Page images


His name is all that has come down to us. With Walther von der Vogelweide we are better acquainted. Born, probably, in Tyrol, between 1160 and 1170, he left the “Vogelweide"—the bird-preserve—from which his family derived its name, for the court of Vienna, where he became famous as a Minnesinger. Austria and Thüringen are the two places where most of his life, with the exception of the years during which he wandered in true minstrel-fashion, was spent. It is of him that a charming tradition relates that

He gave the monks his treasures,

Gave them all with this behest :
They should feed the birds at noon-tide,

Daily on his place of rest. The part which he sustains, though not altogether consistent with the frank and manly spirit which breathes in his works, is in perfect harmony with the more superficial details of his life. There can be no doubt that the author of the Wartburgkrieg was well acquainted with the career of Walther von der Vogelweide.

With the “Worthy Notary” we return to the regions of uncertainty and conjecture. In the poem he appears as “der tugendhafter Schreiber.” By a literal translation of the words, he is known in English by the style of “the virtuous writer.” But Grimm, an authority that few will question on points of philology, is of opinion that “tugendhaft" is merely equivalent to "laudabilis" or “honestus," the official epithet applied to the “ notarius" or "protonotarius" in the Middle Ages. There are still extant a number of lyrics attributed to a “tugendhafter Schreiber.” But, if the title did not belong to any one individual, if it was common to all the members of at least one branch of the legal profession, there can be no proof that the Worthy Notary of the songs is also the “Worthy Notary” of the Krieg, no proof unless it be that the rod of Aaron blossomed but once. The Chronicles which record the contest of the Wartburg have given the Schreiber the name of Henry. As the Thuringian acts and legal documents for the first forty years of the thirteenth century repeatedly make mention of Henricus scriptor, Henricus notarius, Henricus protonotarius, there is reason to assume that the Chronicles are correct. With this one slight fact about the poetical notary we must perforce rest satisfied. Neither history nor legend has anything further to record about him.

All that can be ascertained in connection with Biterolf does not extend greatly beyond the few facts which may be gathered from the poem in which he figures. He is there represented as belonging to the Grafschaft or county of Henneberg, and as having received knighthood from the Graf whose praises he is made to celebrate. Rudolf von Ems, in his Alexandreis, refers to another poem on the same subject by a poet whom he called Biterolf. Whether the author who in reality recorded the high deeds of the son of Philip is identical with the minstrel who, in the Wartburgkrieg, celebrates the valour of the Graf von Henneberg, cannot be decided. The fact that Rudolf himself resided for a considerable time at the court of Hermann, and that he may there have made the acquaintance of Biterolf, whom he calls his friend, at least lends plausibility to the assumption. Moreover, unless the Henneberger knight is also to be regarded as a myth, it is only reasonable to believe that his presence amongst the minstrels of the Wartburg was due to some poetical merits of his own.

In endeavouring to prove the identity of Reinmar we are met by a difficulty of a different nature. Amongst the poets who flourished at the end of the twelfth and at the beginning of the thirteenth century we find two of the name of Reinmar. One of them is distinguished as Reinmar the Elder, the other as Reinmar von Zweter. In the manuscripts the two names are confused, so that it is not possible to determine which the poet meant. Possibly, indeed, the same confusion existed in his mind, and he may have used the names of two distinct authors under the impression that they belonged to one and the same person. Strict chronology points to Reinmar the Elder, surnamed the Nightingale of Hagenau. He was at the court of Vienna when Walther von der Vogelweide first appeared at it. For a time the two poets were connected, first as master and pupil, later as friends and colleagues. Their friendship, however, was not lasting, as Walther records in a poem written on the death of Reinmar, to whom, nevertheless, he accords a generous and just tribute of praise. It may be mentioned that, as far as we know, neither of the Reinmars was ever at the court of Hermann of Thüringen.

Of Wolfran we can say but little. He lived and wrote. Familiar as is his name in literature, his career, if indeed we can abstract the poet's life from his works, has left no trace in history. He was born at Eschenbach, a small town near Anspach. His family was noble but poor. Being but a younger son, he left the paternal manor at an early age, and devoted himself to poetry. The heroic poems “Willehalm" and “ Titurel" are his. But it is especially to his “ Parcival” that he owes his fame-a fame which borrows nothing from antiquity. No poet--the Laureate not excepted--has treated the Graal legend in a more artistic and, above all, in a more delicate manner. Wolfran is the central figure of the Wartburgkrieg. The whole poem breathes his spirit, it is a sincere tribute of admiration to him, it might almost be styled his apotheosis.

The next character—the last we have to notice—is wholly mythical. Klingsor, who in the Krieg figures as Wolfran's opponent, is no other than Klinschor, the wizard of Castle Marvellous, Wolfran's own creation. In the “Parcival,” it is true, Klinschor appears only as a magician, whilst at Eisenach he is a poet as well. Further, though the sorcerer whose spells Gawein breaks is represented as an Italian, in the later poem he is announced as a Hungarian, "aus Ungarland.” This transformation of the necromancer to a minstrel is, however, not unnatural. Indeed, it may be considered a necessity of the part which he bears. Appearing in his own person, as the opponent of Wolfran, the chief poet of the age, it was only fitting that he should possess poetical qualifications in addition to his magic art. Moreover, his name Klingescere, in its unabridged form—has the meaning of "singer” or “player," and easily lent itse!f to the metamorphosis, if it did not actually suggest it. According to the chronicles which relate the details of the Wartburgkrieg as genuine historical events, Klingsor, whilst at the court of Thüringen, prophesied the birth of St. Elizabeth. As this saint, in whose favour heaven is made to work a miracle— deceiving her husband by changing into roses the loaves which she was distributing—was an Hungarian princess, the magician who predicted her birth and career became associated, in the legend, with her native country. It is doubtless in this manner that the Italian sorcerer of Château Merveil figures as Klingsor aus Ungarland.

Those who are acquainted with Wagner's Tannhäuser will, doubt. less, have noticed that the poets-real and mythical—that figure in the Wartburgkrieg are the same who, in the opera, appear as the rivals of Venus's favoured bard. Originally, however, the two legends are entirely independent and distinct from each other. The War of the Wartburg contains no allusion to Tannhäuser. On the other hand, the old ballads which narrate Tannhäuser's adventures-his intimacy with Venus, his repentance, his appeal to Urban IV., his rejection, and his return to the goddess's cavern-make no mention either of the Thüringian court or of the rival poets. The fusion of the two legends is due to a later century, and to reasons which it is not altogether impossible to trace, or at least to surmise. The Minnesinger Tanhuser, on whose vividly amorous lays legend has probably based the adventures of the mythical Tannhäuser in the Venus-mountain, flourished about the beginning of the thirteenth century. It was, therefore, but natural, considering the intrinsic

worth of his known productions, that tradition should have associated him with his famous contemporaries at the court of Thüringen. The inducement to do this was the greater that the Hörselberg, within which was the fabled palace of the Queen of Love, is situated in the neighbourhood of Eisenach, with which more than one legend connects it. The two myths having thus become amalgamated, it was an almost necessary consequence that the poetical contest of the Wartburg should be modified so as to give scope for the development of Tannhäuser's character. The poetical effect, it must be allowed, is in no wise diminished by the substitution of the praises of Venus for those of Hermann, or of Leopold, in a debate in which the disputants are confessedly the bards of love, but it produces a new legend which is neither that of Tannhäuser nor of the War of the Wartburg:

In the hall of the Wartburg, the same which Hoffman has adorned with scenes from the legendary contest, are assembled the Landgraf and his wife, with her eight maids of honour, daughters of the house of Abenberg, and a courtly retinue of fair women and brave men. It is not a mere social gathering. They have come together to hear the rival minstrels assert and uphold the merits of their respective patrons.

Heinrich von Ofterdingen opens the contest. He does so in a metre which is, in itself, a tribute to the Landgraf whose claims he is about to question, "in the tone of the noble Prince of Thüringen.” His challenge is to all living bards. He "places on the scale” the virtues of the Duke of Austria, Leopold VII., though his name is not mentioned, and defies his opponents to equal them with the virtues not of any one merely, but of any three princes. Should he be beaten, he will give himself up to be treated like a common thief. Walther von der Vogelweide is the first to pick up the gauntlet. He is moved with indignation at Ofterdingen's presumption. Though he has himself received favours at the hands of the Duke of Austria, he renounces the hope of future patronage rather than put up with the Austrian champion's arrogance. Knowing as we do the obligations under which Walther lay to Landgraf Hermann, and recalling the gratitude towards him so often and so eloquently expressed in his verse, more especially in that passage which we may consider the key-note of the whole poem

Ich bin des milten lantgrâven ingesinde:
Ez ist min site, daz man mich iemer bî den tiursten vinde.
Die andern fürsten alle sind vil milte, jedoch
Sô stætelichen niht : er was ez ê und ist ez noch:

-remembering this, we say, we are surprised to find him declaring, not for the Thuringian Prince, but for the King of France. If the claims of a foreign prince were to be brought forward, Walther was, in truth, eminently suited for the task. His travels, as he tells us himself, had extended from the Muor to the Seine, and he was therefore qualified by experience to speak of the virtues of the French king, Philip Augustus, whose name, however, like that of Leopold, is left to the reader's knowledge of contemporary history. Stranger still does it seem that at the same time that Walther accepts the challenge, names the prince whom he means to champion, and agrees to the penalty of halter and axe, he postpones the settlement of the dispute to the morrow, alleging as a reason that the executioner is not present.

The Schreiber is more eager for the fray. He will not hear of even twenty-four hours' respite. For him, as might naturally be supposed, the Landgraf is the model of all princely virtues. The “Dürenge," as the old spelling gives it, is compared to Alexander, the minstrel's ideal of munificence. Hermann, his champion asserts, is a lion for his enemies, but towards his friends he is an eagle of generosity. It may be here explained that the eagle is the recognised emblem of liberality—the much-praised Milde—because, as the eagle soars above other birds, so liberality soars above all other virtues.

Before the contest can proceed any further, umpires have still to be chosen. It is left to Ofterdingen to appoint them, as is but just, he being the challenger. His choice falls on two to whom assuredly no objection can be found, on Reinmar and the wise Eschenbach, and he calls upon the Prince to administer the oath to them. Then he begins in earnest to descant on the virtues of Leopold. The noble Duke's greatest joy, sings his champion, is to do good. He does not shun earthly pleasures, but it is more especially for God's honour here below that he strives. He shapes his life according to the teaching of the priests, and a crown is being woven for him in heaven. Women are his heart's delight; he always meets them with friendly greeting, and honours them for the sake of the Holy Maid that gave birth to the Saviour. He succours the oppressed, but he is inflexible towards his enemies. He is as a child. Whatever other virtues the wisest mind can think of, adorn him also.

Seven princes, retorts the Schreiber, possess the privilege of electing the King of Rome, but these choose him whom Hermann of Thüringen appoints. If he finds that the king is too tall or too short, or that he does not bring sufficient happiness to the world at

« PreviousContinue »