« PreviousContinue »
however, to the end of his life to cultivate poetry with such an inconceivable facility, that a play of more than two thousand verses, intermixed with sonnets, tercits, and octaves, and abounding in intrigues, unexpected events, or interesting situations, often cost him no more than one day's labour. He himself tells us that more than a hundred of his pieces were given to the stage in twenty-four hours after their first conception. In the time of Lope de Vega there were several Castilian improvisatori, who spoke as easily in verse as in prose. He was the most remarkable of these the labour of versification seemed not to have caused with him a moment's delay. His friend and biographes, Montallan, has remarked that he composed quicker than his amanuesis could transcribe. The directors of the theatre never allowed time to revise or correct the piece which he had written. In this mannner, with inconceivable fertillity, he produced more than eighteen hundred comedies, and four hundred autos sacramentales, in all two thousand two hundred pieces, of which only about three hundred have been published in twentyfive quarto volumes. His other poetical works have been published in twenty-one quarto volumes. These prodigious literary labours procured for Lope de Vaga almost as much money as glory. He was at one time worth a hundred thousand ducats but money did not long remain in his hands. The poor always found his coffers open: and his taste for show, and his Castillian pride, coupled with the disorder of his affairs, soon dissipated what he had gained. After living in a splendid manner he left very little property at his death. No poet during his life-time ever enjoyed so much glory. Wenever he appeared in the street the people assembled round him in crowds, and hailed him by the title of the Prodigy of Nature. Even the children followed him with shouts of joy, and all eyes were fixed upon him. The religious college of Madrid, of which he was a member, chose him for their president. Pope Urban VIII. sent him the cross of Malta, the title of doctor in theology, and the diploma of fiscal of the apostolic chamber : distinctions which he owed as much to his fanatical zeal as to his poetry. The Inquisition chose him likewise for one of its members. In the midst of this homage lavished on his talents he attained his seventy-third year, and died in 1635. His obsequies were celebrated with a royal magnificence. Three bishops in pontifical habits officiated during three days at the funeral of the Phænix of Spain, as he is called in the title-page of his Comedies. It has been calculated that he wrote in his lite-time twenty-one million three hundred thousand verses, upon a hundred and thirty-three thousand two hundred and twenty-two she is of paper,
The following is also extracted from the same work:When the great baron had invited to his high court the lords of the neighbourhood and the knights his vassals, three days were allotted for justs and tournaments, the images of war. The young noblemen, who under the name of pages were apprenticed to the profession of arms, combatted the first day, the second was allotted to knights newly invested, the third to old warriors; and the lady of the castle, encircled with young beauties, distributed the crowns to those who were pointed out as victors by the judges of the combats. Then she in her turn opened her tribunal, formed in imitation of the seignorial courts of justice ; and as the baron was accompanied with his peers in administering the laws, she likewise formed her court, the court of love, by calling round her her young companions, the most distinguished for their beauty and spirit. A new career was now opened for those who dared to combat, not any longer with arms, but with verses; and the name of tenson, given to these dramatic contests, signifies literally a wrestling. Often, indeed, the warriors who had carried off the palın of valour entered the lists to contend likewise for that of poetry. One of them with a harp in his hand, after having played a prelude, proposed the subject of dispute, another advanced in his turn, and singing after the same air, answered by a stanza of the same measure, and often upon the same rhymes. They thus poured forth alternately their extemporaneous effusions, and the dispute was generally concluded within five couplets. The court of love then delibe rated, and after discussing not only the merits of the poets, but the inerits of the question, pronounced a decree of love (un arrét d'amour) most frequently in verse, by which it pretended to settle the points in debate. Several ladies who sat on these courts of love were able to answer themselves in verse to the verses they inspired.
These courts of love were held in the palace of every petty sovereign, and in the castle of almost every baron throughout Provence, Languedoc, Auvergne, Poitou, and, in short, in all the territories south of the Loire. The pomp and splendour with which they are invested, the crowds of strangers, which they attracted, the tournainenis and chivalrous exercises with which they were preceded and followed, the numerous specimens of the gay science, as they called their poetry, which were . made and recited by the collected warriors, converted this district for upwards of a century into a land of gallantry and pleasure, enjoying apparently a perpetual festival.
The monuments of their existence have disappeared like the arrangements of a carnival. The troubadours were all war. riors, who employed their poetry merely as a vehicle for com
municating their habitual sentiments, or the accidental passion kindled by the circumstances of the moment, and who never called upon their mind for any exertion that had a reference to posterity. If they satisfied the ardour of their own temper by the impetuosity of their sirventes ; if they soothed the fair despot of their affections by the devotion and tenderness of their chanzo, or overcame a rival in a tenson, they attained the summit of their literary ambition. Every warlike exploit was animated or celebrated in appropriate verse by some chevalier, and “ not a beauty reared her head unsung” by some trabadour lover. But though their poetry is voluminous, and the language of their pieces polished with care, there is no appearance that any of them wrote with a view to posthumous fame. They had no models before them, and the time was not come for leaving models. Their literature was checked, first, by the horrible religious persecutions which deluged in blood that same district where the effects of fanatical atrocity were lately witnessed, and secondly, by the political changes which encouraged the cultiva. tion and refinement of the rival dialects of Italy and Spain, at: the expence of the Provençal. The names of the most celebrated among them belong rather to political than literary his. tory, and will be remembered for what they did rather than for what they wrote. In the collection of their poetry are found pieces written by several sovereigns, as by Richard Caur de Lion, Alphonso II. King of Arragon, Raymond Berenger V.; but those who derived most reputation from their verses were Arnold de Marveil, Rambaud de Vaqueiras, Pierre Vidal, Arnold Daniel, and Pierre Cardinal.
BARON DE GRIMM'S CORRESPONDENCE.
The following Letter of Diderot's, “ Yo his Friend Mademoiselle
Voland," affords an agreeable specimen of his talent, and as it enables us at the same time to form sóme judgment of the Baron de Grimm himself, we hail it as a choice morsela
“ About seven o'clock, the company sat down to cards, but M. le Roi, Griinm, the Abbe Galiani, and myself preferred conversation. Oh! now, I will make you acquainted with the Abbe, whom, perhaps, you have hitherto considered only as an agreeable man. I assure you he is something better. The discourse between Grimm and M. le Roi, turned on the genius which creates, and the method which disposes. Grimm detests method; it is according to him, the pedantry of literature; those who can do nothing but methodizè, might as well remain idle; and those who can receive instruction only from methodical arrangement, might as well remain ignorant. But it is method which gives a subject its real value-and which also spoilsit. With out method we should make no improvement, except by taking more trouble, and that would be all the better. They said many other things which I shall not mention to you, and they might still have said many more, if the Abbe Galiani had not thus interrupted them.
My friends, I recollect a fable; pray hear it: it will, perhaps, be rather long, but it will not tire you.
One day, in the depth of a forest, a cuckoo and a nightingale entered into a contest on the subject of singing. Each of them valued his own talent. What bird, says the cuckoo, is capable of a strain so easy, so simple, so natural, and so distinctly mea. sured as mine ? And what bird, said the nightingale, has one more sweet, more varied, more brilliant, more airy, and more tender, than I have? I boast but few notes, said the cuckoo, but they have both weight and order, and the memory easily retains them. I love singing, replied the nightingale, but I am always new. I charm the forest, but you
sadden it. You are so attached to the lesson taught you by your mother, that you dare not venture a note which you have not learned from her, As to myself, I acknowledge no master, I laugh at all rules, and it is when I infringe them most that I am most admired. What comparison is there between your tedious method and my happy deviations from it?
The cuckoo frequently endeavoured to interrupt him; but nightingales are for ever singing and never listening, which is, indeed, somewhat their defect. Our songster, drawn on by his ideas, followed them with rapidity, without troubling himself about the answers of his rival. Nevertheless, after many sayings, and countersayings, they agreed to refer the dispute to the judgment of a third animal. A good judge is not to be found without difficulty ; and they flew about in every direction to seek one.
They were traversing a meadow, when they perceived an ass particularly grave and solemn : from the creation of the species, none had ever worn such long ears. Good, said the cuckoo, when he saw him, how lucky we are! our quarrel is a business of ears, there is our judge-made on purpose for us.
The ass was grazing—it never came into his head that he was one day to be a judge of music ; but time works many prodigies. Our two birds humble themselves before him, compliment him on his gravity and his judgment, inform him of the subject of their dispute, and intreat him to hear and decide ; but the ass, scarcely turning his head, and not losing a single mouthful, makes a sign to them with his ears that he is hungry, and does not to-day hold his court of justice. The birds continue to entreat, the ass continues to graze. There were some trees on the borders of the meadow : well, said he, (after he had satisfied his appetite,) do you go there, and I will come to you; you may sing while I digest; I will listen, and then give you my opinion. The birds take wing and perch themselves. The ass follows with the air and step of a chief justice crossing the hall; he arrives, stretches himself on the ground, and says,-Begin, the court is attentive.
The cuckoo said, My lord, not a word of my reasoning is to be lost ; consider well the character of my song, and above all, deign to observe the art and method of it: then bridling his head, and clapping his wings, he sang cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo ! and having combined these notes in every possible, manner, he was silent.
Then the nightingale, without any preamble, displays his voice, soars in the boldest modulations ; in strains the most new and uncommon ; in fine cadences and libitums, and notes held out to an astonishing length; sometimes the notes are heard to descend and murmur in the bottom of his throat, like the rivulet which loses itself among the pebbles; then again they rise and swell by degrees, till they fill the air, and remain as if suspended in it: he was successively sweet, light, brilliant and pathetic; but his song was not calculated to please every one.
Led on by his enthusiasm, he would have sung to this day, but the ass, after having yawned fearfully several times, stopped him and said, I doubt not but that what you have been singing is very fine, but I don't understand it: it appears to me out of the way, confused and unconnected : you are, perhaps, more Jearned than your rival, but he is more methodical than you,
and for my part, I am for method.
Then the Abbe, addressing himself to M. le Roi, and pointing to Grimm,—there, said he, is the nightingale, you are the cuckoo, and I am the ass who determines the cause in your favour. Good night.
THE MAID OF ST. MARINO,
AN HISTORICAL LEGEND.
HAPPY in the enjoyment of such advantages as were peculiar to the inhabitants of St. Marino (a small but long-famed republic in the 'Dukedom of Nabino) Jaques Mingotli and his wife