his youth. By his singing he had obtained
sufficient favor with the Duke to receive a fief though away among the
peasantry; yet rather than relinquish a home of his own, that constant
dream of his profession, he made the merriest and the best of the time
he needed to spend on his estate.

The feeling for spring is largely an animal sensation, as the lambs in
the pasture, or dogs on the green, or little children remind us. The
comparison of loving something "as goats love the spring," goes back to
Greek literature. It has also been habitually associated with physical
sentiment, as the splendid proëmium of Lucretius suggests. With this
buoyancy of spirits and emotional susceptibility, serious minds touched
with poetry have associated various deep and beautiful moods. But the
moral element that enters into such spring poems as Wordsworth's, is not
present in mediæval literature. There we find poets feeling spring as
animals, as children, as lovers. Those were out-of-door generations;
hunting, riding, fighting, and enjoying themselves beneath the open sky,
were their chief employments. They found winter travel hard, for they
had no beaten roads; it caused a dreary interruption to their principal
engagements, and to a large extent confined them in narrow quarters, not
too comfortably warmed. In spite of all the amusements that could be
provided, the time must have dragged. If Romans could cry out as Ovid
did at the significance of spring, what must the season have meant to
the castled sons of central Europe. It is not strange then that their
nature-worship instituted in early times a festival to the genial
conqueror of frost and snow, and that this ceremony, as the old
superstitions died away, was continued in graceful traditions of village
customs. The first flowers or the earliest boughs in leaf served as the
signal for the ceremonial welcome of April or May. With widely varying
details, the youth of the parish would stream out to the fields or
woods, and come back singing spring catches, and dancing that long,
skipping forward step which they practised out-of-doors, carrying with
them trophies of the season. Sometimes they fastened the first violet to
a pole, and setting it up danced around it; sometimes they danced about
the first linden that appeared in leaf. It is the linden that the poets
are continually mentioning, whether in the centre of the courtyard or in
the field, and the tree suggests the social life of the old times as
happily as the pine under which Charlemagne sat, in the great chanson,
suggests the imperial master.

Customs related in Herrick's _Going a-Maying_, such as the decoration of
the houses of favorites with early greenery and the processions of girls
and young men to the woods and fields, were familiar in Germany long
before. Exercises to welcome spring became not only a social but
even--so far as the rude country songs went--a literary habit. The
earlier ritual dance around some altar or symbol of the summer deity
grew into an entertainment from which all sense of its original
significance had passed away. These celebrations became the main social
feature of the warm months. At one time partners appear to have been
taken for the year (a passage in _Wilhelm Meister_ reminds us of this
usage), but not in the period before us. A summons to a holiday dance
(and the large number of church festivals made holidays frequent) was
usually given by a musician playing or singing through the street. The
young men and women, and not infrequently their elders, came to the
customary field, dressed for the gaiety; as they went along, tossing and
catching bright-colored balls. This favorite ball-playing, mentioned by
more than one poet of the age as a sign of spring, and especially
entered into by girls, often formed a prelude to the dance. For one
thing it gave the girls a way of choosing their partners, for the man
who caught the ball tossed by a girl, according to some usages, could
claim the right to dance with her. An anonymous poet of the thirteenth
century gives a lively picture of one of these scenes.

     "All the time the young people are passing ball on the
     street. This is the earliest sport of summer, and as they
     play they scream. What if the rustic lad gives me a shove?
     How rude he is as he darts here and there, flying and chasing
     and playing tricks with the ball. Then two by two they have a
     hoppaldy dance about the fiddle, as if they wanted to fly."

As one of the fellows holds the ball,

     "What pretty speeches the girls make him, how they shriek,
     how wild they get. While he's hesitating to whom he'll throw,
     they stretch out their hands; now you're my friend
     (geveterlin),--throw it down here to me ... Jiutelin and
     Elsemuot hurry after it. Whoever gets it is the best one.
     Krumpolt ran, and cried, 'Throw it to me, and I'll throw it
     back.' In the scrimmage some of the girls get pushed down,
     and an accident happens to Eppe, the prettiest one in the
     field. But she picks herself up, and tosses the ball into the
     air. All scream, 'Catch it! catch it!' No girl can play
     better than she does; she judges the ball so well, and is
     such a sure catch."

Another way of choosing partners was by presenting garlands, and one of
the prettiest of the spring customs was the walk to the fields and woods
after flowers for wreaths, either to give away or to wear. So one of the
Latin songs describes young people going out,--

    "Juvenes ut flores accipiant
    Et se per odores reficiant
    Virgines assumant alacriter,
    Et eant in prata floribus ornata, communiter."

It certainly is a genial phase of those old times, this out-of-door
companionship of lads and lassies, gathering flowers and "dancing in the
chequered shade." The custom has in a manner survived to our own day; in
England, for example, Mr. Thomas Hardy has introduced such scenes very
pleasantly in some of his novels, but the zest and universality of it
have not descended. Even in Elizabeth's England the hobby-horse was
forgot; and back in the thirteenth century the May-time amusements were
being frowned away. For preachers and moralists saw much evil in these
summer gaieties. It is the old story: Nature is such a puritanical
stage-manager that she likes to bring on a tragedy for the after-piece
to her pleasant comedy, and she is best satisfied when we take warning
from the practice and stay away from the play.

The insane frenzies into which meadow dancing was carried on some
occasions, especially at the riotous midsummer festival, do not belong
to our subject. Neidhart assumes a flippant tone about matters of
conduct, but his treatment of the summer merrymakings is usually
innocent and agreeable. He comes as an artist, to the rude material
provided in the traditional village songs for these occasions, and
transfers to the polished verse of Germany's already highly trained
lyrical school, that fresh and gay subject-matter that is so remote from
the formal phrases of most of his courtly predecessors. His songs are
lyric in their introduction, but almost invariably epic or dramatic in
the later stanzas, scarcely ever overstepping closely drawn lines.
Whereas, Walther von der Vogelweide's work in the popular poetry retains
the lyrical mood throughout, and is far less realistic, never, I
believe, treating a peasant element as such. Those lyrical preludes
attest Neidhart's deep sentiment for nature; we feel that, in spite of
the conventionality in them. He has the rare merit of an occasional
specific note, and he touches even the hackneyed expressions about birds
and flowers with a contagious buoyancy. Look at a few of these

     "Hedges green as gold; the heath dressed in bright roses.
     Come on, you fine girls: May is in the land. The linden is
     well hung with rich attire; now hearken, how the nightingale
     draws near."

     "The time is here: for many a year I have not seen a fairer.
     The cold winter is over, and many hearts rejoice that felt
     its chill. The woods are in leaf. Come then with me to the
     linden, dear."

     "Summer, a thousand welcomes! Whatever heart was wounded by
     the long winter is healed, its pain all gone. Thou comest
     welcome to the world in all lands. Through thee, rich and
     poor lose their sorrows, when winter has to go."

And another, which loses its effect if we neglect the long, swinging

    The forest for new foliage its grey dress has forsaken;
    And therefore now full many hearts to pleasure must awaken.
    The birds to whom the winter brought dismay,
    Have never sung so well as now the praises of the May.

    The winter from the lovely heath at last has turned aside,
    And there the blossoms stand, arrayed in colors gaily pied.
    Above them May's sweet dews are lightly shed;
    Ah, how I wish I had a wreath, dear friend, a lady said.

This stanza moves more quickly:

    Forth from your houses, children fair!
    Out to the street! No wind is there,
    Sharp wind, cold snow.
    The birds were dreary,
    They're singing cheerily;
    Forth to the woodland go.

After such opening stanzas comes the action of the song, almost always
an expression of a girl's longing to go to the dance, and her mother's
unwillingness. The burden of the remonstrances is that of the song in
_Much Ado_, "Men were deceivers ever"; and though some of the
conversations are amiable, often the two come to high words, and even to
blows. The girl cannot think of going without her best costume, and
this, in the prudent old domestic management, was always carefully
folded up, and kept under lock and key. "Who gave you the right to lock
up my gown?" a daughter demands. "You did not spin a thread of it.
Where's the key? now open the room for me." Finally, she obtained it by
stealth. "She took from the chest the gown that was laid in many small
folds. To the knight of Reuenthal she threw her colored ball." But
Neidhart grimly brings in her mother at the close.

Another cries: "Bring me my fine gown. The gentleman from Reuenthal has
sung us a new song. I hear him singing there to the children. I must
dance with him at the linden." Her mother warns her of what happened to
her playmate Jiute last year, "just as her mother said." But the
gentleman had sent her a lovely garland of roses, and had brought her a
pair of red stockings from over the Rhine, which she was wearing then;
and she had promised to let him teach her the dance. Another song
represents two girls talking of the same knight from Reuenthal: "All
know him, and his songs are heard everywhere. He loves me, and to please
him I will lace myself trimly, and go."

Some of the mothers do more than remonstrate: "The wood is well in leaf,
but my mother will not let me go. She has tied my feet with a rope. But
all the same, I must go with the children to the linden in the field."
Her mother overheard and threatened to punish her. "You little
grasshopper, whither wilt thou hop away from the nest? Sit and sew in
the sleeve for me." The girl is impudent, and the poem ends with a
lively contest.

Love is too strong. "He kissed me," one of them says, "and he had some
root in his mouth, so that I lost all my senses." Perhaps the high-born
poet bewitched these peasant-girls; he often assures us of it. One of
them is plighted to a farmer, and whenever he expects to find her at
home to entertain him, she joins the dancers, as toward evening "they
bend their way down the street," and throws her ball to the knightly
singer. Even the mothers themselves are sometimes caught by the desire
to dance with him, or at least with some of the men at the linden, and
in two or three of Neidhart's sprightliest songs the tables are turned,
and the daughter tries to keep her mother from the gaieties that her
years have outgrown. I have translated two of these summer dance songs
in their exact rhythms, and so literally as to make them appear almost
bald. In the first the nature opening may be omitted.

        "Mother, do not deny me,--
      Forth to the field I'll hie me,
        And dance the merry spring;
      'Tis ages since I heard the crowd
        Any new carols sing."

        "Nay, daughter, nay, mine own,
      Thee I have all alone
        Upon my bosom carried;
      Now yield thee to thy mother's will,
        And seek not to be married."

        "If I could only show him!
      Why, mother dear, you know him,
        And to him I will haste;
      Ah, 'tis the knight of Reuenthal,
        And he shall be embraced.

        "Such green the branches bending!
      The leafy weight seems rending
        The trees so thickly clad:
      Now be assured, dear mother mine,
        I'll take the worthy lad.

        "Dear mother, with such burning
      After my love he's yearning,
        Ungrateful can I be?
      He says that I'm the prettiest
        From France to Germany."

    Bare we saw the fields, but that is over;
    Now the flowers are crowding thro' the clover;
    At length the season that we love is here:
    As last year,
    All the heath is caught and held by roses;
    To roses summer brings good cheer.

    Thrushes, nightingales, we hear them singing;
    With their loud music mount and dale are ringing:
    For the dear summer is their jubilee:
    To you and me,
    It brings bright sights and pleasures without number;
    The heath is a fair thing to see.

    "Dewy grow the meadows," cried a maiden,
    "Branches lately bare are greenly laden:
    Listen! how the birds are crowning May:
    Come and play,
    For, Wierat, the leaves are on the linden;
    Winter, I ween, has gone away.

    "This year, too, we'll dance till twilight closes;
    Near the wood is a great mass of roses,
    I'll have a garland of them, trimly made;
    Come, you jade,
    Hand in hand with a fine knight you'll see me
    Dance in the linden shade."

    "Little daughter, heed not his advances;
    If thou press among the knights at dances,
    Something not befitting such as we
    There will be
    Trouble coming to thee, little daughter--
    And the young farmer thinks of thee."

    "Nay, I trust to rule a knight in armor;
    How then should I listen to a farmer?
    What! you think I'd be a peasant's bride!"
    She replied:
    "He could never woo me to my liking,
    He'll never marry me," she cried.

At first Neidhart seems to have maintained friendly relations with the
young men of the district, for we find him addressing in amicable terms
even Engelmar, who later became his worst enemy, complimenting him upon
his room, in a song apparently designed for a dance at his house. But it
is difficult to believe that his critical genius would have gone long
without expression, and he presently began amusing himself, and courting
the admirations of others, by original snatches of songs that were
imitated from the _trutzstrophen_ of humorous, rustic, and often roughly
personal verses, that were evidently in vogue among the country people
before Neidhart's day. Such jeering, gibing bits of peasant fun-making
would grow out of the custom of songs at these rural gatherings, like
the parallel practice sometimes found with us of country
valentine-parties, where personalities are touched off with the freedom
of anonymous and privileged license. We can readily imagine him
beginning with hits at one and another, that contained no deeper offence
than an inevitable tone of his amused sense of the ridiculous. But the
country gallants, already jealous of their elegant rival, whose
gentlemanly prestige and courtly accomplishments would naturally make
him attractive to their sweethearts, would be quick to take umbrage, and
boorishly ready to manifest their displeasure. Neidhart certainly
enjoyed at least as much of the poetic dower as "the hate of hate, the
scorn of scorn," and must have answered their sullenness and rudeness
with the contempt that falls with such a sting from gentility. Then
stung himself by their bad manners, he naturally composed sharper and
more direct stanzas, holding those who had offended him up to the
laughter of other men, and of the tittering damsels. It does not seem
probable that the most cutting and individualized of these attacks were
written to be sung at dances where the victims of the satire were
present. When we consider the violence and recklessness that
historically marked this whole class in the thirteenth century, we are
sure that the poet would hardly have survived some of the recitations.
Many of them he probably composed to gratify his possibly irritated
mood; for, as we shall presently see, his displeasure was deeper than
the vexation of wounded social pride. But they strayed easily to the
objects of their ridicule. As he strolled along the street, carrying his
fiddle, and stopping to amuse himself at one house or another with any
of the pretty girls whom he found idle like himself, he may have played
and sung the piece over which he had just been working, or the minor
singers who must have haunted him as he grew better known, would catch
up and repeat far and wide the witty verses. The piece at which he was
working, I said, for in an important sense the poems were professional
labor. The natural comparison of the minnesinger on his farm to Ovid
among the Goths, loses most of its force when we reflect that Neidhart's
absences from his various little Romes were in some sense at his own
pleasure, and that he must have kept riding about from castle to castle,
and have made frequent sojourns at his patron's court, in the exercise
of his now established musical vocation. The better his songs, the surer
his hold on the Duke's favor, and as his prestige might rise throughout
the country, the more cordial his greeting would be, and the more
generous his dismission whenever he chose to go. These mediæval poets
were more than careless rhymsters: painstaking labor was assumed as
necessary for success. Their poetry was as subtle and difficult as the
schoolmen's philosophy; though we may not care much for either, we at
least respect the skill with which they mastered self-enforced technical
difficulties. Arnaut Daniel's contest for a wager with another
troubadour (King Richard was to decide which produced the cleverer
poem), illustrates the statement that time was thought necessary for
composition. The Provençal biography tells us that the contestants were
shut up in separate rooms, and only ten days were allowed each for
preparing his song. In Neidhart's seclusion on his fief, then, he would
naturally make studies for his more important literary appearances,
studies in subject-matter, as well as in verse and music. And a large
number of his poems, at least considered in their entirety, must be
thought of as compositions intended for courtly audiences.

It is to be presumed that Neidhart began by writing in the conventional
style of the love-singers. But his sense of humor and his originality
were too vigorous to allow him to continue in the polished and
monotonous manners of the school that reached its acme in Reinmar. He
possessed the creative faculty, and the rude village lyrics were a
sufficient suggestion of the new departure that he at once instituted
and consummated. He put in the place of lyrical elegies, lyrical
snatches of epic; and instead of gathering his epic materials from the
already familiar, even if not hackneyed, cycles of chivalry, he took
them from the real life, and that a growing life, of the German
villagers of his time. Their boorish manners and arrogant social
pretensions, their vulgar assumptions of elegance, and their jealous,
recklessly brutal tempers, he sketches vividly. His touch is not to be
called magical, there are no imaginative hauntings about the poems,
there is little fascination of subtle poetry in his expression or his
melodies. But his rude subjects are by no means treated rudely; he shows
excellent technique in those elaborately built stanzas; his tone rather
deepens than shrills in excited movements: in his dash and energy of
feeling, he retains artistic self-possession; while he is such an
iconoclast of sentimental poetry, that some have thought that Walther
had him in mind in his complaint of the new school. He invariably shows
sentiment for nature in his preludes, as well as sympathetic tones for
character, especially in what we may call his personal confessions. It
is indeed by virtue of this combination of qualities, as well as by his
novelty of subject, that he caught the approval of his age. Romantic
idealism was dying out, and a long period of coarse sensibility was
drawing on; while there was yet still some feeling for sentiment, and an
intellectual appreciation of artistic performance was, as usual, lapping
over the first stages of literary decadence. If we accept the view which
I have suggested, that at least as wholes many of Neidhart's songs were
intended only for the gentry, we may find it easier to meet the question
of their autobiographic and actual significance.

It is possible to be unduly literal and too credulous of the historic
reality of whatever is found in an old literature. Especially in the
works of the minnesingers, some modern Germans appear unconscious that a
poet may relate fictitious experiences and sensations. As I have
remarked in an earlier essay, Cowley's love-poems had many mediæval
prototypes, and there seems no necessity for assuming a fact behind each
of Neidhart's statements. Why is it not reasonable to suppose that
having once made what we call a "strike" with some of his village
characters, he occasionally invented continuations or parallels? We may
go so far as to assert the possibility that the continual reappearances
of Engelmar, Neidhart's most recurrent character, who is always
associated with the beginning of his disasters, is due quite as much to
the fact that his early treatment of the famous snatching of a girl's
mirror proved, by virtue of the topic, or the melody, or both, a great
favorite, as to the incident in itself having been of the fateful
influence upon his life that is implied. In other cases, as in what we
may term the episode of the ginger-root, Neidhart certainly seems to be
referring to some of his most popular earlier songs, for no other reason
than that the reference would be agreeable to his audience and give a
sort of continuity to his work. One of these instances is almost
pathetic. The poet is old and song comes hard to him. After several
stanzas of unusually serious tone, he says that people ask him why he
does not sing as they are told he once did: they keep wondering what has
become of the peasants who used to be on Tulnaere-field. So he attempts
to conclude with a strain of his old satirical gaiety. "I'll tell of the
bold free ways of Limizun, who is yet worse than our friend who took
Friderun's mirror, or those who bought mail awhile ago at Vienna," as if
by the mention of these popular achievements of his younger wit he could
hide his dull present mood.

So, too, as it appears to me, we may explain the recurrent complaints of
his unhappy loves and of his desires frustrated by one and another of
the boors. These lover's sorrows are just what we should expect from a
poet in Neidhart's relation to the fashionable love lyrics; he retains
something of the tone of despondent yearning that was deemed requisite
by all his predecessors, yet he gives it a piquant novelty by
substituting irony and class animosities for vague and impersonal
wailings, and the sense of humor in these courtly woes in behalf of mere
peasant maidens would be a livelier attraction to the knights and ladies
of his polite circles than we might suppose. Surely Neidhart was the
victim of no deep passion for his rustic heroines. He may have been
amused by them, or even have liked them, and he certainly was enraged at
being interfered with or baffled by middle-class rivals; but his rôle is
more a Lothario's than a true lass-lorn wooer's. Imagine a peasant
farm-house with a large main apartment, such as Neidhart had in mind in
one of his earliest winter songs: "Engelmar, thy room is good; chill is
it in the dales: winter is hateful." The young farmers and the girls
come trooping in by pairs and little groups, dressed in their best,
smiling and gay: no better aid to imagining the scene could be desired
than Defregger's genial picture of a modern Tyrolese peasant party. It
is a change from the summer dances: "Winter, thy might will drive us
indoors from the broad linden. Thy winds are cold. Lark, quit thy
singing: both frost and snow have said thee nay; alas, for the green
clover. May, to thee I am loyal; winter is my bane." "Winter gives joy
to none but such as love the chimney-corner." They all think of the
change from their summer gatherings, and the singer strums his fiddle
and strikes into the nature prelude of his lyric, as they prepare to
begin the dance. Here is another opening, translated in the stanza
system of the original:

    The green grass and the flowers
        Both are gone;
    Before the sun the linden gives no shade;
        Those happy hours
        On shady lawn
    Of various joys are over; where we played,
        None may play;
        No paths stray
    Where we went together;
    Joy fled away at the winter weather,
    And hearts are sad which once were gay.

We are reminded again of Herrick in his lines to the meadows:

    "Ye have been fresh and green,
      Ye have been fill'd with flowers;
    And ye the walks have been,
      Where maids have spent their hours."

The dance is under way now; if, as sometimes happened, they paid a
surprise visit, the guests have taken hold and made the room ready:

    Clear out the benches and stools;
        Set in the middle
        The trestles, then fiddle;
    We'll dance till we're tired, merry fools.
    Throw open the windows for air,
        That the breeze
        Softly please
    The throat of each child debonair.
    When the leaders grow weary to sing,
        We'll all say,
        "Fiddler, play
    Us the tune for a stylish court-fling."

(They apparently piled the table-frames in the middle of the room in
place of the linden, about which they danced on the lawn.)

The singer goes on to remind them of the preparation for the party:

"I advise my friends to consult where the children shall have their
fun. Megenwart has a large room: if it like you all, we will have the
holiday party there. His daughter wishes us to come. All of you tell the
rest. Engelmar shall lead a dance around the table."

Again: "Let Kunegunde know; we shall be blamed if no one tells her about
it, and don't forget Hedwig." Once more: "Come along, children, to the
farm-house at Hademuot's; Engelbrecht, Adelmar, Friderich, Tuoze, Guote,
Wentel, and her sisters all three; Hildeburg, pretty child; Jiutel and
her cousin Ermelint."

Still again, in one of the cheerful early songs, before Neidhart's
bitter tone came in:

     "Now for the children who've been asked to the party. Jiutel
     shall tell them all, that they are to step after the fiddle
     with Hilde. 'Twill be a great dance. Diemuot, Gisel, are
     going together; Wendel, too, Engelmuot, for Heaven's sake! go
     out and call Künze to come.

     "Tell her the man is here; if she cares to see him, as she
     has all the time been wishing to, let her put on a little
     jacket and her cloak; I should prefer to have her come here,
     than to have him find her there at home in her every day

     "Künze tarried then no longer, but came, as Engelmuot bade
     her. She was in a hurry; quickly she dressed. Both sides of
     her gown were red silk. The finest of girls! No one could
     discover through the country, one I should be so glad to give
     my dear mother for a daughter.

     "Haha! How she pleased me, when I saw what she was; such
     hair, and red lips. Then I asked her to sit by me, but she
     said: 'I don't dare; I've been told not to talk with you, or
     even sit by you. Go and ask Heilke over there by Vriderune!'"

"I hear dancing in the room," he sings at another time; "a crowd of
village women are there; two fiddles; when they pause, gay outbreak of
talking and laughing. Through the window goes the hubbub. Adelber never
dances but between two girls." Sometimes the knightly guest entered into
the gay interlude of conversation, entertaining a merry screaming group.
But when his moody vein, or vexation at some common man's successful
rivalry, dulled his social spirits, he would stand apart, or go to one
side with one of the peasant maids, and satirically note the men
scattered over the room. The young farmer's assumption of the dress and
manners of gentility, carrying arms, discarding rustic fashions,
affecting polite speech ("_Mit sîner rede er vlaemet_," Neidhart says of
one of them,--he talks like a fine gentleman from abroad),--all this was
ridiculous to the courtly poet, and his sense of the humor of it was
associated with the bitterness of social contempt. "Look at Engelmar,
how high he holds his head. What elegant style he has, at the dance,
with his showy sword; something different from his father Batze. His son
is a poor gawk, with his rough head. He puffs himself out like a stuffed
pigeon, that sits crop-full on a corn-chest." And again: "Did you ever
see so gay a peasant as he is? Good Lord! he is first of all in the
dance. His sword-band is two hands broad. Proud enough he, of his new
jacket; it has four and twenty small pieces of cloth in it, and the
sleeves come down over his hand."[8] "There are two peasants wearing
coats in the court style, of Austrian cloth. Uoze never cut them."

Then he goes on to say:

     "Perhaps you would like to hear how the rustics are dressed.
     Their clothes are above their place. Small coats they wear,
     and small cloaks; red hoods, shoes with buckles, and black
     hose. They have on silk pouch-bags, and in them they carry
     pieces of ginger, to make themselves agreeable to the girls.
     They wear their hair long, a privilege of good birth. They
     put on gloves that come up to their elbows. One appears in a
     fustian jacket green as grass. Another flaunts it in red.
     Another carries a sword long as a hemp flail, wherever he
     goes; the knob of its hilt has a mirror, that he makes the
     girls look at themselves in. Poor clumsy louts, how can the
     girls endure them? One of them tears his partner's veil,
     another sticks his sword hilt through her gown, as they are
     dancing, and more than once, enthusiastically dancing and
     excited by the music, their awkward feet tread on the girls'
     skirts and even drag them off. But they are more than clumsy,
     they have an offensive horse-play kind of pleasantry that is
     nothing less than insult. They put their hands in wrong
     places, and one of them tries to get a maiden's ring, and
     actually wrenches it from her finger as she is treading the
     bending _reie_.

     "Why should I not be angry at his insolence? Yet I would not
     mind the ring so much, if he had not hurt her hand."

And just so, Engelmar snatched her mirror from Neidhart's darling

This last, as has been said, is the most famous incident in the Neidhart
story. From it he dates all his misfortunes, and he reverts to it, over
and over, with bitterness that can hardly be regarded as merely ironical
humor. Yet numerous as the references are, there is a mystery about the
affair that has not been cleared up. It has been suggested that
Vriderune's way of taking the rudeness made it clear to Neidhart that it
was her peasant lover, and not himself, whom she really liked, but it
would seem more natural to associate the occurrence with something
violent. Possibly the poet's indignation at the boorish familiarity led
him to a personal attack, just as in another connection he threatens to
strike an obnoxious fellow, and the resulting quarrel may have been
taken up by friends of both, with such serious consequences that various
annoyances followed on their part, which he could only return by
insulting hits in his songs. The chances are all in favor of the poet's
having been a slighter man physically than these farm-workers, at one of
whom he sneers for the sacks that ride on his neck, and there are
suggestions in the pseudo-Neidhart poetry of his having had helpers to a
revenge. In one of these imitations it is said that through Neidhart's
injury thirty-two had their left legs cut off, an evident exaggeration
of an earlier imitation, where the writer reminds his hearers of what
happened to Engelmar for taking Vriderune's mirror, that he lost his
left leg and had to go on crutches. Such violent fights are
authentically reported at merrymakings of the time, and as the
aristocratic leader of such a brawl, Neidhart no doubt would find his
subsequent residence among the peasants uncongenial. Yet why should he
manifest such reserve, at the same time that he mentions the subject so
constantly, referring to it long after he has left Bavaria? Is it
possible that his jealousy and hot blood drove him to some underhanded
attack in some such way as that in which a brilliant restoration poet
tried to punish a supposed injury? This ill reputation as an aristocrat
equally insolent and treacherous, might follow him to Austria; he would
hardly be pleased to acknowledge in his poem what he had done, while the
constant references to his injury in the insult of Vriderune, and the
misfortunes to himself which it caused may be regarded as half defensive
attempts to excite sympathy instead of disapproval. So much for
possible explanations of this curious literary enigma, out of which we
may make too much; for, as I have already suggested, Neidhart may only
be doing what novelists sometimes do when they repeat a popular hit in
characterization. At any rate, Vriderune seems to have been lost to her
upper-class lover, "and ever from that time I have had some new

Neidhart constantly reverts to the peasants' brutality and eagerness to
fight. "Look out for a brutish fellow named Ber. He is tall and
broad-shouldered; he scarcely can get in at the door. Fie, who brought
him here? He is the nephew of Hildebolt of Bern, who was pounded by
Williher." Lanze, again, "had got himself up for a champion, and thought
nothing could resist him. He put underneath a coat of mail. Snarling
like a bear he goes; so ugly is he, one were a child who withstood him."
And of another: "He wears a sword that cuts like shears, and a good
safety hat. Whoever you are, you may well keep out of his way.
Villagers, look out for him; his sword is poisoned. It's a well-tempered
Waidover, that sword of his."

With such village-warriors, no wonder that the parties did not always
end cheerfully. With a resemblance to modern slang Neidhart tells how
they threaten to put sunshine through each other. The lively episode of
a quarrel over a rural gallant's presenting a young lady with a piece of
ginger, Neidhart says he cannot describe in full, for he came away. But
"each began screaming to his friends; one called loudly: 'Help, gossip
Wezerant.' He must have been in great difficulty to scream so for help.
I heard Hildebolt's sister shriek: 'Oh, my brother, my brother!'"
Another dance ends with a milder disagreement. "Ruoprecht found an
egg--'I ween the devil gave it to him'--and threatened to throw it. Eppe
got mad, and dared him. Ruoprecht threw it at the top of his head, and
it trickled down over him." Sometimes, evidently, peacemakers
interfered, as they did in Frideliep's and Engelmar's disagreement about
Gotelint, so that the rivals did not fight, though "just like two silly
geese they went toward each other, all the rest of the day."

Like all of those poets, Neidhart, though he says "I" very often, lets
us become but indifferent acquaintances. We read some of the mediæval
lyrists without feeling sure that we detect a single genuine personal
note; they had little of our modern sense of individuality. With
Neidhart we fare better than with most; yet, after all, we are hardly
sure that some of his personal confessions are not formally or
humorously assumed. Yet of one trait we are left in no doubt, his strong
German sense for the fatherland. With many other Bavarians, he went to
Syria and Damietta on the crusade of 1217-1219, led by Leopold VII. of
Austria, and he has left us two songs which, though certainly different
enough from the deep religious feeling of such crusade lyrics as
Hartmann's or Walther's, are unmistakably sincere. The first opens with
the minnesinger's usual spring and love-lorn stanzas, but Neidhart soon
drops conventionality with the exclamation, "For my song the foreign
folk here do not care: ah, blessings on thee, Germany!" It reminds us of
Walther: nothing is like the German home. He thinks of sending a
messenger, not we notice, to some town or castle, but to that village
where he left the loving heart from which his constancy never wavers,
and to the dear friends over-sea.

     "Tell them from us all that they should quickly see us there,
     joyous enough, except for these wide waves. Bear my glad
     service to my mistress, dear to me before all ladies, and say
     to friends and kinsmen that I am well. If they inquire how
     things are going with us pilgrims, tell them, dear boy, what
     ill these foreign folk have wrought us. Haste thee, be swift;
     after thee assuredly shall I follow, quick as ever I may. God
     grant we may live to see the happy day of going home."

"We are all scarcely alive," he goes on; "the army is more than half
dead. Ah, were I there! By my beloved gladly would I rest, in mine own
place." "If I may only grow old with her!" he cries, and he breaks out
impatiently against those who keep delaying through August, instead of
moving westward. "Nowhere could a man be better off than at home, in his
own parish."

At last the expedition, dissatisfied and worn, as the returning
crusaders always were, are on the confines of the longed-for country. We
can imagine the straggling company making their way along, their
minstrel riding among them, fingering the old violin that he has carried
over his shoulders all the two years, and thinking out a new song. He is
still a young man, or at least only approaching middle age, and thoughts
of home, friendship, love, and the spring gaiety of the village life,
crowd upon him with buoyant thrills; he strikes the strings more firmly,
and his voice rings out a home-coming lyric, full of life and feeling.
"The long bright days are come again, and with them the birds; it is a
long time since they sang so well. The winter-weary are gayer than they
have been for thirty years. Maidens, ye children, fine people all, let
your hearts be free to the summer joy, spring quickly in the carols."

    Dear herald, homeward go;
    'Tis over, all my woe;
    We're near the Rhine!

Neidhart's poems are readily classified in two divisions, his songs for
summer and for winter. Both were probably sung as an accompaniment to
the dances, either of the peasants or of the upper class, though there
may be some doubt whether this is true of all the winter songs. Almost
invariably he opens with a nature-prelude, often an elaborate one, and
the temper of the songs is always congenial to the season, gay for
summer, and gloomy or critical for winter.

There is no evidence that the difficulty with Engelmar was the occasion
of the poet's leaving Bavaria, but his unpopularity with the peasants
seems to have had something to do with the loss of his fief. He was cast
down at the thought of parting with Reuenthal, and said that he would
sing no longer, since the name under which his merry lines had been
known was taken from him; and with a play on the word, "I am put out
undeservedly, my friends; now leave me free of the name!" But after he
was settled by Frederich on an Austrian fief, he adapted himself
cheerfully to his new home. "Here I am at Medelicke, in spite of them
all. I am not sorry that I sang so much of Eppe and of Gumpe at

The Duke gave him money and a house, in response to musical
solicitations, and Neidhart appealed for exemption from his heavy taxes,
that threatened to consume what his children needed. With our modern
ideas this system of literary patronage upon which mediæval poets
depended, and which usually required direct and even pressing
solicitation, seems painful to self-respect; we forget how lately it
flourished. In those days when princely giving was an established
custom, and differed from a system of salaries mainly in being a less
regularly appointed income, a poet's request for a gift was scarcely
more than a modern author's reminder of an unpaid claim; there is
nothing of the unmanly dependence of Coleridge in these earlier
suppliants for aid. None of them asked more gracefully--even Chaucer is
not more delicately suggestive--than Neidhart in such lines as these:

     "Whoever had a bird who satisfied him with song through the
     year, he would occasionally look to his bird-cage, and give
     him good food. Then the bird could go on singing sweet
     melodies. If he always sang well to meet the May, he should
     be well cared for, summer and winter. Even the birds
     appreciate kind treatment."

But the times were bad, and even a box of silver, and a house to put it
in, and remission of taxes, could not keep the poet gay as he passed
into later life. He composed penitential lyrics, after orthodox
precedents, of the love-singers, for they almost always grew old
seriously. On these we need not linger, though there seems a cry fuller
than the echo-note in his farewell to Lady Earth, and appeal for pardon
for some of his foolish songs: "Lord God of Heaven, give me thy
guidance; Might of all Might, now strengthen my heart, that I may win
soul's health, and partake ever-enduring joy, through thy sweet will."
But the wail of all of the thirteenth-century's serious minds, that
things were going "ever the lenger the wers" in Christendom, comes out
nowhere more deeply than in Neidhart's allegorical love-song to Joy of
the World, chiding her for her change of character during his long,
unrequited service:

     "False, shameless folk nowadays people her court, and her old
     household, truth, chastity, good manners, none find these any
     longer. My lady's honor is lame all over. She is fallen so
     that none can rescue her. She lies in such a pool that only
     God can make her clean. Men of wise mind be on your guard
     before her, in church or on street: women of worth keep far

Eighty new melodies he has sung in her service; this is the last, and
not the most joyous.

To this closing period we may refer a few summer songs that are an
exception to the usually light-hearted verses of that form. Their
seriousness is all the more noticeable from their fair-weather setting;
for once, the spring is not a panacea. "A delightful May has come, but
alas, neither priest nor layman rejoices in its arrival. Were it the
Emperor who had come, we might rejoice. Trouble and sorrow dwell in
Austria." There is something here besides a sense that the joyousness of
simple free-living and the loyalty of love-service are passing away; he
attributes much of the social decline to national confusion and the
political unrestraint. Yet controversial as he is in social relations,
he has little of Walther von der Vogelweide's thoughtfulness and energy
in patriotic polemics. He drifts down the stream with a sigh.

In the poem which Meyer's elaborate study of the order of his work
places last, though only conjecturally, he again considers his friends'
entreaty for more songs. The world goes too sadly, he says; as he had
said before that they must ask Troestelin to sing; he himself had no
longer a heart for poetry. Yet there is one pleasant story that he can
tell them: "to break down troubles comes one worthy to be praised; 'tis
May, with all his might." There is something pathetic in such songs,
that try to assume the cheerful strain in which the poet, now grown
gloomy, wrote while he was young. They remind us of the stray leaves
that we sometimes see caught up to their old home among the branches by
a sudden March gust; the brown leaves that will never again uncrumple
their green infancies, hover for a moment, then sink hesitatingly back
to the ground. In this one song, the nature stanzas are transferred from
the place of prelude to the conclusion. "May has conquered; wood and
heath have adorned themselves with their lovely attire; blue flowers are
here and the roses," and he ends with the old thought, that joyousness
and virtuous honor go together. As an idle fancy it is "pleasant if one
consider it," to regard these as the final words of this knightly singer
of mediæval country scenes, the last of the great figures of that old
German group, a parting reminder of the philosophy of a happy life which
mediæval lyrists often maintained so earnestly,--that the secret of good
living is blitheness of heart, and out-of-door life in spring and
summer. For many of these old poets the two terms were convertible;
their creed was surely a simple one.



[8] We must remember that the unwillingness of the upper grade of
society to have peasants assume its styles of dress, went so far that
ducal edicts were issued forbidding them to use coats of mail and
helmets, or to carry any weapons. Bitter complaints were made of their
wearing any stuffs so fine as silk, and clothes stylishly cut.




The usual conception of the middle ages seems to consist of a few facts
and theories about the feudal system and the crusades, the names with
possibly some traits of a few eminent public figures and a general
impression of confusion and obscurity. Supplementing this central idea,
one usually sees a panel picture on either side. One, sunshine flashing
from the spears and armor of knights tilting in tournaments, and watched
by dimly beautiful women; in the distance a solitary knight pricking
over a plain, or, guided by the wail of an unseen and lovely captive,
making his way through forest haunts of giants and gnomes. The other, a
lowering twilight overhanging gloomy monastery walls, the shelter of
melancholy, hypocrisy, manuscript illuminations, and a barren, difficult
philosophy. Sunshine and twilight on either hand, and in the background
an impenetrable mist concealing the great masses of humanity, as well as
all concrete actual lives even of the great. A little information and a
little romance are unsatisfactory artists for a sketch of mediævalism.
We soon discover that there is a great deal behind such a picture of
soldiers living in wars, and in the tourneying pretence of war; or
schoolmen contending in brilliant logical panoply within and without
spectral philosophic fastnesses; or hermits, nuns, and monks fighting
against God's present that they might win His future; or marauders
beating down helplessness and innocence.

Yet we may study the middle ages laboriously, and find ourselves still
confronted by the mist that hangs over the rank and file. Our curiosity
about these forgotten multitudes teases us. "How is it that you lived,
and what is it that you did?" we ask these distant prototypes of
Wordsworth's peasant. We come to discover that there is much behind our
slight old notion of chivalry and monasticism; though seven hundred
years have changed its conditions, life then and now is yet less
different than we had thought. But we find it difficult to acquire much
information about those social substrata on which the learned and the
polite classes rested. Clio is the most aristocratic of the ladies nine,
and that instinct of vitality whereby we count fame for ourselves
something desirable, makes us think with a certain compassion of great
armies of those generations filing sullenly on, not only as individuals,
but as whole masses, to the grave of oblivion. The little that we know
makes us sure only that they were wretched, their lives the most gloomy
of all the lives of gloomy ages.

We may read thousands of pages of the literature of those days with
scarcely any addition to our knowledge of the work-a-day world, for most
of the poetry is romantic, and in its imitative phases mainly a
reflection of courtly customs and character. The middle ages in Germany
and France were anything but uncivilized, and the poetry of secondary
cultivation is, as was said in the last essay, likely to prefer
idealistic interpretation of its finest development to democratic
realism. Yet the student finds from time to time interesting material
for an account of the average life, and in the poet whom this essay is
designed to introduce to a modern audience, we obtain an extended study
in this side field of literary interpretation. He wrote not of high life
but of the middle classes, not in romance but in a literal yet at the
same time artistic manner that we may call a heightened realism. He
appears to have been himself one of the people, a poet who possibly made
his living by reciting poems of incident, and by singing at their
merrymakings, though of this there is no evidence. It has been thought
by some German scholars that he may have been a monk, but the
indications make rather against than for this view. We know in fact
nothing whatever about him except for one single line, in which he tells
us that his name is Wernher the Gardener.

As was said, his poem is remarkable as being the heightened treatment
of a plain story of the peasant classes a little before 1250; it is
remarkable, too, for the liveliness and simple force of his
treatment. He is an artist--though he works in chalks instead of
water-colors;--unornamented, unassuming, he produces an impression of
personal power, moral seriousness, a clear eye for what he saw, and
the power to state it directly, one of the marks of a later and more
developed age. He has no little dramatic liveliness, a sense of
humor, and the pleasantest love for the plain beauties of character
and home-life.

He tells the story of a farmer, Helmbrecht, and his wayward son. The boy
has been the admiration of his peasant family as the oldest child,
notable for his splendid yellow hair, and full of life and spirit. At
the time the poem opens he has grown to early manhood, dissatisfied with
the hidden and laborious life of tiller of the soil, vain of his
appearance, fond of fine dress, and ambitious to live easily and be
admired. He is petted and indulged by his mother and his sister
Gotelint, and when he desires a hood--a part of masculine costume much
affected by gallant youths--they provide him with one so fine that it
becomes famous far and near. Embroidery, as every one knows who is
acquainted with the mediæval arts, was the most artistic accomplishment
of the period. Ladies learned to embroider and weave the most
complicated and elaborate devices; handicraftsmen of all sorts put on
their work representations so copious that one sometimes wonders whether
the literary descriptions of them are not exaggerations. Can the
frequency and detail of these passages, we wonder, be a faintly
remembered tradition of the devices put by Homer on the shield of
Achilles, or by Vergil on the gates of the rising Carthage? At any rate,
tapestries, cloths, and garments, to say nothing of saddles and the
like, were covered by picture after picture, in almost every important
poem of the age. This young peasant Helmbrecht's hood was embroidered,
not, of course, by the rude country fingers of his mother and sister,
but by a clever nun, who had run away from her nunnery to enjoy the
pleasures of a lively youth. Many were the wages of farm-produce by
which she was persuaded to fit out the young man. The hood was covered
with birds, parrots, and doves; on one side were representations of the
siege of Troy and the escape of Æneas; on the other, the stout deeds of
Charlemagne, Roland, and Oliver, in their wars against the heathen
Moors. Behind, adventures of old German legendary heroes, in the cycle
of Dietrich of Bern. In front, dances of knights, ladies, and of maidens
and young esquires--the favorite and mediæval dance, where the gentleman
stood between two ladies, holding the hand of each.

After this acquisition the boy became ambitious for still more finery,
and was indulged in an elaborate costume that need not be described.
Such white linen, such a splendid blue coat, all covered with buttons,
gilded ones in double rows down the back, around the collar, and in
front of silver. About the shoulders little bells were hung, that rang
merrily when he sprang in the _reie_. Ah, very love-lorn were the
glances cast on him by women and girls at the dance.

At last he is fully equipped by the love and sacrifice of his family,
and they are happy in his elegance, and contented with themselves
because the self-willed and capricious boy is pleased; when suddenly the
simple household is thrown into grief and anxiety by his announcement
that he is going to leave home. He must have a horse--there was none on
the farm--to complete his outfit as a gentleman, and then he will ride
away to some court and seek his fortune. In vain they remonstrate.

     "'My dear father, help me on. My mother and sister have
     helped me so that I shall love them all my life.'

     "His father was troubled to hear that he was resolved to go,
     but he said to him: 'I'll give you a fast horse for your
     outfit, good at hedges and ditches, for you to have there at
     court. I'll buy him for you willingly, if I can find one for
     sale. But, my dear son, now give up going to court. The ways
     there are hard for those who have not been used to them from
     the time they were children. My dear son, now drive team for
     me, or if you'd rather, hold the plough, and I'll drive for
     you, and let us till the farm, so you'll come to your grave
     full of honors like me; at least I hope to, for I surely am
     honest and loyal, and every year I pay my tithes. I have
     lived my life without hate and without envy.'

     "But the son replied: 'My dear father, keep quiet and stop
     talking; there's only one way about it, I'm going to find out
     how things smack there at court. Your sacks sha'n't load my
     back any longer. I won't load any more manure on your wagon,
     and God hate me if I ever yoke oxen for you again, and sow
     your oats. That's not the thing for my long yellow hair and
     my curly locks, and my close-fitting coat, and my fine hood,
     and the silk doves the women worked on it. I won't help you
     farm any longer.'

     "'Dear son, stay with me. I am certain that farmer Ruoprecht
     will give you his daughter, with lots of sheep and swine, and
     ten cattle, old and young. At court you'll be hungry, you'll
     have to lie hard, and give up all comforts. Now take my
     advice, and it will be to your interests and credit. It very
     seldom happens that a man gets along well who rebels against
     his own station. Your station is the plough. My son, I swear
     to you that the genuine court-people will make fun of you, my
     dear child. Do as I say, and give it up.'

     "'Father, if I only have a horse I shall get on as well in
     the court ways as those who were born there. Any one who saw
     that hood on my head would swear a thousand oaths that I
     never worked for you, or drove a plough through a furrow.
     Whenever I put on the clothes my mother and my sister gave me
     yesterday, I sha'n't look much as if I ever took a flail to
     thresh wheat on the barn floor, or as if I ever drove stakes.
     When I get my legs and my feet in the hose and cordovan
     boots, nobody'll know that I ever made fence for you or any
     one else. Let me have a horse, and farmer Ruoprecht may go
     without me for a son-in-law. I'll not give up my future for a

The father goes on pleading with the boy to take advice and keep out of
the disorderly life he is likely to get into about a court. By the
silent assumption that his new master and his people will pillage from
the peasantry, we get a suggestion of the lawlessness of the
country--which had grown worse during the long absenteeism of Frederic
II. But if the peasants catch you, he tells his son with energy, you
will fare much worse than one of the gentlemen would. They will take the
quickest revenge, and think that they are doing God service when they
find one of their own kind stealing.

But the son only goes on to repeat that he will leave the farm. He talks
just as an ambitious country fellow will talk to-day about the slow life
and small profits. He becomes bolder and more insolent. If it were not
for that wretched horse he would be riding with the rest across fields
and dragging peasants through the hedges; the cattle would be lowing as
he drove them off. He says he can endure poverty no longer;--raising a
colt or an ox for three years, and then selling them for just nothing.
So his father traded a large piece of homespun, four good cows, two
oxen, three steers, and four bushels of wheat,--all worth about ten
pounds,--for a horse that could not have been sold for three ("alas for
the wasted seven!"), and the young man put on his finery, tossed his
head, and, looking around, jauntily declared that he could "bite through
a stone, or eat iron, he felt so fierce." If he could catch the Emperor
or the Duke, there would be some money coming in. "'Father, you could
manage a Saxon easier than me.'"

When he calls upon his father to release him from the family control,
the latter assents, though with all his old reluctance. Indeed he cannot
let him go without one more appeal:

     "'I give you your liberty, my son. But take care that no one
     yonder hurts your hood and its silk doves, or viciously tears
     your long yellow hair. And I am afraid that at the end you
     will be following a staff, or some little boy will be
     leading you.'"

Then once more, after a pause, comes the abrupt:

     "'My son, my own dear boy, give up going. You shall live on
     what I live, and on what your mother gives you. Drink water,
     my dear son, before you steal to buy wine. Austrian pie, any
     one, fool or wise man, will tell you, is food fit for
     gentlemen. Eat that, dear child, instead of giving an ox you
     have stolen to some inn-keeper for a chicken. Your mother can
     cook good broth; eat that, instead of giving a stolen horse
     for a goose. My son, mix rye with oats sooner than eat fish
     in a dishonored life. If you will not obey me, go. But though
     you win wealth and great honors, never will I share them with
     you. And misfortune--have that alone too.'

     "'You drink water, father, but I'll drink wine. Eat your
     mush, but I'll eat what they call fricasseed chicken there
     and white wheat bread; oats will do for you. They say at Rome
     that a child takes after his godfather, and mine was a
     knight. Thank God for giving me such high and noble ideas.'"

But the old farmer replied that he liked much better a man who did right
and remained constant to it.

     "Even though his birth might be rather humble, he would
     please the world better than a king's son without virtue and
     honor. An honest man of lowly rank, and a nobleman who was
     not courteous and honorable,--let the two come to a land
     where neither is known, and the child of lowly birth will
     outrank the high-born. My son, if you will be noble, on my
     word I counsel you, do noble deeds. Good life is a crown
     above all nobility."

There is the old thought, so common in literature from ancient authors
down to the poet of Lady Clara Vere de Vere, and especially a favorite
with writers of the middle age. Possibly some of them caught it from
Boëthius, who expressed it more than once in the testament of wise and
generous character that he left to the world from his confinement at
Pavia, and that proved so singularly congenial to the mediæval mind; but
we need certainly not require the aid of origins to account for its
frequency. Aristocratic as many phases of the times were, there were a
number of important evening influences, conspicuously two: the church,
in whose monastery cloisters the rich and poor met together as brothers
of one impartial discipline, and from whose ranks members of low birth
might rise to be the peers of dukes; and the orders of chivalry, which
received approved squires from the middle class. Thus, in addition to
aristocracy of birth, there was a conditional gentility to which those
who had the claim of merit might aspire. But though the thought that
desert, and not descent, is the test for nobility, is so obvious in the
days when position carried with it so strong a connotation of power, and
when the upper strata of society bore down so hard and haughtily upon
the lower, we always feel satisfaction in coming upon a trim statement
of the fine old commonplace whose best mediæval expression we can quote
from a poet of our own language:

    "Look, who that is moost vertuous alway,
    Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
    To do the gentil dedes that he kan,
    Taak hym for the grettest gentil man."

"'Alas, that your mother bore you!'" the farmer exclaimed, when the
boy's only answer to his appeal was to declare his hair and hood better
fitted for a dance than for the plough or the harrow. "'Thou wilt leave
the best and do the worst'"; and he goes on to contrast the man who
lives against God and the good of others, followed by every one's
curses, with the man who helps the world along, trying night and day to
do good by his life, and thereby honors God. This one, wherever he may
turn, has the love of God and all the world.

     "'Dear son,' he says, 'that man you might be, if you would
     yield to me. Till with the plough, and plenty of people will
     be the better for your life, poor and rich; nay, even wolf
     and eagle, and everything that lives on earth. Many a woman
     must be made more beautiful through the farmer, many a king
     must be crowned through the produce of the farm. Indeed,
     there is no one so noble that his pride would not be a very
     small thing, except for the farmer.'"

How natural all this sounds,--agriculture the basis of society, tillage
of the soil alike useful and honorable. With what quiet manliness this
old German talks of the dignity of labor, with no touch of the modern
arrogance and discontent with the existing social condition. He will
keep to his rank in life, and be loyal to his station, yet, though he
looks up with a simple-hearted interest and wonder to the great world
above him, he reflects as he follows his plough that without him that
great world's pride "would be a very small thing." But there is a
quality here that is still finer: the undercurrent perception of "the
gospel of service." It is not only that honesty is the best policy,
though the peasant is shrewd, and appreciates the practical side too;
his conversation with the boy breathes the best nineteenth-century
spirit of the duty of making one's life valuable to others. That
sentence about working night and day to be useful, and thereby honoring
God, is no commonplace for our century, to say nothing of the
thirteenth. There is something pretty, too, in the touch of sympathy
with the animal world; in some way, he feels that even the birds and
beasts must be better off for a good farmer.

These times seem often savage in their cruelties and recklessness of
giving pain, but they have a gentle side as well, as may be seen in the
tales cited by Montalembert of friendly relations between monks and wild
beasts, and in examples collected by Uhland in his essay on the old
German animal literature. It is pleasant in connection with such
barbarities as we shall presently be reminded of in this very poem to
recall the myth versified by Longfellow, of the great minnesinger's
legacy to the monastery, conditioned on the brethren's every day placing
grain and water for the birds upon his grave; and more than one
authentic story is told like that of the Abbot of Hirsan, who, when snow
was deep in winter, would take oats from his barn to feed the birds.

After the young Helmbrecht has begged God to release him soon from his
father's preaching,--"if you only had been a real preacher you might
have got up a whole army with your sermons for a crusade,"--and has
explained that instead of keeping on ploughing, he is resolved to have
white hands, and no longer need to feel mortified whenever he holds
ladies' hands at a dance, his father resorts to his last resource--an
appeal to superstition, that he has been keeping in reserve. He tells
him what he has been dreaming--three dreams that he interprets as
ominous of the loss of sight, feet, and arms, and worst of all, a final
dream of one of those sights so common for many centuries before and
after, but made no less dreadful by familiarity.

     "'You were hanging on a tree. Your feet were a fathom from
     the ground. Above your head on a bough sat a raven, by its
     side a crow. Your hair was all tangled. On the right hand the
     raven combed your head for you, on the left the crow.'"

But the hopeful rode gaily off through the bars, and came to a castle
where a warlike lord was glad to receive any addition to his force.
There he stayed for a year, leading the extreme bandit life of whose
outrages and oppressions we read so much during this troubled period. He
quickly obtained reputation as daring and merciless:

     "Into his sack he stuffed everything; it was all one to him.
     Nothing was too small, nothing too great. Helmbrecht took it
     all, rough and smooth, crooked and straight. He took horses,
     cattle, jacket, sword, cloak, coat, goats, sheep. From women
     he stripped everything, and well enough his ship went that
     first year, 'its sails full.' But after a while, as people
     are wont to think of going home, he took leave of the court,
     and commended them to the good God."

They heard at the farm that he was coming on for a visit, and in
accordance with the ancient custom of giving a present to the bearer of
good news, the messenger received a shirt and pair of hose. But when the
young man himself arrived, "how he was received! Did they step forward
to meet him? Nay, they ran, all together; one crowded past another;
father and mother sprang as if they had never had a care." It is
touching to notice the suggestiveness of a single line in the poet's
description of the scene. The plain people understood that their son was
no longer one of them, and they knew how his earlier false pride must
have grown in this year's absence in the outer world. So in their
anxiety that everything should gratify this brilliant, wayward eldest
son of their admiration and hope, and that nothing should interfere
with his being pleased and gracious to their yearning, timid love, and
knowing how in the homely heartiness of their joy at seeing their young
master again the two servants would treat him at once in the old
familiar way of peasant-farm equality, they instructed their man and
their woman in what they thought to be polite salutation. So when the
guest appeared, "Did the woman and the man cry 'Welcome back,
Helmbrecht'? Nay, they did not; they had been told not to. They said:
'Master, in God's name be you welcome.'" There is a touch of humor in
their rushing forward and being the first to greet him, in their rude
good-feeling; but we also get a sense of tenderness from seeing the
father and mother keeping in the background, behind their daughter

Little education as there was in the middle ages, people fully
appreciated the elegance as well as the utility of a knowledge of
foreign languages, and no accomplishment was held more desirable.
Especially the Germans, representing an outlying civilization, would
send their sons, while still boys, to some French court to serve as
pages and acquire especially the language as well as other branches of
knightly culture. The praises of various heroes of French as well as
German romances, give to linguistic attainments a high place; Gottfried,
for example, in his account of the training of Tristan, who was the
typical gentleman of the romances, says that from the age of seven until
he was fourteen he was studying languages under the care of a tutor, by
travelling through different lands. Since this was the fashion,
imitations were sure to become popular, and a thin veneering of foreign
speech became the mark of a pinchbeck culture, just as it has been so
frequently since. Accordingly, after the servants have cried out their
"Master, in God's name be you welcome," and Gotelint has thrown her arms
about her brother, the young gallant calls her his dear little sister in
a phrase of salutation touched with Low Dutch, which he follows by the
elegant "gratia vester." Then the younger children ran up, and last of
all the farmer and his wife, who greeted him over and over. He addressed
his father in French: "Deu sal"; his mother in Bohemian: "Dobraytra."
They looked at each other; four strange languages all together--there
must be some mistake.

     "The housewife said: 'My dear, this is not our son. This is a
     Bohemian or a Slav.' Her husband replied: 'It is a Frenchman.
     My son whom I commended to God, certainly this is not he, and
     yet he looks like him.' And Gotelint suggested: 'He answered
     me in Latin; may be he is a priest.' 'Faith,' put in the
     hired man, who had caught the phrase in dialect, 'he has
     lived in Saxony or Brabant, for he said, "liebe
     susterkindekin"; he must be a Saxon.'"

The old peasant was devoted and loving, but he had resolution and
self-respect under it all. He told the accomplished youth that before he
would take him for his son he must talk German. If he would do that and
declare himself Helmbrecht, well and good. He should have a chicken
boiled, and another roasted, and his horse should be well cared for. But
a Bohemian, or a Slav, or a Saxon, or a Brabanter, or a Frenchman, or a
priest, should be given nothing. The youth began to reflect. It was
getting late, there was no place near by where he could go; so he
concluded to waive his elegant manners, and speak in the old style. But
the shrewd peasant feigns incredulity, and decides to test his son a
little further. In vain the young man protests himself Helmbrecht. His
gentility must stoop to vulgar peasant identification, and tell what he
knows about the oxen on the farm. He rattles over all four of them,
Grazer, Black-spot, Rascal, and White-star, with a little praise for
two, and the reconciliation is accomplished. Thereupon the repressed
fondness and devotion obtain free expression. The father hurried out to
attend to the horse, the mother sent her daughter for a pillow and
cushion--"Run, now, and don't walk for it"--and makes a couch for him on
the bench close to the stove, so that he may have a nap while she is
preparing his dinner. When the boy woke the meal was ready, and Wernher
assures us that any gentleman might have enjoyed it. After washing his
hands, the usual first step in a meal, a dish of fine-cut sauer-kraut
was put before him, by it bacon, both fat and lean, and a rich mellow
cheese. Then there was as fat a goose as ever roasted on a spit--and
with what good-will they provided that extraordinary peasant luxury--a
roasted and a boiled chicken. A knight out hunting, and happening on
such a meal, would like it well. For besides this they had managed to
get delicacies in which peasants never think of indulging. "'If I had
any wine you should be drunk to-night,'" the farmer said; and he
added--with such a noble union of dignity, simplicity, and sentiment for
the plain homely blessings which he had appreciated and loved all his
life: "'My dear son, now take a drink of water from the best spring that
ever came out of earth. I know no spring fit to be compared with it,
except the one at Wankhûsen.'"

"'Tell me, son,'" he continued, as they went on with their dinner, for
he could not wait to ask him, "'tell me how about the court fashions,
and then I will tell you how they used to be when I was young.'" But
the son was too busy eating to stop to talk then, and he allowed his
father to relate his early reminiscences.

     "'When I was a boy,' he began 'and your grandfather
     Helmbrecht had sent me to court with cheese and eggs, just as
     a farmer does to-day, I took note of the knights, and marked
     their ways. They were courteous and cheerful and had no
     rascality about them in those days, such as many men and
     women too have now. The knights had a custom, to make
     themselves pleasing to the ladies, that was called jousting.
     A man of the court explained it to me when I asked him what
     they called it. Two companies would come together from
     opposite directions, riding as if they were mad, and they
     would drive against each other, as if their spears must
     pierce through. There's nothing in these days like what I saw
     then. After that they had a dance, and while dancing they
     sang lively songs, that made the time go quickly. Presently a
     playman came forward and struck in with his fiddle; at that
     the ladies jumped up, and the knights went to meet them, and
     they took hold of hands. That was a pleasant sight--the
     overflowing delight of ladies and gentlemen, dancing so
     gaily, poor and rich. When that was over a man came out and
     read about some one called Ernest. Each could do whatever he
     liked. Some took their bows and shot at a target; others went
     hunting: there was no end to the kinds of pleasure. The worst
     off there would be the best off with us now. Those were the
     times before false and vicious people could turn the right
     about with their tricks. Nowadays the wise man is the one who
     can cheat and lie; he has position and money and honor at
     court, much more than the man who lives justly and strives
     after God's grace.'"

We find here as in so many other places in thirteenth century poetry,
that the serious-minded were already looking back. Just as we have seen
Walther and Ulrich bewailing the lost sunshine of chivalry, Wernher
laments that the old-time honesty has gone, and with it the knightly
light-hearted honorable joys. Already, before 1250, there was a halo
about the chivalric court; ladies were honored, knights tourneyed for
their pleasure; dancing with them attracted gentlemen quite beyond
drinking bouts; the poet's narratives of old German heroes were yet in

All this seems amusing to the young man; what sappy and goody-goody
fashions those were. He thinks it manly to swagger about the new ways,
and tell how the fashionable cry is "Trinkà, herre, trinkà trinc!" It
used to be good breeding to dangle about pretty ladies, but the correct
thing now is just to drink. "'This is the kind of love-letters we have:
"You dear little bar-maid, fill up our cups. What a fool a man is who
wastes his life for women, instead of good wine." It's a genteel thing
to be sharp with your tongue, and get the best of people, and tell
clever lies.'"

The old man hears, and with a sigh wishes back the day when gentlemen
shouted "Hey[=a], ritter, wis et fro!" in the tourneys, instead of these
new cries of riotry and pillage. The son would tell him more, but he has
ridden far and wishes to go to sleep. There were no linen sheets in that
farm-house, but Gotelint spread a newly washed shirt on his bed, and he
slept until high day. The next morning he displayed the gifts he had
brought: for his father, a whetstone, scythe, and axe; for his mother, a
fox-skin; for Gotelint, a head-dress with a band of silk and gold,
better fitted for a nobleman's child than for her; shoes with straps for
the farm-hand; and for his wife, a cloth to cover her hair, and a red
ribband. He remained at home for a week, and then he became restless to
return. His father again took up his entreaties, begging him in the
tenderest tones to stay from the bitter and sour life he has been
leading. As long as he lives he will share what he has with him, even
if the young man will do nothing but sit still and wash his hands. Only
he must not go back.

What, not go back with so much to do? Has not a rich man ridden over the
field of his god-father? Has not another rich man eaten bread with
crullers? And still a third, while eating at a bishop's table, loosened
his girdle? Each one must be taught better manners through wholesale
plunder of cattle, sheep, and swine, to say nothing of a boor who blew
the foam off his beer. He and some friends will give them a good
training, and he runs over the list of his bandit companions with the
cant names borne by each, such as Lambswallow, Hellbag, Bolt-the-sheep,
Coweater, Wolfthroat, and at last his own name, Swallow-the-land.

We may pass by the exploits of which he boasts--the children of the
peasants near him eat water-gruel, their father's eyes he puts out,
their beards he draws with pincers, he binds them in ant-hills, or
smokes them in the chimney, and so forth, through a revolting list of

The youth uncloaks himself as a full-fledged desperado, and his father's
short, stern warning in God's name of vengeance only throws him into a
passion, and he declares that, though hitherto on their raids he has
kept off his companions from the farm, instead of doing so longer, he
will give up his father and mother to their will. He reveals what had
been a main motive in his visit, an arrangement he had made with his
comrade Lambswallow to let him marry Gotelint. But of that brilliant
match her father's conduct has deprived the girl; also she will never
find another man who can give her such luxuries of dress and fare.
Moreover, his sister was worthy of such a husband, and he stops to
repeat the tribute he had paid to her while discussing the alliance with
his friend. The lines bring before us a weird mediæval scene, to which
these reckless free-livers looked forward as their assured end, and
which they dreaded most from the lurid light thrown by superstition upon
the picture. The ghastly swinging of their corpses on the gibbet ("The
rain has drenched and washed us," Villon says two hundred years later,
"and the sun dried and blackened us. Magpies and crows have hollowed out
our eyes, and plucked away our beards and eyebrows."[9]) troubled them
less than the thought that their falling bones must lie unburied, and
their lives be followed by no religious rites to mitigate the eternal
justice. French poetry has interpreted this phase of crime and misery in
Villon's _Epitaphe_; in English it has been interpreted by Tennyson in
_Rizpah_, at once the most intense and the most piteous of all his
poems, as free from self-consciousness as an early ballad, the most
pathetic expression in all literature of a mother's love, and kept out
of the category of the very greatest poems only by the intolerable
anguish of its emotion. In this old German story we find an
interpretation of it too; the briefest and much the simplest, yet not
without an unobtrusive power. Young Helmbrecht declares that he told his
comrade that he might trust Gotelint never to make him repent his

     "I know her," he represents himself as saying, "to be so
     loyal--on this you may count--that she never will leave you
     hanging long; she will cut you down with her own hands, and
     carry you to your grave at the cross-roads, with incense and
     myrrh--of this you can be sure. Nightly for a whole year she
     will go about you. Or if, less fortunate, you are blinded or
     crippled by the loss of hands or feet, the good, pure girl
     will guide you with her own hand over all the paths of every
     land; every morning she will bring your crutches to your bed,
     or cut for you, even till you die, your bread and meat."

From the first, Gotelint has been under the fascination of her brother,
and as she hears his long account of the life the wife of Lambswallow
must live, she calls young Helmbrecht aside, and arranges to run away
from home and marry his friend. So at the appointed time she does, and a
great wedding feast, provided at the cost of many widows and orphans,
follows the curious mediæval marriage ceremony. In the midst of it a
strange foreshadowing of evil comes over her; she wishes herself back at
her father's simple fare; his cabbage was better than the luxury of
Lambswallow's fish. She tells her bridegroom that she is afraid
strangers are at hand to harm them, and even as the players are
receiving their gifts, the sheriff and his force break in upon the
revellers. All meet quick justice; nine are hung; Helmbrecht, the tenth,
is sent off blind, and with only one foot and one hand. "What the
forsaken bride suffered" let him tell who saw.

The story works to its conclusion in a temper better fitted to the
thirteenth century than to ours. The poet feels no complaisance for an
obstinate wrong-doer. He says: "God is a worker of wonders, and this is
the proper lot of a youth who called his father an old peasant and his
mother a worthless woman." Nor does he stop with his own exclamation; he
tells in detail how the blind and maimed fellow is brought by a boy to
the farm, only to receive his father's taunts and mocking. Brutal and
distressing as the passage seems, it is true to the age and to the
character of the sturdy old farmer. While there was hope he had borne
every insult; he had pleaded persistently, tenderly, and to every limit
of generosity and devotion. But when the youth had proved himself
susceptible to no claims of virtue or humanity, and, as a last stroke of
evil, had seduced his sister from an honorable life, further pity seems
sentimentalism. Before the boy's first departure his father had warned
him that he would take no part in any ill-won prosperity, and if
misfortunes came, they, too, must be borne alone. The foreign phrases
are on the father's lips this time, as the sightless cripple creeps up
to the farm-house door. He runs over the proud speeches that have thus
ended in shame and misery; nor will he listen to the entreaties for
shelter, even as a beggar, for a single night. "'Every one, the country
round, is cruel to me; alas! so you are now. In God's name give me the
charity you would give a poor sick man!'" But the farmer "laughed
scoffingly, even though it broke his heart, for this was his own flesh,
his child, who stood there before him blind." He struck the boy who was
leading the wretch, and drove them off. "Yet as they went away his
mother put a loaf of bread in his hand, as if he were a child." For a
year he crawled about, skulking in the woods and living on what he
might. Then one day, having wandered to the scene of some of his worst
crimes, a set of peasants catch sight of him, and recount to one another
what their farms, their babes, their daughters, had suffered from this
outlaw and his band. As they talk they tremble with hate and rage, and,
catching up a rope, they fulfil the last of the dreams that tormented
the anxious night of the father just before his son rode out, with his
rich clothes and fine horse and wonderful hood covering that long,
beautiful hair, to seek his fortune in a court.

Why is it worth while to introduce to English readers this peasant tale
of the middle ages? Not on account of its antiquarian value, though it
is full of interesting suggestions of old manners. Nor primarily on
account of its literary significance, notwithstanding the tact and
nervous directness of Wernher's style, and the heightened realism of
treatment that gives him distinction beside the romanticists of the
time. Its main importance for us lies in that sense of the human unity
which we derive from such a story of a time so remote from our own, and
in most of its aspects so different. Many of the influences that render
man's life desirable--organized society, with respect for property and
personal safety, ease of living, humanitarian sensibility even to the
guiltiest suffering--we miss, and missing them we rejoice in the
progress of our age toward the light. But the traits whereby life in all
ages becomes estimable--simplicity of character, contentment with the
station of one's birth, if only one can live there with dignity and
usefulness; frugality, integrity, natural love which grows most tender
and yearning when the kinship of moral worthiness seems in danger of
dissolution--are our own best possession, and this identity of manhood
then and now makes us feel less strange among those distant and dimly
remembered generations. Thus serious writers offer to our study many
notable and interesting thoughts, and in their courtly poets we find
scores of delightful pictures of gracious and noble dames and knights
moving through the pleasures and pains of an ideal world. It is also
pleasant to listen to a poet from among the people, and to touch the
rough hand of an old German farmer, whose most brilliant recollection
was of the time when, as a boy, he carried eggs and cheese to one of the
courts of old-fashioned chivalry; whose virtue cast in a decadent era
had looked at life sternly, yet whose austerity was softened by a homely
simplicity through whose grace he grew old, with his heart true to his
plain home life and his family, even to the assurance that no drink
could be more refreshing than water from the spring on his own farm.



    "La pluye nous a debuez et lavez,
    Et le soleil dessechez et noirciz;
    Pies, corbeaulx, nous ont les yeux cavez,
    Et arrachez la barbe et les sourcilz."



When Homer described the pretty fright of Astyanax in his nurse's arms,
amid the parting of Hector and Andromache; when Vergil made Damon recall
the day when, as a little boy just able to reach up to the branches, he
saw his mother and the child who was to be his fate gathering
apples--the hyacinths of Theocritus were daintier--they struck two
chords of feeling, one charming, the other deeper and richer, which have
started vibrations whenever they have met a sympathetic reader ever
since. Because we are susceptible to the poetry of childhood we are
pleased to find that these ancient poets also cared for it. It adds a
personal touch to our feeling for them. It gives us a thrill of the
immortality of heart and its simplest, purest sentiment. There may be an
element of the fictitious in our feeling about childhood. Heaven may not
be about our infancy, those "sweet early days" may not have been "as
long as twenty days are now"; and they may not have been the types of
innocence, simplicity, the loveliness of the race taken at first hand
from nature, which we fancy them. But there is something beyond a
fallacy in this sentiment; it is in our purer and more refined moods
that we are sensitive to it. Like a whiff of spring smoke, or woodsy
odors, a reminder of our early life will sometimes throw us into a
revery which is more than recollection. No one can write well about
children without sensibility to youthful emotion and some love for
family life. Whoever looks back with genial wistfulness upon his own
early days, and enjoys renewing them in the playthings of his fancy, can
hardly be without a vein of quiet refinement. When an age listens with
pleasure to such sketches, it is not barren of the homely affections,
nor uniformly given over to restless and unlawful passions. As one
wanders through the poetry of the middle ages, one observes the
frequency with which it mentions children.

These passages, judged absolutely, may not be remarkable for insight or
tenderness, but in those days all emotional subjects were treated
crudely. Yet they are often interesting for themselves, and they show a
fact which many seem to question that the sentiments of simple family
life were felt by poets and people. So much has been written by critics
upon the worse side of the society of chivalry, that it is well to
recognize this other aspect of its affections. The public has frequently
been assured that those days knew nothing of true family sentiment. How
much truth there is in the statement that fashionable love disregarded
marriage, has been shown in a preceding essay. But on _a priori_ grounds
we should disbelieve that general society was permeated by artificial
gallantry. Even were the testimony of lyrical lovers uniform, we must
recollect how conventional all their love-poetry was; most poets
composed on formal lines impersonally, in spite of their pronouns. One
of the troubadours, indeed, denied that this was possible when the
husband of his theme challenged him, in the lonely place where he was
hunting, by his liege truth to tell him whether he had a lady love.
"Sire," he replied, "how could I sing unless I loved?" But in most poems
there was more business, or ambitious art, than nature. A large number
of these poets impress us as having just as little emotional veracity in
writing as had Cowley in _The Mistress_. Moreover, even if a school of
poetry, not conventionalized, should treat romantic and sensational
sentiment to the exclusion of domestic, it would prove nothing. What if
cynical critics some centuries hence should give Mr. Coventry Patmore a
place in their encyclopedias, simply on the ground that he was an
exception to the nineteenth-century belief that love ended at the bridal
altar? Possibly by that time love, poetry, and fiction may deal mainly
with domestic emotions after marriage, and then our own romances will
very likely appear strange.

From one point of view those centuries were too akin to undeveloped life
to be prepared to represent it. Europe seven hundred years ago seems
like a vast nursery abandoned by its governess. The people are like
children of various ages and sizes, degrees of education, and innate
sense of right and wrong. Children are impulsive, passionate, selfish,
brutally inconsiderate; they are sometimes religious too. We find
apparently sporadic susceptibility to isolation and prayer. They cry at
trifles, and while their cheeks are still wet, they are smiling. Bright
and simple things please them; they are fickle and impatient; they love
lively music; when they are tired playing, nothing pleases them like a
story--they listen intently, credulously. When spring comes they can no
more help running and dancing over the grass, than sunbeams on a brook.
The gentler sit in the meadow making posies, while the rougher are
setting traps, and racing, and fighting: but sometimes the rough boys
will come and play in the meadow, and be pleasant to the girls. All
these traits of children apply to the mediæval character, their
barbarisms, their ethical inconsistencies, their delight in stories (no
age has ever cared more for story telling), their love of play, their
passion for spring, and the rest.

Undoubtedly the popular impression gives the period too little
joyousness. Mercurial childhood has capacity for sudden pleasures even
when life goes ill, and life frequently went very well even then. But
the mystery and grace of motherhood and dawning life are likely to
appeal to a calmer and more retrospective age. The seriousness that
takes pleasure in contemplating childhood is more serene and pensive
than the usual moods of an era undeveloped emotionally. So it would not
be a matter for surprise if the literary remains of those days had left
us mainly incidental references to children.

Of such plain facts we have many, such as, for instance, that the little
ones were entertained with pet dogs, birds, and squirrels (apparently
never with cats), mice harnessed to a toy wagon, clay or wooden images
of animals, and tiny vessels after kitchen models, toy men, women, and
children, tops, and marbles; that they played blind man's buff, and many
games attended with songs. As early as the interesting Latin poem called
_Waltharius et Hiltgunde_, which at least in a popular version Walther
von der Vogelweide liked, we find the hero appealing to Hagen, by the
memory of the boyish games with which they had whiled away their
childhood, and over which they never had quarrelled.

We obtain considerable information about customs of education also;
such as the attention paid to languages (a girl in a French romance is
said to have understood fourteen tongues), and Isolde knew French and
Latin as well as Irish. Boys were sent off on their travels early, going
especially to Paris. Weinhold's quotation from Hugo von Trimberg
illustrates the dangers that beset the pursuit of culture even then:
"Many boys go to Paris; they learn little and spend much. But yet no
doubt they see Paris."

When Sir Philip Sidney derided the contemporary drama's habit of
carrying a play through a large part of the hero's lifetime, instead of
restricting the action to a developed episode, he made a poor criticism,
out of tune, as are other parts of his criticism, with the genius of
Elizabethan poetry. But the passage is interesting as a reminder of the
relation to that great literature of the romances which runs back
through the middle ages to the later Greek writings. Such narrations as
the _Daphnis and Chloe_, and the _Aethiopica_, introduce their central
characters while they are still children, and whether through
transmitted influence or independently, the same course is pursued by
the most important romance poems of mediæval France and Germany. To this
practice we owe pleasant domestic scenes of many a hero's early life,
and sometimes, indeed, a narration of early joys and sorrows of his
parents' love. The _Tristan_ of Gottfried von Strassburg, for example,
begins well before the birth of its subject, with noteworthy romantic
episodes. This brilliant poem's account of the early years of chivalry's
typical fine gentleman illustrates the admiration paid to intellectual
training at a time when polite society in general was not well educated.
Tristan spent his first seven years under the care of his foster-mother,
learning various lessons of good behavior; after that Rual li Foitenant
provided a master, and sent him off to acquire foreign languages in
their own lands, and "book-learning" as well. The luxurious temper of
his chronicler stops for a long sigh at the hardship of such training,
through the years when joyousness is at its best. So it is, he exclaims
in his studied style, with many youth; when life is in its first bloom
and freedom, away they are constrained to go from its free blossom. For
seven years this young prince was constantly kept busy with the
exercises of arms and horsemanship, in addition to his formal studies;
he also learned hunting, and all courtly arts, especially music. Then he
was called home to be prepared for his political career. The education
of children was assisted by not a few treatises on manners and morals,
such as _Babees Books_, as the old English called them. They are usually
manuals of etiquette, mediæval prototypes of such modern works as
_Don't_. Chaucer's Prioress had evidently studied the sections on table
proprieties, and her gentility, which was so tender-hearted, might well
have been developed under the admonishments of the ethical passages
which often accompanied them. For a tender age many of these precepts
were depressing. One of the gravest and most mature of these works is
called _Der Winsbeke_, with a sequel, _Die Winsbekin_, for girls, the
advice of a twelfth-century Solomon, which moralizes certainly as well
as most of its analogues. This stanza, for instance, shows a homely

    That bright candle mark, my son,
      While it burns, it wastes away;
    So from thee thy life doth run,
      (I say true) from day to day.
    In thy memory let this dwell,
      And life here so rule, that then
    With thy soul it may be well.
      What though wealth exalt thy name?
    Only this shall follow thee--
      A linen cloth to hide thy shame.

These gnomic writings, running into a developed didacticism, are
illustrated by the song of Walther von der Vogelweide on the restraint
of eye, ear, and tongue. Whether this poet was the teacher of the young
King Henry, as some have thought, or gained his experience in humbler
ways, he evidently knew the trials of the pedagogue. "Oh, you
self-willed boy," he cries, "too small to be put to work in the field
and too big to whip, have your own way and go to sleep." As for
flogging, this prince of the minnesingers took the side of the Matthew
Feildes against the Boyers: "No one can switch a child into education;
to those whom you can bring up well, a word is as good as a blow."
Apropos of the teacher's view, we also find the pupil's feeling for his
teacher recorded in that little poem of the English school-boy, who was
late in the morning, and explained to the master that his mother told
him to stop and milk the ducks. The boy recounts the details of what
follows, and afterwards, instead of taking up his interrupted studies,
he words out a day-dream in which the master is turned into a hare, his
books into hounds, and the boy goes hunting.

There is a grain of humor, too, at least for the modern reader, in a
much more sentimental child-play of the minnesinger Hadlaub. Though he
mainly echoes the love singers who wrote a hundred years before him, one
of the first songs in the collection of his poems raises a hope of
something more than the ordinary, though this only leads us on to
disappointment through the rest of his fifty-odd pieces. There is
something very natural about this picture of the lover catching sight of
his disdainful fair one playing with a little child. "She reached out
her arms and caught it close to her, she took its face between her white
hands, and pressed it to her lips and mouth and lovely cheek; ah, how
deliciously she kissed it!" What did the child do? "Just what I should
have done; threw its arms around her, and was so happy." When she let
the little one go, the lover went after it and kissed it just where her
lips had been, "and how that went to my heart!" Poor fellow! "I serve
her since we both were children," and this is the nearest apparently
that he ever came to the seals of love.

But instead of delaying over estrays, pleasant scraps like those left us
by Heinrich von Morungen, for instance, one of the few minnesingers for
whom one really cares, we may pass on to three or four more detailed
examples from the thirteenth century, of household love and sympathy
with the poetry of childhood. But first I will translate a simple sesame
for opening again the early gates. The poet is known as the Wild
Alexander, but his mood was gentle and gracious when this revery of his
boyhood came upon him:

    There we children used to play,
    Thro' the meadows and away,
    Looking 'mid the grassy maze
    For the violets; those days
          Long ago
          Saw them grow;
    Now one sees the cattle graze.

    I remember as we fared
    Thro' the blossoms, we compared
    Which the prettiest might be:
    We were little things, you see.
          On the ground
          Wreaths we bound;--
    So it goes, our youth and we.

    Over stick and stone we went
    Till the sunny day was spent;
    Hunting strawberries each skirrs
    From the beeches to the firs,
          Children! Go
    Home, they cry--the foresters.

So he goes on to tell how their childhood took as a pleasure the hurts
and stings that they received as they hunted for strawberries, and to
recall the warnings against snakes that the herdsman sometimes shouted
through the branches. Apart from its graceful manner, and the breezy
freshness of its universal childhood, the poem's specific touches are
unusual. "From the beeches to the firs," for instance, does not sound
mediæval aside from one's surprise that a German should have omitted the
linden. We need not be as old as was Lamb in 1820, to look back with a
touch of desire on the child, that other me, there in the background.
Perhaps there is the glamour of sentiment about that familiar
association of childhood with purity and moral grace. Yet the feeling
appeals to us as true beyond mere beauty, and many may read with
responsiveness these lines, hitherto unprinted, by one on whose lips,
just parted for their song, silence laid her finger:

    "Could I answer love like thine,
      All earth to me were heaven anew;
    But were thy heart, dear child, as mine,
      What place for love between us two?
    Bright things for tired eyes vainly shine:
      A grief the pure heaven's simple blue.
    Alas, for lips past joy of wine,
      That find no blessing in God's dew!
    From dawning summits crystalline
    Thou lookest down; thou makest sign
    Toward this bleak vale I wander through.
    I cannot answer; that pure shrine
    Of childhood, though my love be true,
    Is hidden from my dim confine:
    I must not hope for clearer view.
    The sky, the earth, the wrinkled brine
    Would wear to me a fresher hue,
    And all once more be half-divine,
    Could I answer love like thine."

The spiritual subtlety of such a mood certainly is beyond the mediæval
poets, yet we find pleasant proofs of sensibility to the tender,
unselfish nature of a loving child. Nowhere in such detail, perhaps, as
in the most familiar of Middle High German poems, the _Poor Henry_, of
Hartmann von Aue. The story is known in Longfellow's _Golden Legend_.
This is not the place to discuss that poem, which contains some charming
passages. The poet's treatment may be far from satisfactory, yet when he
calls his original the most beautiful of mediæval legends, he certainly
shows a more satisfactory side of extreme estimate than does Goethe, in
his curious fling at the poem (which we may notice he read in a
modernized form). He says it gave him a "physico-æsthetic pain," and
adds that the notion of a fine girl sacrificing herself for a leper,
affected him so that he felt himself poisoned by the book. This judgment
was pronounced in Goethe's later life, and is consistent with his
habitual want of sympathy with mediæval romantic literature. It shows,
moreover, a lack of historical adjustment, for the dreadful disease was
so common in the twelfth century that its repulsiveness was blurred for
Hartmann; yet he mentions it with the greatest reserve, though a
description of its appearance could hardly be more painful than the
famous conclusion of the _De Rerum Natura_. We are reminded of Goethe's
visit to Assisi, interesting to him only as the situation of some
remains of classical architecture.[10]

Hartmann von Aue ranks below his two great companions in German
narrative poetry, for he is more of a translator than either Gottfried
or Wolfram. His distinction is in his style; he has a very agreeable way
of telling a story, and there is a quiet charm about his diction. "How
clear and pure his crystal words are and always must be," is Gottfried's
tribute. We come to feel a personal liking for him, through his
unaffected interest in his characters, his unassuming ways and the tact
by which he lightens or deepens his accentuation. We feel that he was a
gentleman, and we do not wonder at the kind regard in which all his
fellow poets held him. We like his refined moral seriousness and that
calm temperament of which he speaks in _Gregorius_. The original for the
_Arme Heinrich_ is lost, but though his introduction claims for himself
no merit beyond a careful selection out of the many books that he takes
pains to tell us he was learned enough to read for himself, we are
probably justified in feeling that he took his heart into partnership
when he made the version, receiving from it touches that he did not find
in the earlier treatment. To appreciate the poem we have to put
ourselves into harmony with the wonder-loving, credulous, and mystically
religious world of seven hundred years ago. Hartmann's simple
earnestness and unobtrusive tenderness and piety constitute an ideal
manner for the legend, and that ease of his soul which he hoped would
come through the prayers of those who read the poem after his death, is
perhaps equally well secured if he knows how some of his verses touch
the sophisticated sense of to-day. He said that he was actuated in
writing by the desire to soften hard hours in a way that would be to the
honor of God, and by which he might make himself dear to others. He has
succeeded. It is to the honor of God, and it wins the affection of
others, when a poet leads his readers to a little well of pure unselfish
love, hedged about by a child's religious faith.

The hero of the legend is a gentleman of position and feudal
possessions, whose free and generous career is cut short by an incurable
leprosy. It is in vain that he consults masters at Montpelier and
Salerno, the famous seats of medicine; and the honor and affection in
which a genial life had established him among his friends cannot save
him from becoming a social outcast. He disposes of his wealth between
the poor and the church, and retires to a fief whose tenant is willing
to receive his suzerain as a guest. Here, on a little estate, away from
all contact with the world, the gay lord resigns himself to the
companionship of the farmer and his wife, whose gratitude for his
kindness in the past distinguishes them among the multitude to whom his
amiable disposition had made him a benefactor and friend. There were
children in the family, the eldest a girl eight years old, when Henry
came. It was because their hearts were loyal that her parents were kind,
but she kept close by him because she loved to be there. She was always
to be found at his feet, and his affectionate nature liked her
companionship. He bought her a hand mirror, a riband for her hair, a
belt and finger ring, and whatever children care for. These gifts
attached her to him, yet the main secret of her love was the sweet
spirit that God had given her. After three years, as the family were
sitting together one day with their high-born guest, the farmer asked
him why it was that he had given himself up so hopelessly to his
disease, and Henry laid aside his reserve, and told for the first time
about his visit to the great physician at Salerno. The only remedy was
an impossible one. He might indeed be healed, but not unless a virgin
made a voluntary offering of her life. Alas, God was his only physician.

The little girl, who was so inseparable a companion that he jestingly
called her his bride, listened as she was holding her sick lord's feet
in her lap. She could not get it out of her head (the old German idiom
is better, "out of her heart") the rest of the day, and when at night
she lay in her usual place at her father's and mother's feet, she felt
so sorry for her dear lord that she cried, and the warm tears fell on
her parents' feet, and woke them. When they asked her what was the
matter, she said that she thought they ought to be sorry, too; for what
would happen to them all if their lord should die? Some one else would
own the farm, and no one could ever be as kind to them as he had been.
They told her that was all true, but it could do no good to lament.
"Dear child, do not grieve. We feel as badly as you do, but alas, we
cannot help him." So they hushed her, but all the night and the next day
she continued to be unhappy, and whatever else she was doing, she kept
thinking of this. When she went to bed, she cried again, till finally
she resolved to herself that if she lived till morning she would surely
give her life for her lord. Straightway from that thought, she became
light-hearted and happy, and felt free of all her cares, until it
occurred to her that perhaps Henry and her parents would not permit her
to make the sacrifice; whereupon the poor little girl burst out crying
again, and wakened her parents, as she had done the night before. It was
only with difficulty that they drew from her this simple speech: "My
lord might get well in the way that he told us, and if you will only let
me, I am what he needs for being cured. I am a maid, and rather than see
him pass away, I will die for him." A long dialogue follows, in which
the parents remonstrate with the daughter, who replies in a strain of
spiritual elation. She appeals not only to her parents' worldly
dependence on their master's goodness, but also to their desire for her
own highest welfare. How much better for her to pass to eternal life in
unstained childhood, only anticipating the death that must come some
time, no less unwelcome late than soon. Her parents ceased to
remonstrate, for they felt that the Holy Ghost was speaking through her,
as they listened to the visionary cry. Instead of taking, two or three
years hence, some neighbor for her husband, she will choose

     "the Franklin, who is wooing me to a home where the plough
     runs easily, where there is all abundance, where horses and
     cattle never are lost, where no wailing children suffer,
     where it is neither too warm nor too cold, where the old will
     grow young, where is nor frost nor hunger, no kind of pain,
     but all joy without toil; thither will I haste me, and
     forsake a farm whose tillage, fire, hail, and flood destroy,
     so that one half-day ruins the labor of a year. Then let me
     go to our Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace is sure, and who
     loves me, poor as I am, like a queen."

Unlike our modern analysts of character, Hartmann does not stop to
comment on the art of his delineation, and it is possible to miss the
tact with which he keeps his heroine's renunciation consistent with a
child's nature. Hartmann is not treating this character inartistically,
as a mere instrument for religious culture. Earnest speech of a
thoughtful parish priest; or phrases caught from the conversation of her
lord touched by his sorrows, with the age's feeling _de contemptu
mundi_, might have supplied her with some sentiments that seem beyond a
child's invention, and children's emotions are sometimes precocious,
especially in what seems a morbid religious development.

Those are the years of faith, credulous belief that burns with the white
light of knowledge; a child's faith is a man's superstition. The peasant
maid's imagination sees heaven and salvation a fact so infinitely
desirable, that all dread of death was eliminated from the path of her
love. The joyousness of her sacrifice, too, instead of being a romantic
exaggeration, is far truer to life than a willingness touched with pain
and hesitation could have been. In a noble dread, austerely controlled,
lies Calvary's dignity and pathos. But her gratitude and impetuous love
for what seems to her simple mind a superior and infinitely deserving
object, reached that finest pitch of selfishness, where self-sacrifice
becomes the demand of impulsive egotism. To an enthusiastic temperament
love's passionate altruism may be consummate self-will. As the little
maid came away from her deliverance, though she was happy in her lord's
restoration, she was less happy than as she went.

For she did not have to die. In the tyranny of undeniable love, she
broke down the opposition of her parents, and although Henry indeed
hesitated, she pleaded so anxiously and drew such an eloquent sketch of
the advantage and gladness death would be to her, and the value of his
life compared with hers, that at last, genial and affectionate as he
was, the temptation to live by the sacrifice of a mere child's life (and
the feudal sense of possession ought not to be overlooked) was too
strong to be resisted. Compare the scene with the one in _Philaster_,
where Bellario wishes to offer herself for the man whom she loves with a
hopeless earthly sentiment:

               "'Tis not a life,
    'Tis but a piece of childhood thrown away."

For her, continuance of life is only "a game that must be lost." But for
the nameless German girl there is no pathos in living, beyond the
thought of her master's death, and her sentiment was as childlike as
when it began, while she was only eight years old. Her love is a flame
that burns impatiently away from the taper that feeds it; for her
generous passion is after all a beautiful devoted wilfulness. When her
parents wept to lose her, and her lord wept at his own weak hesitation,
she wept above them all and her tears won the day. She rode with Henry
to Salerno, and was unhappy only because the journey was so long. The
great physician took her hand, and led her alone into a barred and
bolted room. Then he tried to frighten her and induce her to retract
her consent, but she only laughed until she became afraid that he would
not do his part, whereupon she broke out into an indignant scorn for his
unmanly weakness. When he bade her undress, she did so without a blush;
he bound her to his table, and took up his knife. He wished to render
death easy (so he told himself), and taking a whetstone to make the
knife sharper, he slowly whetted it--only as a pretext for delaying. The
gentleman outside found himself restless. He listened, then he tried to
look in and at last through a crevice in the wall he saw that "little
bride" who had been his main companion and comfort during those three
wretched years. By a fine touch of nature, the poet makes the sight of
her perfect loveliness as she lay waiting for her celestial bridal, the
force that broke the selfish charm which had enchained his manliness. He
beat on the door, he called, and when no response came, he burst his way
in. "The child is too lovely to die. For myself, God's will be done."

It was now that her trial came, as she wailed and beat wildly at her
body, to force on him the life he was unwilling to take. She talked
bitterly and peevishly, as if she had been cheated of heaven through his
cruelty. But it was in vain, he dressed her again in the rich garments
which he had procured for the sacrificial journey, and they set out on
their return to their distant home, the sobbing girl and the leper. But
as they rode along, the divine might that seemed so near to mediæval
faith was their companion, and touching the incurable disease, fulfilled
love's miracle. Henry took their daughter back to the peasants, and gave
her rich gifts, while he presented them with the land which they had
farmed, and all its serfs and chattels. Then he went back to his
estates, and to the welcome that the world was waiting to give him. By
and by, when his people insisted that he should marry, he called an
old-time conference about whom he should choose. There were numerous
suggestions, but the advisers did not agree. He listened, and then
telling them that unless they would approve his own choice, he should
never marry, he stepped to the side of "the dear little wife" who had
loved him as a leper.

The romance of _Fleur et Blanchefleur_, which goes back, though not in
its present form, to the twelfth century, enjoyed such popularity that
it was translated into almost every European tongue. Indeed, in some
languages it is found in more than one version. The story tells of a
Saracen prince, whose royal father interrupts the smooth course of his
true love for a Christian girl. She was the daughter of a captive lady
in the palace of the Queen, and the royal boy and the bond girl had been
born on the same day. From his birth, the mother of Blanchefleur became
Fleur's nurse; the pagan law required that he must be suckled by a
heathen, but in all other ways the infants were treated like twins. They
slept in one cradle, and when they could eat and drink they were given
the same food. Thus they grew up together, until they were five years
old, when the King, seeing his child as fine and promising a boy as
could be found in any land, decided that it was time for him to begin
his education. He selected a master, but Fleur, when he was bidden to
study, burst into tears and cried, "Sire, what will Blanchefleur do? Who
will teach her? I never can learn without her." The King answered that
since he loved her so, Blanchefleur should go with him to school.

     "So they went and came together, and the joy of their love
     was still uninterrupted. It was a wonder to see how each of
     the two studied for each; neither learned anything without
     straightway telling the other. At nature's earliest, all
     their concern was love; they were quick in learning and well
     they remembered. Pagan books that spake of love they read
     together with delight; these hastened them along in the
     understanding and joy of love. On their way home from school,
     they would put their arms about each other, and kiss. In the
     King's garden, bright with all plants and flowers of various
     hues, they went to play every morning, and to eat their
     dinner; and after they had eaten, they listened to the birds
     singing in the trees above them, and then they went their way
     back to school, and a happy walk they found it. When they
     were again at school they took their ivory tablets, and you
     might have seen them writing letters and verses of love, in
     the wax. Deftly with their gold and silver styles they made
     letters and greeting of love, of the songs of birds and of
     flowers. This was all they cared for. In five years and
     fifteen days, they both had learned to write neatly on
     parchment, and to talk in Latin so well that no one could

When we follow the poem along, we find in the different versions many
familiar romance expedients, conventional incidents of the pathetic,
exciting, and marvellous, but the charm is in the unwavering love of
these twins, who from the hour of birth breathed together, even in their
sleep, yet no kin to each other, and blending brotherhood and sisterhood
with the other love of man and woman in perfection, since for neither
they knew the beginning. In this way the mediæval romance is even more
ideal than Beaumont's _Triumph of Love_, where Gerard and Violante
passed from the sentiment of childhood "as innocently as the first
lovers ere they fell."

"Gerard's and my affection began," the heroine tells Ferdinand,

    "In infancy: my uncle brought him oft
    In long clothes hither; you were such another.
    The little boy would kiss me, being a child,
    And say he loved me: give me all his toys,
    Bracelets, rings, sweetmeats, all his rosy smiles;
    I then would stand and stare upon his eyes,
    Play with his locks, and swear I loved him too.
    For sure, methought he was a little Love,
    He wooed so prettily in innocence
    That then he warmed my fancy; for I felt
    A glimmering beam of love kindle my blood
    Both which time since hath made a flame and flood."

In the early stages of Fleur's love-trials his parents attempted to
persuade him that Blanchefleur was dead, and to give confirmation to
their assertions they caused a superb tomb to be constructed, in a style
that is of considerable interest in the study of literary origins from
its obviously Oriental tone. Without delaying for its rich and curious
Eastern details, we may yet notice the sentiment in the figures of the
boy and girl that were placed upon it. "Never were seen images of fairer
children, or more like to the lovers. The image of Blanchefleur holds a
flower before Fleur, before her lover holds the fair one a rose of fine
bright gold; and before her, Fleur holds a blanched golden fleur-de-lis.
Close by each other they sit, a sweet look on their faces." A mechanical
device is so contrived that when the wind blew and touched the children
they embraced and kissed, and by necromancy they spoke to each other as
in their childhood, and thus said Fleur to Blanchefleur: "Kiss me,
sweet," and kissing him, she replied: "I love you more than all the

The story of Fleur and Blanchefleur was so popular that they became
identified with the characters of another romance, and were sung of as
the parents of Berte-as-graus-pies, the heroine of an attractive
legend, and the mythical mother of Charlemagne. In the poem that relates
her misfortunes after she has been sent from Hungary to France as the
wife of Pepin, we find a suggestion of the depth of sentiment that was
always associated with her legendary parents. She has been in France
almost nine years without their having heard from her, and Blanchefleur
determines to undertake a journey to see her child again before she
dies. The King, without opposing her desire, expresses a half
remonstrance that we may add to the other proofs in mediæval poetry,
that true love in our modern sense was familiar throughout those eras:
"Oh, my lady, how shall we be able to live so long without each other?"
Let us believe that in the Utopia where these lovers who loved from
their birth resided, they found, after their own sharp trials and the
trials of their daughter were safely over, a serene old age, out of
which they passed unconsciously some night, sleeping themselves away in
each other's arms.

This love between boy and girl was attractive to the old narrative
poets. The greatest of them all touched the soul of young romance when
he said of Sigune and Schionatulander, "Alas, they are still too young
for such pain, yet 'tis the love of youth which lasts." Wolfram gives us
pretty touches of childhood as far back as the nursery; like that of a
mother and her ladies playing over the new-born baby, or of children
learning to stand by taking hold of chairs, and creeping over the floor
to reach them, or of Sigune's care to take her box of dolls with her
when she went away. "Whoever saw this little girl thought her a glimpse
of May among the dewy flowers." As she grew older, too, he describes
her, assuming the airs of a young lady. "When her breasts were rounding
and her light wavy hair began to turn dark, she grew more proud and
dignified, though always keeping her womanlike sweetness." The story of
her love with Schionatulander has delightful stanzas; their long
love-pleading dialogue is much truer than most of the minnesingers' work
in its restraint and in the girl's coy sweetness. She is an earlier
Dorigen as she watches for the beloved who does not come, wasting many
an evening at the window gazing over the fields, or climbing to the
housetop to look. But what distinguishes the author of the _Titurel_
above his fellow-poets is his sentiment for something more than romance.
Children are dear to him, and the wife is dearer. His idea of love
consists no more in Dante's platonic mysticism than in passion and
inconstancy. Without transcendentalism its dominant tone is spiritual.
Compare an earlier lover's cry in the loveliest of French romances:
"What is there in heaven for me? I will never go there without
Nicolette, my sweet darling, whom I love so much. It is to hell that
fine gentlemen go and pretty, well-bred ladies who love." Compare that
Parisian type of feeling with this of Wolfram: "Love between man and
woman has its house on earth, and its pure guidance leads us to God and
heaven. This love is everywhere save in hell!" To such a poet we
naturally turn for the deepest mediæval note in the treatment of
childhood, and we do not listen in vain.

"What a difference there is between women," Wolfram exclaims. It seems
to him the way of modern womanhood to be disloyal, worldly, selfish,
like men: but in the days of which he writes in his chief poem there was
a lady Herzeloide, to whom after her husband's death in the wars, the
sun was a cloud, the world's joy lost, night and day alike, who for
heavenly riches chose earthly poverty, and leaving her estates went with
her retainers far into the unreclaimed forest to bring up her infant
safe from the strife and wiles of men. This only heritage of her lost
lord was the boy Parzival. She trusted that by hiding him away from all
knowledge of the world, she might always keep him her own. She exacted
an oath from her servants that they would never let him hear of knights
and knighthood, and while they cleared farming land in the heart of the
woods, she cared for the child. It was a desolate place, but she was not
looking for meadows and flowers; she gave no thought to wreaths, whether
red or yellow.[11]

The child grew into boyhood, and was indulged in making bows and arrows.
As he played in the woods, he shot some of the birds. But after he saw
them dead, he remembered how they had sung, and he cried. Every morning
he went to a stream to bathe. There was nothing to trouble him, except
the singing of the birds over his head: but that was so sweet that his
breast grew strained with feeling; and he ran to his mother in tears.
She asked what ailed him, but "like children even now it may be," he
could not tell her. But she kept the riddle in her heart, and one day
she found him gazing up at the trees listening to the birds, and she saw
how his breast heaved as they sang. It seemed to her that she hated
them, she did not know why. She wanted to stop their singing, and bade
her farm hands snare and kill them. But the birds were too quick; most
of them remained and kept on singing. The boy asked his mother what harm
the birds did, and if the war upon them might not cease. She kissed his

     "Why am I opposing highest God? Shall the birds lose their
     happiness because of me?"

     "Nay, mother, what is God?"

     "My son, He is brighter than the day; He took upon himself
     the likeness of man. When trouble comes upon thee, pray to
     him: his faithfulness upholds the world. The Devil is
     darkness; turn thy thoughts from him, and from unbelief."

This passage is Wolfram's invention; the brilliant Gallic poet whose
romance he followed could not have contrived it. This sympathy with
nature belongs to our later era; it seems less strange to meet it in
Keats, when the boy Apollo wanders out alone in the morning twilight:

    "The nightingale had ceased, and a few stars
    Were lingering in the heavens, while the thrush
    Began calm-throated. Throughout all the isle
    There was no covert, no retired cave
    Unhaunted by the murmurous noise of waves.
    Though scarcely heard in many a green recess,
    He listened and he wept, and his bright tears
    Went trickling down the golden bow he held."

One recalls nothing in the two centuries which Wolfram touches that
equals this picture of the mother watching her child's baptism with the
sad and precious gift of soul, as he stands gazing upward in his forest
trance, or listening to his dawning perplexities, or teaching him his
first religious lesson, or jealous of the birds, because his dreamy love
for them dimly warned her of a mysterious growing soul that would not
remain within her simple call. Those lines in the _Princess_ of the
faith in womankind and the trust in all things high, that come easy to
the son of a good mother, certainly are appropriate to Parzival, whose
faith held true and simple through his whole career as the foremost
knight of chivalric legend, living for a spiritual ideal, unseduced by
beauty and the ways of courts from loyalty to his first wedlock:

     "True to the kindred points of heaven and home."

The description of Parzival's meeting with the knights, his mistaking
them in their bright armor for angels, and his eagerness to make his way
to Arthur's court are narrated by Chrestien with his own excellent
vivacity, and here Wolfram only follows.

The Welsh version of the story in the _Mabinogi_ of Peredur, though
disappointing, contains a naïve sketch of the boy's rustic attempt to
imitate the knight's trappings. But for the full tenderness of his
mother's parting as he goes out from home to the fierce world we must
turn again to the German.[12]

She kisses him, and as he rides away "runs a few steps after him" till
he has galloped out of sight and then she closes forever the eyes whose
light of motherhood shone like a star above the sea, over those
tumultuous years.

All through these centuries there are poems to the Virgin, especially
in Latin, which manifest similar sensibility to infancy and motherhood.
One of the most pleasing belongs to England, and is written in the
commixture of Latin and the modern tongue, which occasionally produces
quaintly pretty effects. The glorified Christ summons his mother, by the
memory of their kisses when she calmed him in sweet song, to come and be
crowned. "Pulcra ut luna"--lovely as moonlight--"veni coronaberis."

But perhaps the most delicate of all such sketches comes from an
unexpected source. A young lawyer in the town of Todi, whose early life
had combined pleasure with sufficient study to gain the doctorate, was
turned aside from a prosperous public career by the tragical loss of his
bride. Matthew Arnold has given a symbolism to the story of her death in
the sonnet beginning:

    "That son of Italy who tried to blow
     'Ere Dante came, the trump of sacred song."

The sorrow struck deep, even to the point of partial mania; the gay
young man forsook the world and devoted years to seclusion and religious
culture. Later in 1278, he entered the order of the Minorites, and ranks
as one of their delirious enthusiasts, a mystic poet, a reckless
satirist of evils in high places. His fanatic asceticism made him glory
in bodily torments and the world's scorn. The nickname, Jacapone, he
carried proudly, and even the harshness of Boniface VIII. could not
quell his zest for martyrdom. We should scarcely look to him for
sympathy with the sweet gaieties of the nursery, yet this little sketch
of the Virgin's life with Christ, the child, came from the same hand
that wrote the sorrows of the _Stabat Mater_.

    Ah sweet, how sweet, the love within thy heart,
    When on thy breast the nursing infant lay:
    What gentle actions, sweetly loving play,
    Thine, with thy holy child apart.
    When for a little while he sometimes slept,
    Thou eager to awake thy paradise,
    Soft, soft, so that he could not hear thee, crept,
    And laidest thy lips close to his eyes,
    Then, with the smile maternal calling, "Nay,
    'Twere naughty to sleep longer, wake, I say!"

The almost incoherent repetition of the word "Love," in one of his
poems, is suggestive of the man; despair for human love led to his
half-crazed absorption in the divine. Very sweetly sounds this sacred
meditation's echo of his recollection of the nights of his own
childhood, of which he has told, when his mother, as she waked, would
make a light and come and lean over his bed, till sometimes his eyes
would open to see her watching him there. His father did not spare the
rod for the careless boy, nor in later years did the father of his soul;
but the divine motherhood of memory and of present faith bent with
yearning eyes, we may be sure, over his anxious sleep in prison or in
the ascetic cell.

But it was only the greatest of all these poets who could leave us the
lovely image of the new-born soul that comes forth in its simplicity
from the hand that loves it before its birth, playing like a young girl
who weeps and smiles. Yet Dante's principal sensation about childhood is
its helplessness, and the mother's eyes, which throw its aureole about
infancy, do not seem to have held their tenderest meaning for him. He
would never have gone beyond the original ten lines of

    "She was a phantom of delight."

But he gives beauty to the child's frightened eyes when they meet its
mother's, and certainly the vision, whether real or imagined, toward the
close of the _Vita Nuova_ will please forever. This straying love is
recalled to its old faithfulness by "the strong imagination" of a little
figure that is habited in red, just as it had appeared to him when,
perhaps in Folco's Florentine garden, the boy not quite nine fell in
love with the girl of eight.

Perhaps Boccaccio's story of the falcon is too familiar to quote, though
it illustrates domestic love too well to be unmentioned. One hardly can
choose the best of its touches--the bright account of the boy running
over the fields with his mother's old-time lover, as he hawked, always
eying with a boy's eagerness for ownership the famous falcon, the only
remnant of Frederick's gay and wealthy life, which he had lost for the
unsuccessful love; or the picture of the mother again and again begging
the child, as he lay ill, to tell her something which he desired, so
that she might obtain it for him; until his feverish imagination
persuaded him that to have the wonderful falcon would make him well
again; or our thought of the impoverished gentleman, whose devotion had
lasted under the years of exile on his little farm, his hope departed,
who when suddenly visited by his widowed love, and finding nothing in
the larder, nor money, nor even anything valuable enough for a pledge to
secure some entertainment for her, desperately wrung the neck of his
precious bird; or the delicate hesitation and awkwardness of the lady
when she came to explain her errand, and the struggle, before love for
her child bent both pride and pity; or the lover's broken heart when he
found that his excess of devotion had cost him his only opportunity of
pleasing her. The whole may be read in a little play of Tennyson's later
years, or among the _Tales of a Wayside Inn_; but it is much better to
read it in the narrative of the Certaldesian. Tuscany has sent us down
no tenderer story.



[10] I will not quote Goethe's famous disparagement of the _Divina
Commedia_, for the context indicates that it was uttered petulantly.
Still, he certainly did not care for Dante, or appreciate him, though he
recognized his eminence.

[11] It may be worth noting that Wolfram substitutes for the French
original's usual conventionality of a pretty watered meadow, this harder
and more appropriate setting.

[12] Tennyson might suitably enough have had the marriage of Parzival
and Condiuiramur in mind when writing the Prince's aspiration. "Then
reign the world's great bridals chaste and calm." Such passages in
Wolfram's poem as Book iv. from line 666 and Book v. 676-682 may be
commended to the critics who see nothing in mediæval love that is pure
or faithful in the modern sense of marriage.



When Heloise was born, just after the twelfth century opened, Abelard,
through whom she was to experience the deepest ecstacies and the most
poignant distress, and by whose union with her life she was to become
the most famous mediæval woman, was a young man of twenty-two. He came
of a rather high-bred family in Brittany; his father, though an active
soldier, was interested in letters and took pains to have his children
instructed in the ornaments as well as the defence of life. This eldest
son, so attracted by his early lessons that he determined to sacrifice
his rights of primogeniture, and to renounce the distinction of a
knightly career for the life of study, while yet a youth started out as
a student-tramp, one of a multitude who wandered from town to town to
hear lectures on the seven topics that made up the educational
curriculum of the age. Through this entire epoch, for generation after
generation, this practice of student vagrancy continued: now the
intellectual centre was England, now France, now Germany; sometimes two
or three teachers would draw crowds to the exclusion of all other
schools, sometimes the numbers would divide up among scores of masters.
Poor, rich, coarse, refined, hard-working, indolent, quick-witted,
stupid, scholars, impostors,--these student crowds were an extraordinary
medley. To realize the irregularity and the strangeness of their lives
we have to read such a story as Freytag quotes[14] from Thomas Platter,
a wandering scholar of the fifteenth century. Such German students were
perhaps of a lower grade than the young men who travelled through France
three hundred years before, and the standard of scholarship may have
been inferior, but their general experiences must have been similar, and
most of Abelard's companions no doubt were mentally crude, arrogant,
superstitious; many dissipated and even brutal. Yet some were touched by
the love of truth, and had vigorous minds, well trained by application.
The majority of these better men were of course hedged in by the
palisades of Catholic tradition, and sought knowledge from the past,
rather than from independent present thought: but there were some whose
ideas were bolder, and who kept proposing questions which their teachers
did not answer.

The deferential attention with which Roscellinus and William of
Champeaux were listened to, was broken in upon when the handsome youth
Abelard appeared at the schools of these leaders of European thought.
The strength of each was in dialectics, the topic which then held
intellectual interest to the practical disregard of almost every other
subject except the theology into which it played, and they took opposite
sides on the absorbing problem of general terms. In the school of each,
Abelard rose as a disputant; he challenged his teacher to argue with him
as an equal until he triumphed in turn over the extreme Nominalist and
the extreme Realist. Then he set up schools of his own, which he moved
from place to place, as the intolerant hostility of his vanquished
chiefs and their upholders required. His reputation steadily rose, and
he drew the largest and most enthusiastic following, for the keenest
young thought of the generation recognized in him its natural leader.

All independence and liberality of mind must be estimated relatively to
the age concerned. From our outlook Abelard seems a narrow and
constrained thinker, but to the churchman of the opening of the twelfth
century he was a rationalist, a daring explorer into the sacred
mysteries that must be accepted by the sealed eye of Faith. How absurd,
he exclaims, to teach what you cannot give reasons for believing. So he
tried to make belief a matter for intellectual comprehension; he argued
where others asserted, and made bold to modify current opinions which
his ingenuity, often childishly simple, could not explain. He had a
noble grasp upon some conceptions far beyond the reach of his
antagonists. He independently developed the ethical doctrine that the
value of conduct is in motive, not in act; he taught that the main worth
of the incarnation was to present the model of a perfect life; that the
man Christ Jesus was not a member of the Trinity; that the love of God
is as freely bestowed on sinner as on saint; that God could not prevent
evil, or he would have done so. For the sufferings that he endured in
teaching his pupils to use not credulity but unflinching independent
thought in their reflections even on theology, he deserves our grateful

When Abelard was thirty-eight years old he was at the height of his
reputation. Technical and abstruse as his intellectual interests were,
he appears to have been anything but a dry-as-dust. Though as a logician
he had trained himself severely in precision of speech, the hesitating
and half-frozen way of talking that most exact thinkers fall into, he
seems to have escaped. We have a letter written about this time by a
canon named Fulcus, who, dwelling on Abelard's intellectual cleverness,
his power and subtlety of expression, makes special mention of the
sweetness of his eloquence; _limpidissimus philosophiæ fons_, he calls
him, too--philosophy's very clearest fountain. He was not only an easy
and agreeable speaker, he had also the advantages of an attractive
presence; he was a fine-looking man, in the prime of life.

Now for about twenty years he had been a hero of the schools. The
philosophic and theological leaders of the age he had overthrown and
trampled on; the audiences that he had been at the first successful in
drawing had steadily increased. Established in Paris without
controversy, a canon of the church, in the chair of Notre-Dame, the
philosophical throne of France, he lectured to the best pupils of
Europe. Fulcus, in his letter to Abelard, described the geographical
extent of his influence thus:

     "Rome sent her sons to be taught by you, the former teacher
     of all arts confessing herself not so wise as you. No
     distance, no height of mountains, no depth of valleys, no
     road hard to travel or perilous with robbers, hindered
     scholars from hastening to you. The English students were not
     frightened by the tempestuous waves of the sea between; every
     peril was despised as soon as your name was known. The remote
     Britons, the Angevins, the Picts, the Gascons, the Spaniards,
     the people of Normandy and Flanders, the Teutons, and the
     Suevi, all about Paris and through France, near and remote,
     thirsted to be taught by you, as if they could learn nowhere

Such eminence had not come to him without effort. He had been a close
worker, secluding himself from society. "The assiduity of my application
to study," he says, "prevented my associating with refined ladies, and I
had hardly any acquaintance with women outside of the church." The
purity of his morals was only less famous than his intellect; he says
that the notion of associating, as many churchmen of the time did, with
coarse women was odious to him.

But suddenly over this man already middle-aged, and, as one might
suppose, established in self-control mentally and physically, there came
a reaction. Reputation had become an old story, his enthusiasm for
philosophy seemed to dwindle when he believed himself the first
philosopher of the world; no doubt, too, the intellectual pressure of
his work had so worn upon him as to make a change of interests
impulsive. So Abelard turned to divert himself with immoral indulgences,
and at thirty-eight began the life of passion.

Several years before this, a story had begun to circulate that another
canon of Notre-Dame, Fulbert by name, had a remarkable niece. She was
then only a little girl in a nunnery at Argenteuil, but year by year the
accounts of her precocity grew more astonishing, and by the time she was
sixteen we are told that she was talked about through the whole kingdom.
This was Heloise, and her uncle--people did not know whether he was
prouder or fonder of her. He brought her back to his own house near the
cathedral, and Abelard met her to find the reports of her learning had
not been exaggerated, and--something more interesting--to find that she
was not merely a scholar, that she was a genius. The modern accounts of
this famous story that I have seen (most of them mere imitations of one
or two authors who really have taken the trouble to study the originals)
declare that Heloise was uncommonly beautiful, but there seems to be no
authority for this. Abelard says only, "_per faciem non infirma_"--"not
lowest in beauty, but in literary culture highest." Making allowance for
his rhetorical contrast, we may say, without intensives, that she was
attractive as well as brilliant.

We should have to read a good many indecent chronicles, and get
thoroughly familiar with Don Juan prototypes, to find as cold-blooded a
story of seduction as this that follows. We have it from Abelard's own
pen, told in perfectly calm language, a clear-cut narrative without the
slightest tremor of confession about it. He was delighted with her
loveliness, her youth and innocence, her fame, and most of all with her
brilliancy. He says that he believed no woman whom he might honor with
his regard could resist the combination of his personal qualities and
his reputation. But he wished cultivated, congenial companionship in his
amours, and deliberately resolved to betray this girl of sixteen under
the disguise of her teacher. At his own application, Fulbert received
him as a lodger, the board to be paid by private instruction of his
niece. "He gave the lamb to me, a wolf"--such is Abelard's well-chosen
metaphor. She was to be taught at any hours, day or night, that her
tutor found convenient. She was to obey him in everything, and if he
thought fit it was enjoined upon him to discipline her with the rod. "To
such an extent," Abelard remarks, "was he blinded by his trust in his
niece, and by my reputation for strict morality."

Nothing could be more repulsive than the coldly deliberate wickedness of
Abelard's plan, and it would be time thrown away to attempt any
extenuation of it. But the crime once committed, it is a relief to find
something in addition to brute passion present in the unscrupulous
seducer. The girl who had fascinated him, won from him as complete love
as his nature was capable of giving. Week by week he resigned himself
more and more to his happiness, he neglected the school, his lectures
were only the repetition of formerly acquired views, and he wooed
philosophy for no new truths. Even the perfunctory teaching that he did
grew irksome to him, and his knowledge of the great sadness, groans, and
lamentations that he tells arose among his followers, was powerless to
break the spell. For it was only a spell: he was pre-eminently an
intellectual man with superficial affections; his heart was given to
philosophy, and the only permanent passion of his life was ambition. But
little as the praise is, to that little extent it is to his credit that
where he had planned for himself a holiday from mental and moral
severity, in which he was to enjoy relaxation selfishly and viciously at
Heloise's undivided cost, he found his better nature captured by this
loveliest representative of womanhood in its fullest and most
exceptional combination of elements that mediæval history has made known
to us. After all, Abelard was not wholly destitute of the moral
sensibilities: I believe no narrator of this story has called attention
to his love for his old home in Brittany, or to his family's devotion to
him and reliance on his guidance, or to the tenderness with which he
mentions his mother. In spite of all the viciousness in his early and
the hardness in his later treatment of Heloise, we may credit him with
real affection for her, from the early days of his crime.

For a man of Abelard's force and finish of mind, such a refined
companionship must have been the first of pleasures. There are
traditions, not to be accepted too credulously, that Heloise was a
larger scholar than her lover, and could read Hebrew and Greek--those
rarest accomplishments of mediæval learning. That at least she knew
Latin literature well, we have abundant evidence, and the most positive
proof that her scholarship was refined and appreciative, that she felt
poetry as well as understood it. Her mind responded also to the
theological interests of the thinkers of the age, she was at home in the
church fathers, and learned from Abelard the main principles of his
philosophical doctrine. In trying to conceive a character when
information is so fragmentary as ours here, we are no doubt in some
danger of making fanciful biography. Three letters of her own, several
of Abelard's to her, and his autobiography, a few slight contemporary
hints--these materials leave some important points of her character
undeveloped. But given certain suggestions, our imaginative instincts
cannot go far wrong, provided the inferences of sympathetic
interpretation are held in check by judgment. These guides teach us to
see in the girl Heloise an extraordinary combination of thoughtfulness
and bright temper, active thinking and religious deference, accurate
scholarship (after the fashion of mediæval schools) and æsthetic
sensibility, passion and maidenly delicacy. To this last quality Abelard
has borne complete testimony, and her own letters supply any evidence
needed. Absorbed though her whole nature was in her love, her lover
himself has let us know that her modesty had to be conquered more than
once by blows.

Her mind was mastered by the greatness of his reputation, her eye was
taken with his beauty, her imagination was fascinated by his universal
charm: it is no wonder that she was flattered and bewitched into loving
him. But the completeness and devotion and ecstatic self-oblivion of the
love she gave him is a wonder. Her generous faith, though to an
undeserving object, communicates to the ineffective results of her life
an ideal value; by a supreme self-forgetting, she rendered herself
worthy to be always remembered.

Abelard's was a stormy life in a stormy age, when the scholars fought
quite as bitterly as the soldiers, and the last forty-four years of
Heloise's life were the tragedy of being buried alive, unable to die.
But for a few months in this year 1118, both found perfect happiness. We
have a pretty picture outlined for us of the way their time went.
Abelard says: "We used to have our books open, but we talked more of
love than about the reading, there were more kisses than ideas. Love
made pictures of each of us in the other's eyes more often than we
turned our eyes upon the books."

Every now and then this great philosopher appeared in a new rôle. As to
most of the highest men, Nature had given him a great deal more than
brains. He had a wonderfully fine voice, was fond of music, and as poets
in those days went, he was a poet. He had stopped constructing
dialectics, but his mind could not be inactive; so he took up the art of
song-writing and song-making, and wrote love-lyrics and many of them,
almost all directly in the praise of Heloise. Nor was he content to
praise her to her own ears alone; the man was past all prudence in the
violence of his new absorption. He let others hear them, and no doubt
his hateful egotism was flattered by the thought that the most
fascinating girl in all France would thus become known as his mistress.
The lyrics at once caught the popular fancy; we hear of them as
spreading over the country, sung everywhere by the light-minded. Many
years later, Heloise wrote that if any woman's heart could have resisted
Abelard's other magic, to read his songs and to hear him sing them would
surely have conquered her.

The neglect of his work, and the notoriety of these love-ditties after a
while made public Abelard's real relation to his pupil. Yet for some
time after the world at large understood it, the devoted uncle and
guardian of the girl heard nothing, and after the rumors did begin to
reach him, he obstinately refused to believe them. Nothing in the whole
history shows the essential goodness of Heloise more significantly than
the canon Fulbert's complete incredulity; for as the event proved, his
nature was not so gentle as to repudiate harsh thoughts without the
strongest prepossessions. When the truth was forced upon him, his
distress was so intense that even the cold-hearted Abelard was compelled
to pity him. But if Abelard pitied the uncle, how much greater his
distress for the niece, and greater still, unfortunately, his
apprehension for himself. Egotist he proved himself, but he proved
himself also Heloise's real lover. "First we lived together in one
house," he says, "but at last in one soul." In the crash of public
disgrace, "neither of us complained of personal suffering, but each for
the suffering that came to the other," and the bodily separation that
ensued, he says with a touch of real feeling, was "the greatest linking
of our souls."

Soon after the separation, Abelard discovered that Heloise required more
care and comforts than the heart-broken and embittered Fulbert would be
likely to provide, and he devised and carried through a plan to take
her back to his own country, to his sister's house. There, amid the
scenes of her lover's boyhood, in that Brittany whose legend and poetry
have blessed us with so many of our loveliest romances, this heroine of
a deeper romance than any of fiction found a home for several months. We
may guess that the home was pleasant to her, for the lady with whom she
lived afterwards entered the abbey of which Heloise was prioress.
Abelard meanwhile was continuing his lectures in Paris, fearing--he
seems to have been at all times a great deal of a coward--the personal
violence from Heloise's family which the fierce habits of the age gave
him reason to anticipate. At last the distress of Fulbert touched his
better feeling into the wish to give him comfort, this long separation
from Heloise he found hard to support, and his fear of revenge
constantly increased. These motives induced a promise to rectify his
offence by marriage. He made only one condition--that the marriage
should be secret.

On the whole, this is perhaps the most favorable exhibition of himself
that Abelard ever made. With all deductions for selfish considerations,
it is reasonable to allow some weight to moral feeling, and a good deal
more to devotion for the girl. This renders it all the sadder to find
him some sixteen years later referring to this best act of his life with
a feeble apology. "Let no one," he entreats, "wonder at my offer of
marriage, who has felt the power of love, and known how the greatest men
have been overthrown by woman."

Even here when his feeling for Heloise seems strongest, we see that his
selfish ambition was stronger still. Secular as his tastes were, bound
to the church by his intellectual side only, he still hoped to rise to
ecclesiastical dignities and power. From very early times the
disposition for a celibate clergy had been strong, and five years before
Abelard's birth Hildebrand had declared that no married priest should
have any part in the celebration of the mass. Quite apart from all
questions of marriage, Abelard seems to have had scarcely any chance of
distinguished clerical dignity; the student crowds might follow him, but
the leaders of the church were dead set against his rationalism; they
feared and hated the arrogant and progressive thinker. If Abelard had
acted like a man, and had openly chosen married love with the girl whose
mind and heart were, either of them, better than the best of life's
other gifts, the misfortunes of his distressed later career might have
been avoided, and Heloise, after a happy and lovely life, would be no
more remembered to-day than the flowers she had gathered, or the birds
she heard sing. But because the man, not quite unprincipled, was yet not
true, he brought death upon his own good name, and upon Heloise a
melancholy life with which she paid too dear for all the remembrance and
love that the ages have given her. To his selfishness we owe the
sweetest and saddest story which the middle ages have bequeathed us; but
we think of the words of Demodocus, as he recites in the Odyssey the
story of heroes dead: "This the gods contrived, and for these they
ordained destruction, so that the people of times to come might have a

His mind once made up, Abelard started for Brittany, to see the son of
whose birth he had just heard, and to take back the mother as his bride.
But when this resolution was known to Heloise, he met an unexpected
opposition. She said she did not wish him to marry her, and persisted in
her refusal.

Unwomanly does it appear, this unwillingness of Heloise to become her
lover's wife? She knew Abelard's vehement ambition, the impossibility of
its being satisfied if he was known to be a married man, the practical
certainty that her family would prefer the redemption of her reputation
to her husband's success. So she told Abelard that to marry her would be
dangerous to him,--but still more, that it would be disgraceful. She
talked to him in the rôle of a learned and ascetic mediæval preacher;
she seems to draw a monk's rough robe about her girlish figure, to
disguise her tones, and to muffle her bright face in a cowl. We have
long, formally rendered objections, a crowd of citations from the Bible,
Cicero, Theophrastus, Jerome, Josephus, Augustine,--to prove marriage
less honorable than celibacy, devotion to knowledge a duty not to be
interfered with by the responsibilities and annoyances of a family,
conformity to the rules of the church the highest obligation. Her desire
for his own greatness completely overshadows her passion for his love.
He is already the first of philosophers, but if he has outrivalled
others, he must go on to surpass himself. For this, he must have quiet
and solitude, freedom for thought. She quotes a Roman maxim that all
things are to be neglected for philosophy. What monks endure through
love of God, the thinker ought to endure from devotion to truth. If
laymen and gentiles have lived thus continently, bound by no religious
profession, what does it become a clerk and a canon to do? "If you
regard not God, at least care for philosophy."

"For what harmony is there," she asks, "between a scholar and a nurse, a
writing-desk and a cradle, books and spinning-wheels? Who when absorbed
in religious or philosophic meditation can endure hearing children cry,
or having to listen to the lullabies of the woman who soothes them? Rich
people can get along, for they have abundant room and plenty of
servants; but scholars are not rich." She has difficulty in keeping
herself disguised: in the excess of her feeling she throws out her arms,
and discloses the gracious outline of the unselfish woman. Then, after
reasoning, come personal pleadings. Is he sacrificing himself for her?
She is content as she is. Now she holds him by the free gift of that
love and favor to which he would have a claim in marriage. Does he
believe she feels herself disgraced by this relation? To be called his
mistress is dear and ennobling to her. Years later when she was past her
middle life, she wrote to Abelard that "the name of mistress, or even of
harlot, was sweeter to me then the holier name of wife, so that by my
greater humiliation I might gain greater favor and less injure thy fame.
I call God to witness that if Augustus would have set me by himself at
the head of the whole world, it would have seemed to me more dear and
noble to be called thy mistress than his empress."

Thus by argument, authority, protestation that her sacrifice is choice,
she tries to conquer his decision. Nay, she throws aside the cowl
entirely, and by her natural bright humor tries to banter him into
acquiescence. "And then think," she says in substance, "what a plague a
wife is to a man. Only imagine" (and she laughs, and Abelard laughs too,
at the inconceivable grotesqueness of the idea), "imagine what a shrew I
might turn out! I might treat you as Xanthippe treated _her_
philosopher." She reminds him of the passage where Jerome tells the
story about Socrates' wife having fretted and scolded and raged one day
through the house with desperate temper, until she wound up by throwing
a basin of dirty water over him:

    "He took it patiently, and wiped his head:
    'Rain follows thunder,'--that was all he said."

To Abelard's credit, this impassioned unselfishness strengthened,
instead of weakening, his resolution. Heloise was forced to yield, but
her instincts saw the dark shadows gathering about them: with sobs and
tears she exclaimed, "In the ruin of both of us not less pain is to
follow than was the love that came before."

Leaving the child with his aunt the lovers returned to Paris; there they
were married in great secrecy, and at once separated. After this they
met but seldom, and then with careful precautions against their
interviews becoming known. Heloise's family, however, as she had feared,
determined to redeem her good name by announcing that Abelard had made
her honorable reparation. When people came to her and asked if it was
really true that she was the canon's wife, she denied the story angrily.
When her uncle and other relatives contradicted her contradiction, the
girl took religion's holiest name in vain, in her asseverations that
Abelard was not her husband. Fulbert lost all patience, and attempted by
cruelty and indignity to drive her to confess the truth. She told
Abelard of what she suffered, and one night he contrived to steal her
away from her uncle and to carry her back to her old nunnery at
Argenteuil, where she assumed most of the dress of the order, and
received only occasional visits from him.

The conjecture that Abelard designed to keep her there, and as soon as
his attachment could be weaned to make her take the vows and thus save
himself from all further trouble, suggests itself to us to-day: with
greater force, it occurred to the people immediately concerned. The rage
of the uncle and his friends at Abelard's treachery, first and last, to
themselves, and at his heartlessness toward the girl whose worth they
understood so well, grew uncontrollable; they bribed a servant to admit
them to his house by night, and avenged themselves.

Abelard's spirit was broken, as he saw all hopes of ecclesiastical
promotion at an end, and his fame turned to notoriety. Heretofore his
public appearances had made the sensation of a king's: "What region did
not burn to see you!" asked Heloise. "Who, when you walked abroad, did
not hurry to look at you, rising on tiptoe and with straining eyes?" But
now every look he fancied scornful.

In this wild age there was always one refuge for the victims of the
world or of themselves. To the monasteries flocked all classes, from
fashionable knights broken down or unsuccessful or weary of conflict, to
the half-witted clowns sheltered and utilized as lay-brethren. Husbands
forsook their wives, and wives fled from their husbands, to take shelter
in the religious life. In this early part of the twelfth century,
monastic houses were multiplying like hives of bees, constantly sending
out from themselves colonies that quickly became parents of others. For
some time the tendency had been to an easier discipline than the
traditional, but at last asceticism had blazed out anew, and the rich
and luxurious Cluny paled in popularity before Clairveaux or the Grande
Chartreuse. In this single century the Cistercians expanded from one
abbey to eight hundred, a single one of which is said to have
controlled seven hundred benefices. The one meal a day, the hard manual
labor, the restricted sleep, the wearisome routine of prayer, reading,
and penance, won by their very severity and by the mystical impression
of sanctity and immortal safety which brooded about these retired
prisons of self-condemned sin.

    "Oh, hide me in your gloom profound,
    Ye solemn seats of holy pain,"

was the cry with which multitudes approached the gates that should
emancipate them from a freedom which did not satisfy. Ben Jonson's fear
lest his inclination to God might be

    "Through weariness of life, not love of thee,"

was realized in the case of numbers of convertites quite equalling and
probably far exceeding those who entered the ascetic orders from the
enthusiasm of visionaries. To this retirement, as a screen from the
world's curiosity and fancied mocks, Abelard now resolved to withdraw,
as his father and mother in their later lives had done before him. His
jealousy could not leave Heloise behind, so he told her of his purpose,
and hoped that she would volunteer to imitate him. But Heloise made no
such offer. In every way hers was a mind beyond her age, and the
unnatural harshness of cloistral discipline, its artificial dreariness,
its "hope to merit heaven by making earth a hell," seemed to her fine
insight untrue. Though she had suffered, she was yet in tune with life;
her heart assured her that innocent pleasure is the soul's hymn of
praise to God; bitterly as she shared her husband's misery, she saw no
reason for separating her life and his; most of all, she revolted from
the notion of professing religion with lip-service only. But Abelard
urged, insisted, even commanded, and, seeing it to be his wish, the
girl-wife yielded. She told herself that only she was responsible for
her husband's afflictions; except for her, his prosperity would have
continued undimmed; so the day was fixed on which, in her old nunnery,
she should take the vows of perpetual seclusion.

It must have been a strange scene in that chapel at Argenteuil. Abelard
was there, still in his habit of a mere secular priest, there to make
sure that Heloise's impulses should not burst out again, and cast her
back into the world's sunshine. The bishop, attended by his priests,
stands at the altar: upon it lies a newly consecrated veil. The nuns,
kneeling in their accustomed places, are praying. All wait for the
votaress, but she is detained by a crowd of friends. There were many of
them there, as Abelard has told us, and they could not endure that this
girl, personally so charming, perhaps the most accomplished
intellectually of all the women of France, should consummate the
sacrifice that she had already in such large measure made. They knew her
love for the bright things of life, her beautiful zest for the joyous
and sympathetic, her eagerness in study, the grace of her strong, sweet
seriousness. Such a nature might be for a time bewildered at the loss of
the love of one of the most famous men living, yet if for a little while
they could keep her face unhidden by the veil, she might forget. So they
delay her outside the chapel, pleading with a heart that has made the
same pleas for itself before. Presently the door is pushed open and she
enters the oratory, her friends still about her. Even in the sacred
place they continue their entreaties, and Abelard's glance is anxiously
upon her; but her eyes are downcast. "How they pitied her!" he has told
us; "they kept trying to hold back her youth from the yoke of monastic
rule, as from punishment intolerable." The bishop seems half pitiful,
half impatient; the nuns look up from their praying. Has the world
renewed its hold upon her? Will she snatch herself from God? Does he no
longer attract her? At this last moment is she hesitating?

She was hesitating; the world did have a hold upon her. God? God had
never attracted her.

In all the ceremonials of the Catholic Church, there can have been none
which has so combined sacrilege with loftiness of feeling as did the
scene which followed. From the silent, even wistful hearing that she has
been giving to her friends, Heloise suddenly starts away, and, as if
waking from a reverie, she moves with dreamy gesture toward her husband.
Her lips part, and what will be her last words as a lady of the world?
Some scriptural exhortation to her friends to follow her as she follows
Christ? A cry of exultant renunciation of the wilds of life's ocean, and
of contentment at the holy calm in the bosom of the church?

The girl is weeping, and as she tries to control herself to speak, her
misery overcomes her, and she bursts into loud sobs. But it must have
been surprising to the listening ecclesiastics to hear the words which
at last got expression. It is probably the only time in the church's
history that a novice has taken her last vows with the prelude of a
quotation from a love speech in a pagan poem, directing it not to the
bleeding effigy of her present and eternal Master hanging above the
altar, but to a human lover at her side. Heloise "broke out as she could
between her tears and sobs," in a passage from one of the later books of
Lucan's _Pharsalia_: surely as she spoke the lines, her voice grew
steady, and her eyes looked bravely through the tears:

    "Husband and lord, too worthy for my bed,
    Can Fortune thus cast down so dear a head?
    Fated to make thee wretched, why did I
    Become thy wife? Accept the penalty;
    I will endure it gladly."

I fancy that Abelard was quite as much impressed by the brilliant young
mind that could make so apt and scholarly a quotation from the Roman
classics, as by the heart which dared on the very margin of the altar to
fling back to the world and up to God this protestation of its
unfaltering human love, which took the vows of religion from no other
motive than to impose torture upon itself--an offering not to God, but
to Abelard.

As she spoke the verses, she hurried to the altar. _Accipe poenas, quas
sponte luam_,--her voice died away, the bishop received her, and covered
her forever with the veil.

Heloise was only eighteen.

       *       *       *       *       *

The convent gates shut in all sight of her for the next ten or eleven
years. But in 1130, the nunnery over which she had become prioress was
broken up by the unfavorable decision of a suit for the land and
buildings which it occupied. This decade had brought abundant misery to
Abelard. His heresies in theology had been exposed, and he had been
compelled to burn a treasured book in which they were expounded, a
council had imprisoned him in an abbey where it was boasted that his
haughtiness was tamed by a course of vigorous whipping administered
under the abbot's supervision. There is something pitiful in the
thought of such physical and mental pride being under the control of
fanatical monks, ignorant and coarse, from whom he was glad to escape to
a desert east of Troyes, as a hermit. He had taught at intervals during
these years, and once for a season with a notable renewal of his early
success. Near Troyes, where he had built his hermit-shelter out of reeds
and stubble, in a desolate region infested by wild animals and a covert
for robbers, some vagrant student found the intellectual champion, and
reported at Paris his discovery. The news spread, and soon the desert
was populous. The students built a house for the master, apparently a
commodious one, and about it they made more temporary structures for
their own shelter. Not only the younger class of scholars besieged him
for instruction; older men, ecclesiastics who, as we are told, were wont
to grasp instead of giving, paid generously toward constructing a home
for the great philosopher. But he was world-weary, and soon retired
again to a bleak monastery on the Atlantic, in the lower part of
Brittany, where he became abbot of a set of half-barbarous monks, who
resented his austere rule and, so he tells us, tried repeatedly to
poison him because he interfered with their profligacy. While there he
had learned of Heloise's loss of her nunnery, and had established her
and her religious sisters in the buildings in Champagne that had been
standing unoccupied since he broke up that last school. "The Paraclete,"
he had called the home, as a special invocation to the Holy Spirit and
as a tribute for the temporary comfort that he received there. Possibly
he himself conducted his wife thither, but it is equally likely that he
did not see her after he forced her into the church.

For ten years he appears to have struggled on in Brittany, with no
intellectual associations, none of the notoriety with which he had been
so long pampered, in terror for his life, yet still working at his
philosophy of religion. At last he was impelled to talk of what he had
endured and was still enduring; to speak in the bitterness of his soul,
and get, perhaps, the consolation of pity. He composed a long and
immensely interesting autobiography, telling the whole story of his
youth, his later triumphs, his logical acumen, his love, his disgrace,
the injustice of his condemnation by the conservative church, the tumult
of his experiences in the lonely monastery of St. Gildas. The creditable
pages are calmly written, the shameful unflinchingly. He tells how
tremendous had been his love for Heloise, but he says nothing of loving
her still. The narrative reveals an egotist, but it reveals as certainly
one of the most striking characters of the Middle Ages.

       *       *       *       *       *

We find ourselves inevitably speculating upon the life of Heloise during
the sixteen or more years whose only recorded event is her removal from
Argenteuil to the Paraclete. It might be that a reaction in her love
would follow, when the grim captivity that she had dreaded so became yet
more hateful in its realization; she might lose her old gentleness; it
might become hopeless for her to try to adjust her spirit to its new
conditions and to devote herself to even a submissive piety. From
contemporary testimony we are sure that some of these possibilities did
not come true. She won respect and even devotion as an abbess, her house
prospered financially to her husband's undisguised surprise and
admiration, her life was pure from the least fleck of reproach, or
criticism in any quarter. May we go farther, and say that her spirit did
adjust itself to its new conditions, and lose its pain in a submissive
piety? For such a result we should find many parallels in mediæval
religion; numerous accounts not to be cavilled at as legendary prove
that in these monasteries souls which had suffered found peace. Nay,
many a nun among these most refined groups of mediæval women, driven in
one way or another to forsake the hope of love and earthly happiness,
secured delight of heart in a sort of spiritual romance. As their
emotion grew more subtilized, as asceticism burned away material
impulse, some of the gentlest and most poetically endowed of these
religious recluses acquired a mystical compensation for their loneliest
sacrifice of life,--a divinely idealized personal love, too magical for
friendship, too impassioned and mutual for worship, where, the sexes
mysteriously spiritualized, translated womanhood should rest at last on
the breast of Christ. The final vow of religious consecration was the
nun's betrothal to the divine man; to make herself beautiful for his
bride she wasted her body by fasting and scarred it with the scourge;
the rough lath cross on the wall of her cell was his love token; love
messages came from him in her dreams; prostrated on the chapel flagging
she indited to him prayers that scarcely needed verse to become lyrics.
And when to such a mystic's contemplation the cloister sanctity seemed
too worldly, when her exhausted body found the walk from cell to chapel
too long a journey and she was compelled to stay in the coffin that for
years of nights had sweetly reminded her of the sure untwining of soul
and sense, when she could hear only faintly her sisters' thin chanting
of the hours, and felt her spirit quivering with new sensations, vague,
awed, and eager, she understood that the waiting time was over, and her
espousal at hand. Her failing eyes see white processionals that come to
lead her to the banqueting house where the banner of His love shall be
over her; the music, which the dying so often hear, for her is a
marriage melody ringing from angelic harps and dulcimers; with new-born
strength and grace, mantled in new raiment, she floats upward to her
desire. And when space has been traversed the immortal vision bursts
upon her, a great poet has put in words her last thought this side

    "He lifts me to the golden doors,
      The flashes come and go;
    All heaven bursts her starry floors,
      And strows her light below,
    And deepens on and up! the gates
      Roll back, and far within
    For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits,
      To make me pure of sin.
    The sabbaths of Eternity,
      One sabbath deep and wide,--
    A light upon the shining sea,
      The Bridegroom with his bride."

But for Heloise there was no such resource. It is to natures more
ethereal and constitutionally religious that such fancies and dreams
appeal. The main feature of the matured Heloise is sanity and balanced
womanhood; she was too strong and intense to be a sentimentalist. Could
the nature which had once been caught into the clouds by the whirlwind
of love, beguile itself from the memory of that storm of rapture by a
visionary tempest raised with a fan? And yet there would be some
satisfaction if we could conceive her adjusting herself to the spiritual
life with closer accord, and passing even through the gates of
superstitious hallucination from the harsh religion of her day into the
inner sanctuary whose "solemn shadow is better than the sun," finding an
outlet for her quick emotions in this personal love for her new Master.

       *       *       *       *       *

Heloise had been a nun some sixteen years when some one showed her
Abelard's so-called _Historia Calamitatum_. Apparently her husband had
forbidden her to write to him; but though she had kept a long silence,
she was a lover until death. This account of Abelard's sufferings and
perils broke her constraint; she could not help writing to comfort him
and to beg for news of his safety. What other love-letters equal the
intensity, the tenderness, the womanliness of these final appeals for
the broken love? Through their nervous pliancy one may learn as nowhere
else the reality of Browning's

    "Infinite passion, and the pain
    Of finite hearts that yearn."

In them appears also her strength of nature; they are the love-calls of
a woman who knows that the man she continues to set far above all the
rest of humanity is wronging her. She chides him for this long and
complete neglect, but there is a marvellous sweetness in her caressing
reproaches. She tells him to remember under what peculiar bonds she
holds him,--what sacred obligation of marriage, of love, and of devotion
he owes to her; she gave her honor to please him, not herself; she
sacrificed her tender age to the harshness of a monastic life not from
piety, but only in submission to his desire. "There was a time," she
writes, "when people doubted whether in our amour I yielded to love or
to passion. But the end shows how I began; to please you, I have denied
myself all pleasures." She points out to him how differently the end
interprets his feeling for her. "It is common talk," she says, "that you
felt only gross emotions toward me, and when there was a stop to their
indulgence, your so-called love vanished. My dearest one, would that
this appeared to me only, and not to every one; would that I might be
soothed by hearing others excuse you, or that I could myself devise

She appears to entertain no hope that he will visit her, though she
hints longingly at the possibility; but he can at least do as much for
her as he does for others under obligations so far slighter, as much as
the example of the church fathers regarding the women of their flocks
teaches him to do,--he can write and tell her how he is, he can comfort
her love: or (and she appeals to the monk who may listen, even if the
old-time lover will not) he can send spiritual admonition to uphold her
slipping soul. Her heart put at rest, she can be so much freer for the
divine service. "When you wooed me for the pleasures of earth," she
reminds him, "you sent me letter after letter; with many songs you put
your Heloise in the speech of all, so that every street and house echoed
with me. How much more ought you now to excite toward God the one whom
then you aroused to sin."

She tells him again of her complete absorption in him: "You are the only
one who can make me either sad or happy; you only can be my comforter.
The whole world knows how much I loved you," and she turns with a
half-shuddering reminiscence to the day she became a nun. "It was for
you, not for God--that sacrifice. From God I can look for no reward;
consider, then, how vain my trial, if by it I win nothing from you"; and
the woman for sixteen years a nun calls God--and remember that hers was
the God of mediæval superstition--to witness that she would have
followed Abelard, or gone before him, if she had seen him hastening to

Her letters evidently moved the monk, for his replies were full of good
advice, and under the surface gave some indications of tender regard.
But the affection that we find is colorless and formal. No word of a
husband's gentleness, nor warmth of phrase, not a hint that he cherishes
happy memories of the old days of their union. They are the letters of
an old man, absorbed in himself, worn by the world, who has no capacity
for anything deeper than kind feeling. He calls her his sister, once
dear in the world, now dearer in Christ, begs her prayers for him living
and dead, and entreats that whenever he may die she will have his body
carried to her abbey, that the constant sight of his grave may move her
and her spiritual daughters to pray for his salvation. He gulps down the
_Lachrima Christi_ of her exquisite love as if it were the small beer of
pietistic commonplace, and then looks disappointed to find that it was
not. For he ignores the soul of her letters, and composes complacent
treatises of twelfth-century ecclesiastical discipline designed to
subject her to a mechanical and lifeless asceticism.

Heloise in answer reproaches him for his talk of death, like a brave
heart bidding him not by anticipation suffer before his time. The
knowledge of her husband's unhappiness is a renewed affliction, and she
owns that there is nothing but sorrow in her life. Like a daring
Titaness, she exclaims against God's administration of his world:

     "While we lived in sin, he indulged us; when we married, he
     forced us to separate. Let his other creatures rejoice and
     count themselves safe from the inclement clemency of the God
     whom I almost dare to call cruel to me in every way. They are
     safe, for upon me he has used up all the weapons of his
     wrath, so that he has none with which to rage at others; nor,
     if any remained, could he find a place in me wherein to
     strike them."

After sixteen years' silence, this woman has broken into speech, and
unmasked confessions of her inner spirit will no longer be restrained.
She goes on as if carried by cyclone winds; she tells her far-off lover
what few nuns under terror of eternal death can ever have brought
themselves to confide to their confessors in scarcely audible whisper.
She calls up the scenes of their union; she confesses that visions of
that life are with her constantly: she bemoans the thoughts which "haunt
me sometimes, even at the holy mass." She was no calm northern woman;
she had nothing of the temperament that Shakespeare compared to an

     "That's curdied by the frost from purest snow,
     And hangs on Dian's temple";

she was made to walk with love, under summer moonlight,--no sister of
Percivale, to forget thwarted desire in prayer beneath the frosty stars
of winter.

"Help me," cries this victim of a gloomy religion, "for I do not find
how by penance to appease God, whom I still accuse of the greatest
cruelty. It is easy to confess and to torture the body; it is hard to
tear the soul from its desires. My mind keeps the same wish for sin; so
sweet was our happiness that I cannot be sorry for it. Most wretched
life, if I have endured so much in vain, destined to have no recompense

Thus Heloise the woman and Heloise the abbess fight out the old problem
whether the training of life is by the use of its gifts, or by the
rejection of them; shall we play the full organ, or only the harsh reed
stops? The church taught her to condemn what nature taught her to
justify. The religious authority of all the dark ages confronted this
woman's instincts of life, and--to her honor--it could not quell them.
Yet conceive her wretchedness and the anguish of her mental struggle,
living as she did in the middle of Catholic mediævalism. When, after a
scanty rest, she left her cell at midnight, this artificial conscience
attended her to the long chapel service that followed, pointed at the
austere pages over which she bent in the study when the service was
over, kept calling her hypocrite as she chided and instructed the nuns
whom she is said to have ruled so wisely, snatched food and wine from
her hungry lips, with fast, pitiless lashing wielded the whip of
penance, haunted her sleep with its stern face. Yet the pleasures of
time were still honorable to her; the world _was_ good; her love _had_
been beautiful; if her conscience prayed forgiveness for it, her heart
sang, because she had known it.

To hear this bewildered voice crying to Abelard for his prayers because
in spite of the world's praise of her virtue she thinks herself a
hypocrite,--Oh, my only one, pray for me, for I cannot be sorry that we
loved--to hear this makes one glad that the time has passed for
identifying the devil with the world's laughter, and God with its

She lived on as abbess of the Paraclete for twenty-one years after she
buried her husband. We cannot believe that as one set of feelings cooled
with age, her spiritual emotions grew more impulsive. In the
twenty-eight years which followed her last letter to Abelard, she no
doubt more and more mechanically went through the life of monastic duty,
her intellectual accord with the church leading her to an increasingly
calm performance of routine piety, her heart more and more silent--but
never dead. We fancy its main utterance an anticipation of that cry of
Clough's--"Submit, submit." Thus kindling with no spiritual ardor--(she
once confessed that her religious ambition did not rise so high as to
wish a crown of victory, or to have God's strength made perfect in her
weakness), she lived out her faithful and successful life as abbess of
the Paraclete, comforted--we may hope--by a continuance of the
intellectual consolations of her youth, and honored, as we know, by
church and world. If imaginary biography is ever safe we may employ it
here, and fancy that when she came to die she repeated what she had said
years before, that she should be quite content to be given just a corner
in heaven. I think as she lay waiting to be received there, she dreamed
of looking up from it, not at the ineffable glory, but at one human face
stationed highest among the masters in divine philosophy. Highest among
the masters! Less than a hundred and fifty years later, the great poem
of mediævalism forgot to give Abelard a place even among the penitents
of purgatory, and to-day except by special students he is remembered
only as Heloise's unworthy lover.



[13] _Petri Abælardi Historia Calamitatum. Petri Abælardi et Heloissæ

[14] _Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit_, iii., 14-34.



At the suggestion of the publishers the following brief notices of some
of the works and authors mentioned in these essays are added for
convenience of reference.

ÆTHIOPICA, the oldest and most famous of the Greek romances. It narrates
the loves of Theagenes and Charicleia, and was written in his youth by
Heliodorus of Emesa, who flourished about the end of the fourth century,
and died as Bishop of Tricca in Thessaly.

ALEXANDER, or as he is termed in some MSS. the Wild Alexander. A
South-German poet of the thirteenth century. Of his life scarcely
anything is known.

CHRESTIEN DE TROYES, a French trouvère, who flourished in the second
half of the twelfth century. He may be regarded as the popularizer in
the French form of the cycle of tales that centre about the Round Table.
The most important of his poems is the one bearing the title, _Perceval
le Gallois_ or _Li Contes del Graal_.


ARNAUD DANIEL, a Provençal poet, who died about 1189. He was
distinguished for the complicated character of his versification, and in
particular was the inventor of the verse called the _sestine_. He lived
for some time at the court of Richard I. of England. Dante in the
twenty-sixth canto of the _Purgatory_ puts him at the head of all the
Provençal poets. He was also highly praised by Petrarch.

DAPHNIS AND CHLOE, a Greek pastoral romance, the prototype of all the
pastoral romances which have been written in various languages. Its
composition is usually ascribed to a certain Longus, a Greek sophist,
who flourished about the beginning of the fifth century.

FREIDANK, the composer of a Middle High German didactic poem, which
belongs to the first half of the thirteenth century. The name has been
considered by some to be merely allegorical. His work, which was
entitled _Bescheidenheit_, consists of over four thousand verses and
discusses religious, political and social questions. It was an
exceedingly popular work during the Middle Ages.

GACES BRULLES, a French trouvère of the early part of the thirteenth
century. He was born in Champagne, but spent a portion of his life in
Brittany. About seventy of his _chansons_ are extant.

GOTTFRIED VON STRASSBURG, a German poet who flourished at the end of the
twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century. His great work was
the epic entitled _Tristan und Isolde_, continued by others after his
death. This took place somewhere between 1210 and 1220. Gottfried wrote
also many lyric poems.

GUILLAUME DE BALAUN (or BALAZUN), a Provençal poet of the twelfth
century. He was the lover of the lady of Joviac, in the Gévaudan.
Alienation having sprung up between them upon account of his assumed or
real indifference, his mistress would not restore him to favor unless he
should agree to extract the nail of the longest finger of his right
hand, and should come and present it to her with a poem composed
expressly for the occasion. The condition was fulfilled.

JOHANN HADLAUB, a German poet, who flourished at the end of the
thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century. His life was
spent mainly in Zurich. His compositions were principally love-songs and
popular songs dealing with the pleasures of autumn and harvest. A statue
was erected to him in Zurich in 1885.

HARTMANN VON AUE, a Middle High German, belonging by birth to a noble
Swabian family, was born about 1170, and died between 1210 and 1220. He
wrote _Erec and Enide_, basing it upon the French poem with the same
title of Chrestien de Troyes. Another poem of his belonging also to the
Arthurian cycle is _Iwein_. The most popular of his works with modern
students is _Der arme Heinrich_. The details of its story have been made
known to English readers by Longfellow's _Golden Legend_, which is
founded upon it. Another work of his is entitled _Gregorius vom Stein_.

HEINRICH VON MORUNGEN, a German minnesinger, a knight of Thuringia, who
flourished at the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth
century. His last years were spent at the court of Meissen. He wrote
many love-songs, many of which owe their existence to those of the

HEINRICH VON VELDEKE, a German poet of the twelfth century, who was of a
noble family settled near Maastricht, on the lower Rhine. Besides the
love-songs and other pieces he wrote, he was the composer of the epic of
the _Eneide_, the first poem of the Middle High German epic poetry,
which reached its highest development in the writings of Hartmann von
Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Gottfried von Strassburg.

HUGO VON TRIMBERG, a German poet, who flourished at the end of the
thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century. From 1260 to
1309 he was rector of the collegiate school in the Theuerstadt, a suburb
of Bamberg. He is known as the composer of the _Renner_, a didactic
poem, in which the manners and customs of the time are largely depicted,
and the prevailing vices severely censured.

JACOPO DA TODI, or JACOPONE, an Italian poet, born about the middle of
the thirteenth century at Todi, in the duchy of Spoleto. He belonged to
the noble family of the Benedetti, began life as an advocate, but, on
account of the sudden accidental death of his wife, devoted himself to a
religious life and entered the order of Franciscans. He wrote many
religious poems in Italian, and also in Latin. To him in particular is
ascribed the composition of the famous _Stabat Mater Dolorosa_.

NEIDHART VON REUENTHAL, a German lyric poet of the thirteenth century.
He was of a noble Bavarian family, but spent part of his life in
Austria. His poems were written between 1210 and 1240, and are of
special interest for the descriptions they give of the customs of the

in 1201, and died in 1253. He is one of the most noted of the early
French poets.

ULRICH VON LIECHTENSTEIN, a Middle High German poet, born about 1200,
and died in 1276. He was the author of the poem entitled _Frauendienst_,
described in this volume, and also of a didactic poem called

WALTHARIUS ET HILTGUNDE, or simply Waltharius, a Latin poem of the tenth
century in hexameter verse, and consisting of between fourteen hundred
and fifteen hundred lines. Its authorship is unknown.

WALTHER VON DER VOGELWEIDE, the greatest German poet of the Middle Ages.
He was born about 1160, and died about 1230. He was of a knightly
family, though poor, and much of his life was spent at the courts of
several German princes and emperors. He wrote not only love-poems, but
in the contest that went on between the imperialists and the papacy, he
supported the side of the former in patriotic verses which had no slight
influence upon contemporary opinion. Both for matter and manner he stood
at the head of the poets called minnesingers.

WERNHER THE GARDENER, a German poet of the thirteenth century, who
composed, between 1234 and 1250, the story of _Meier Helmbrecht_.
Nothing is known with certainty of his life.

WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH, a German poet, of noble birth, of the latter
half of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth. He died
about 1220. His greatest work is the _Parzival_, which was completed
about 1210. It was founded, according to his own statement, partly upon
the _Conte del Graal_ of Chrestien de Troyes, but more particularly upon
the work of a poet whom he calls Kyot, who is supposed by some to be
Guyot de Provins, whose romance of _Perceval_, not extant, is assumed to
be the original of Wolfram's poem. Another of his poems was the
unfinished _Titurel_, which contains the tale of the love of
Schionatulander and Sigune.


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Spelling and punctuation errors have been repaired.

Ellipses in poetry have been spaced to preserve appearance of the
original; all other ellipses are standardized.

Colons after "Liechtenstein" and "Helmbrecht" on Contents page, and
variant punctuation after the same terms in Chapter headings, were

P. 21, (cp. Inf., 14, 30; 24, 5) in original "24" was at the end of a
line, and "5" at the beginning of the next, with no punctuation between.

P. 47 original "midst of his prostestations" changed to "midst of
his protestations."

P. 76 original "reficient" changed to "reficiant."

P. 92 original "merry-makings" changed to more frequent "merrymakings."

P. 93 original "Wezerant. He" changed to "Wezerant.' He" (single quote

P. 116 Hey[=a], [=a] indicates lower case "a" with macron. (Text version

P. 132 The change in indentation in the poetry, beginning at "Thou
lookest down," is faithful to the original.

P. 174 "sister's thin chanting" changed to "sisters' thin chanting."

P. 184 original "Tristran und Isolde" changed to "Tristan und Isolde."

P. 187 original "von Lichtenstein" changed to more frequent "von

The following variant spellings were used in the original equally,
and were retained: god-father and godfather, riband and ribband,
rose-bushes (second use is quoting the first=1 use) and rosebush,
Wendel and Wentel, "Arnaud Daniel" and "Arnaut Daniel," Aethiopica
and Æthiopica, Jacapone and Jacopone, sestine and sestina.

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