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From Fabliaux or Tales, abridged from French Manuscripts of the XIIth and XIIIth Centuries by M. Le Grand, selected and translated into English Verse, by the late G. L. Way, Esq., with A Preface, Notes and Appendix, by the late G. Ellis, Esq., A New Edition, corrected in Three Volumes, Volume I, Printed for J. Rodwell, London; 1815; pp. 1-48, 151-165.
WHAT wight is he that fain would now be told
Of rare adventures fallen in days of old? —
Sweet verse I sing, and goodly deeds I tell,
Of a young pair that lov’d each other well:
Young were they both, in love their hearts were met,
Their names were Aucassin and Nicolette.
All that the youth assay’d, by day or night,
For his sweet maid, with skin like lily white,
6 And all his prowesses, and all his pains,
The fruitful compass of my tale contains.
So chaste, so cheerful, their love’s strain doth flow,
No wight so sad but this must wake from wo;
No wight, though stretch’d upon his bed he lie,
With pain distraught, or worn with malady,
But, while he hears, shall quick recovery meet,
So touching is the tale, so passing sweet.
Ten livelong years were past since baleful war
Had scourg’d the afflicted lands of waste Beaucaire;
And to the city gates, the last defence,
In arms the stern Count Bongars of Valence
Led on his host: each rising sun beheld
An hundred knights well marshall’d in the field:
These, with a thousand of mix’d foot and horse,
Stretch’d all around with unresisted force,
Wide o’er the ravag’d plains their fury pour’d,
And smote the offenceless vassals with the sword;
7 While, bow’d with years, Count Garins’ faltering might
Shrunk from the storm of foes, and shunn’d the fight.
One son he had, and Aucassin his name,
Of power to vindicate his father’s fame;
For large of size he was, his limbs well set,
Stout manliness with wondrous beauty met:
But will was wanting. Love, whom all obey,
Rul’d o’er his heart with undivided sway;
Tourneys he heeded not, nor war’s emprize,
His soul’s desire one lovely maid supplies.
Full many a time his sire, with language kind,
And his fond mother, sought to move his mind:
‘Arm, dearest son!’ they cried, ‘ascend thy steed,
‘And bear strong succour in this hour of need:
‘Haste to our scatter’d vassals, head their host,
‘And stay these spoilers ere our all be lost;
‘Might to his men a warring chieftain gives;
‘So shall they guard their homes, their wealth, their lives.’
8 ‘My sire!’ the love-lost youth would answer still,
‘Thou know’st already my unshaken will,
‘May heaven still mar my hopes, reject my prayer,
‘If girded sword these limbs be seen to bear,
‘If steed be cross’d, if earthly power incite
‘This hand to join in tourney or in fight,
‘Ere to my arms my mistress thou impart;
‘Sweet Nicolette! the mistress of my heart!’
‘Fair son of mine!’ rejoin’d the mournful sire,
‘Ne’er may I yield to such uncouth desire:
‘High blood is thine, and lineage undefil’d’
‘She, bought of Saracens, a captive child:
‘My vassal, Viscount of Beaucaire, who paid
‘The paltry purchase of this paynim maid,
‘Who when he caus’d her since to be baptiz’d
‘Stood sponsor too, hath well her weal aviz’d,
‘And means fit spousal with some sturdy hind;
‘And the plough’s toil their needful food shall find
9 ‘Thou, if the marriage state be deem’d so bless’d,
‘To counts, to king’s may’st bear thy just request;
‘View France throughout; there seek thy nuptial joys;
‘There lives no lord so proud to slight thy choice:
‘Where-e’er we sue, the sire, whoe’er he be,
‘Will hold him honour’d in a son like thee.’
‘Ah, father mine!’ young Aucassin replied,
‘Where through the world’s wide waste may be descried
‘County or realm, that were not well appay’d
‘If Nicolette reign’d there, my lovely maid!’
The sire, unmov’d, his former word maintain’d,
And the good Countess pray’d, and threaten’d,. and complain’d;
But prayers or threatenings answer none might meet
Save this alone — ‘My Nicolette so sweet!
‘So simply beautiful! so courtly kind!
‘She ravishes my heart, she fills my mind.
‘So sweet my Nicolette! — if life abide,
‘Her love I needs must win, and she shall be my bride.’
The pensive sire, who now despair’d to move
His son’s fix’d purpose to prevail in love,
His vassal Viscount that same hour assay’d,
And call’d quick exile down upon the maid.
Sway’d by his fears, howe’er he blam’d the deed,
The yielding vassal the hard doom decreed,
And vow’d quick exile to some distant shore,
So strange, her name should ne’er be heard of more.
Yet for his heart belied his harsher tongue,
And the poor child was innocent and young,
And for he lov’d her, and abhorr’d the lot
Of punishment should fall where guilt was not;
He meant some place, from sight of man retir’d,
Should stead that banishment his lord requir’d.
In the top story of his palace tower
The builder had devis’d one lonely bower;
Its single window, small, and scant of light,
O’erlook’d a garden fair, that cheer’d the gazer’s sight;
11 To this small room the Viscount turn’d his mind,
Here well he thought the maid might be confin’d:
Hard-by abundant stores his kindness plac’d
Of all things needful for frail nature’s waste;
Then to a matron, grave with length of days,
He gave the child, with charge to answer for her ways.
Fair flaxen locks sweet Nicolette did grace,
Fair crisped locks, sweet symmetry of face;
Small were her teeth, and delicately white.
And her blue eyes with laughing lustre bright;
Then for her slender waist, it might be spann’d,
E’en with the narrow circle of your hand;
And her clear skin such freshness did adorn,
’Twas like the rosebud at the peep of morn;
And of a comely smallness, and of hue
More red than summer’s cherries ripening new,
Were her twain lips; while through her robe below
Two dainty apples rose, but whiter than the snow:
12 Such was her form: to sum up all in one,
Maiden so sweet your eyes saw never none.
Soon as her doom this hapless orphan spied,
To the small casement with quick step she hied,
And o’er the garden cast her wishful sight,
All gay with flowers it seem’d, a garden of delight;
On every spray the merry birds did sing,
And hail’d the season’s prime with fluttering wing:
‘Ah! wo is me!’ she cried, ‘in doleful cheer;
‘Lo here I bide! for ever prison’d here! —
‘Sweet love! sweet Aucassin! for thee confin’d!
‘For that dear love which fills our mutual mind! —
‘Yet shall their deeds ne’er shake my constant will,
‘For I am true of heart, and bent to love thee still.’
The folk meanwhile, who all, though none knew where,
Saw Nicolette was absent from Beaucaire,
Whene’er thy met, their various thoughts compar’d,
And argued how perchance the maid had far’d.
13 Some ween’t her fled, while others rumour’d rife
Count Garins sure had practis’d on her life:
I wot not if one single heart were glad,
Poor Aucassin’s, past doubt, was hopeless sad;
Soon to the Viscount, wo-begone, he hied,
And claim’d his beauteous maid, his plighted bride.
‘All that I lov’d!’ he cried with piteous tone,
‘My world’s best dearest treasure! — she is gone!
‘Hast thou bereft me thus? — my parting breath
‘Calls out on thee, the authour of my death.’
Awhile the Viscount hop’d, and vainly strove
To waken shame for such inglorious love:
But, while he spake, the youth’s enkindled eye
Flash’d with such ire, and told such hatred nigh,
That, sway’d by prudence, sadly thus in brief
He shew’d the harsh commandment of his chief:
‘Young friend!’ he said, ‘give bootless passion o’er;
‘Thine eyes must gaze on Nicolette no more.
14 ‘Be resolute, and wisely bear thy lot,
‘That thy sire deem the luckless maid forgot;
‘Else, uncontroll’d in wrath, too sure I read
‘Some direful ruin bursting on thy head;
‘E’en on myself perchance the storm will fall,
‘And thy dear damsel! — thou the cause of all!
‘Wrought up to madness, thine imperious sire
‘May doom us both to dreadful death by fire.’
Heart-struck, the stripling heard; then wildly turn’d
Swift to his home, and thus in secret mourn’d:
‘Sweet Nicolette!’ he cried, ‘my mild, my meek!
‘So sweet whene’er you smile, whene’er you speak;
‘So sweet to kiss, and to embrace so sweet;
‘Own sister mine — we never more may meet!
‘Here, all forlorn, bid I: — here yet I breathe: —
‘Soon, soon I trust, to quench despair in death!’
While thus young Aucassin, of grief the prey,
Wept all the vigour of his life away,
15 The stout Count Bongars, bent to end the war,
Girt, strait and sore, the castle of Beaucaire;
To each brave knight had now assign’d his post,
And to the storm led on his dreadless host.
Within too, knights and squires, a gallant band,
Throng’d round the gates and walls were seen to stand;
Bold burghers, mounted on the embattled towers,
Hurl’d sharpen’d stakes, and shot down arrowy showers;
Yet lack’d there still some chief’s approved might
To animate their deeds, and rule the fight.
Dismay’d, Count Garins hasten’d to his son;
‘Base wretch!’ he cried, ‘e’en now the gates are won,
‘And thou sitt’st tamely here! to see thy land
‘Waste all and captiv’d by the foeman’s band? —
‘These castle walls — this last resource to see
‘Storm’d all and lost? — then what remains to thee? —
‘Rouse, dearest son, thy warriour steed ascend,
‘Thy vassals cheer, thy heritage defend:
16 ‘E’en though thy craven soul refuse to fight,
‘Thy presence shall confirm thy followers’ might;
‘On to the foe the elated bands will throng,
‘And bear resistless victory along.’
‘My sire,’ young Aucassin return’d in haste,
‘Spare vain remonstrance, for my word is past.
‘Heaven instant punish me, if e’er I go,
‘Or change one stroke in combat with a foe,
‘Till to my arms thou Nicolette impart,
‘Sweet Nicolette! the mistress of my heart!’
‘Son,’ quoth the Count, ‘I liefer far desire
‘To see all lost:’ — he spoke, and turn’d in ire.
‘Yet stay, yet stay!’ young Aucassin rejoin’d,
‘And let this proffer please my father’s mind:
‘E’en now in arms I seek the mortal strife.
‘So thou declare, should heaven preserve my life,
‘Back when I speed victorious from the war
‘These eyes shall once again behold my fair;
17 ‘My fair sweet Nicolette, my heart’s delight,
‘Once, only once, again shall bless my sight;
‘Hear one kind speech, receive one parting kiss, —
‘Lo, now I arm, so thou but grant me this.’
‘So be it then;’ the aged Count rejoin’d:
‘Herein I vow to grant thee all thy mind.’
Briefly he spoke, and scarce his speech was done
Ere Aucassin was dight, with hauberk on;
Then, mounted on a strong and fiery steed,
With beamy lance in hand, and helmed head,
The opening gates let forth the impatient boy,
Fill’d with fond dreams of love, and wild delirious joy.
So rapt was he, so every sense was set
On the near hope to meet his Nicolette,
As one sans eyes, sans ears, he pricked along
In the thick fight, nor mark’d the hostile throng,
Till close begirt, while loud on every side
‘Lo here the youthful Aucassin!’ they cried,
18 His shield, his land, pluck’d forcefully away,
He wak’d at last, to turn the fortune of the day:
Now right, now left, he whirls his sword on high,
And head, hands, arms, in mingled ruin fly:
So in some forest wild a salvage boar
By baying dogs assail’d, and harass’d sore,
Where-e’er he turns, make fearful waste around,
And wise with gore defiles the hostile ground.
Seven doughty knights he wounded, ten he slew,
And hew’d at length his desperate passage through;
Then at full speed press’d onwards o’er the plain,
And sought Beaucaire’s embattled towers again.
Just then Count Bongars heard the shouts from far
Of — ‘Aucassin the captive of the war!’
And hasting through the hot promiscuous fray,
Came up to share the triumph of the day:
Him spied the youth, and dealt so dire a blow
On is proud helm, as laid the warriour low;
19 Then by the nasal seis’d, and firmly held,
He furious drags him o’er the bloody field,
On to Beaucaire’s high walls exultant hies.
And to Count Garins bears the glorious prize.
‘My sire,’ he cries, ‘behold Valence’s chief!
‘Dire cause of ten years misery and grief.’ —
‘Ah, gallant son!’ the joyful sire replied,
‘Thus, thus becomes thy manhood to be tried;
‘Thus should the land recount thy conquests o’er,
‘Thy love’s inglorious folly nam’d no more.’
‘Spare your remarks,’ young Aucassin rejoin’d,
‘And let your plighted faith employ your mind:
‘I well remember, if my sire forget;
‘And claim sweet sight of long-lost Nicolette.’
‘Boy!’ quoth the Count, ‘no further tempt mine ire; —
‘Now were she here, to dreadful death by fire
‘Far liefer would I straight that giglet cast;
‘Else let these words I utter be my last.’
20 ‘Say’st thou!’ the son replies, ‘my heart doth quail
‘When such foul falsehoods in old age prevail!
‘— Count of Valence, thou stand’st my prisoner there —
‘Give me thine hand, and hence for ever swear
‘To work this father’s wo, whene’er thou may’st,
‘By thee still harm’d, afflicted, and disgrac’d.’ —
‘Sir!’ quoth Count Bongars, ‘war’s disastrous hour
‘Hath cast my lot within my foeman’s power;
‘Name ransome as you list; — gold, silver bright,
‘Palfreys, or dogs, or falcons train’d to flight;
‘Or choose you sumptuous furs, of vair, or gray;
‘I plight my faith the destin’d price to pay:
‘But pray you, scoff not! mockery pray you spare
‘Of one whose fall is nigh too great to bear.’
‘Nay, argue not!’ with interruption rude
Young Aucassin exclaim’d in furious mood,
‘But shape thee to my will, or thou art slain
‘E’en as thou speak’st, down cloven to thy brain.’
Dismay’d, Count Bongars urg’d his suit no more,
But vow’d each needful malediction o’er;
Then, by his conqueror led, he sought the plain,
And hail’d his late-lost liberty again.
What hence befalls young Aucassin? — the meed
Of swift repentance for his desperate deed;
Seis’d by his sire’s command that self-same hour,
And lodg’d within the prison of the tower.
Inquire we now how Nicolette far’d,
She too a thrall, with constant watch and ward:
One night, poor sleepless child, her eyes she bent
On the bright moon, that fill’d the firmament,
(For ’twas the season now of prime delights,
Of calm long days, and mild unclouded nights,)
And heard the garden echo with the tale
Of night’s lone bird, the songstress nightingale;
And, as she listen’d, straight her fancy rov’d
To her lost Aucassin, her best belov’d;
22 Thence to his cruel sire, whose ruthless mood
Caus’d all her wo, and sought to shed her blood.
It chanc’d her matron warder slept that hour:
She seis’d the time; and, bent to flee the tower,
Crept from her couch with noiseless trembling haste,
And o’er her limbs her silken mantle cast;
Next her twain sheets with knots united strong
Slow to the window’s beam she trail’d along,
And by the end made fast; then on the length
Down-sliding, clasping with her utmost strength,
Soon in the garden gay the maid did light,
And trod the dewy grass with daisies white;
White were the flowers, yet, barefoot as she far’d,
Seem’d dark of hue with Nicolette compar’d.
Led by the favouring moon’s unclouded ray
The garden’s gate she pass’d, then shap’d her way
On through the town, till weetless she arriv’d
Where lay her love, of liberty depriv’d.
A massy tower it was, of ancient day,
Now full of chinks, and verging to decay;
And from its gaping crannies seem’d to rise
Sad words of wo and lamentable sighs:
Such piteous plaining stay’d the listening maid,
Close to its gloomy walls her ear she laid,
Then quickly learn’d the wretched prisoner there
Was Aucassin, the victim of despair.
‘Ah gentle bachelor!’ the maid began,
‘Why thus lament? why shed thy tears in vain?
‘Thy sire, thy house, in common hatred join,
‘Sweet Aucassin! I never can be thine!
‘Farewell! I go, the boundless ocean cross’d,
‘In a strange land to dwell, to thee for ever lost.’
E’en as she spoke, one clustering ringlet fair
Her dainty fingers sever’d from her hair,
And cast unto her love; the gentle boy
Caught up the precious gift with amorous joy,
24 The crisped lock with glowing kisses press’d,
Then clasp’d in close concealment to his breast;
And ‘Ah, sweet Nicolette! thou may’st not flee!
‘Sweet maid!’ he cried, ‘I cannot part with thee:
‘If from this land thy luckless footsteps wend,
‘Thy deed will sadly bring my days to end.’
On the tower top, for needful watch and ward,
A sentinel there stood, its custom’d guard;
He heard their moan; it fill’d his heart with ruth
For the poor helpless maid and captive youth;
When from the distant entrance of the street
He caught the trampling sound of hasty feet,
The soldiers of the night; more nigh they drew,
And the bright moon bewray’d them to his view;
Each in his hand a sheathless falchion held,
But their long garb the glittering blades conceal’d:
‘Wo worth the while!’ he cried, ‘they now are nigh;
‘Sore pity such a gentle damsel die!
25 ‘And, should she perish, well my heart doth read
‘Young Aucassin will not survive the deed.’
Fain would he tell the maid, but then he fears
His treacherous words might warn the soldiers’ ears;
At last, by sleight his counsel to convey,
He merrily ’gan chant the following lay.
‘Heaven’s peace your sire’s and mother’s soul betide
‘For your good deed!’ the gentle damsel cried;
26 Then backward slunk, and crouching to the ground.
And gathering close her flowing mantle round,
Unseen of all, her dainty limbs she laid
Where a huge buttress cast its dismal shade;
The soldier band their custom’d course kept on,
Kenn’d not the lurking maid, and soon were gone:
Then one farewell she sigh’d of deep despair,
And sought the moated ramparts of Beaucaire.
Awhile dismay’d her wishful eyes she case
Down on the sloping gulph, profound and vast;
But dread of Garins’ ire forbade her stay,
And urg’d her to attempt the dangerous way;
With pious hand one mystick cross she made
In humble trust of heaven’s directing aid,
Then, sliddering down, and graz’d with many a wound,
Reach’d the dank bottom of the moat profound.
One deed was done; but sorer toils remain;
The summit of the opposing steep to gain:
27 It chanc’d, so favouring fortune seem’d to prove
The partner and the guide of loyal love,
A pointed stake athwart her footsteps lay,
The relick of Beaucaire’s conflicting day;
With her twain hands the joyous damsel light
Caught up the prop, and strove to scale the height;
Now step by step her tottering feet she plies,
Pois’d on her staff, and scarcely seems to rise,
Yet does she nought for weariness recoil,
till the steep summit gain’d rewards her toil.
Not further thence than cross-bow well might speed,
Twice drawn, its bolt, if endlong shots succeed,
A darksome forest wild its skirts around
Stretch’d far and wide o’er threescore miles of ground,
Ill fam’d of all; for, as their wonted laire.
Wild beasts and poisonous reptiles harbour’d there/
Sad strait for tender maid! some monster’s prey
If onward she should urge her venturous way;
28 Yet, should she wait, captivity was nigh,
And the Count’s doom by cruel death to die.
Thick bushy brakes, the purlieu of the wild,
Grew straggling round; and hither sped the child:
In these, foredone with toil, was fain to creep,
And sooth her senses in forgetful sleep.
Now dawn’d the day with streaky radiance red;
The shepherd swains their flocks to pasture led;
Then on the grass a rustick garment cast,
And, placing bread thereon, their plain repast,
All sitting down their morning meal began
Where from its welling source a streamlet ran.
Their simple chat awak’d the slumbering maid,
She gently greeted all, and thus she said:
‘Know ye, kind friends, young Aucassin the fair,
‘Whose sire, Count Garins, rules o’er all Beaucaire?’ —
‘Ay, marry do we, lass!’ — the swains replied;
But, gazing as they spoke, such charms espied
29 That all astonied were with strange dismay,
And ween’d them question’d by some forest fay.
‘I pray ye, friends!’ sweet Nicolette rejoin’d,
‘Haste to the youth, and tell him he may find
‘Within these buskets here a hind so white
‘He’d give five hundred marks to see the sight,
‘Nay, all the gold this spacious world contains,
‘Might sweet possession recompence his pains:
‘Tell him that here, with virtues rare endued
‘To cure all pains, all sore solicitude,
‘For three full days she harbours nigh this place,
‘And wooes the merry hunter to the chace;
‘This season past, his search will all be vain,
‘Nor may he ever hope to cure his pain.’
So ceas’d the maid, and straight with lily hand
A slender dole she dealt the shepherd band,
(These would not to the town her tidings bear,
But sure would tell him should they ken him there,)
30 Then lightly tripp’d, with hope’s enchantment gay,
To a green brake beside the foot-worn way.
That spot she chose; and there a bower she wove
To harbour and to try her absent love:
‘If well he love me as his lips declare,
(Thus argued with herself the damsel fair,)
‘He sure will halt when first this bower he see,
‘Then enter in and bide for sake of me:’
And as she whisper’d thus, she deck’d her cell
Still with gay flowers and herbs of odorous smell,
Then by a sheltering thorn lay secret down,
In hope fair chance her harmless wile might crown.
Meanwhile the Viscount of Beaucaire with dread
Heard the strange tale that Nicolette had fled,
And, by a crafty rumour, cast to ward
The ire and foul suspicions of his lord;
Swift through the town he spread the tidings wide
How Nicolette in bed by night had died:
31 Count Garins hears, and listens with delight,
Weens all his former grief extinguish’d quite;
Frees from the tower his late imprison’d boy,
And strives to rouse his sadden’d soul to joy/
Straight for a sumptuous feast he gives command,
And calls the knights and damsels of his land;
Throng’d was the court, and various pastimes shown,
All naught to Aucassin, whose love was gone:
Apart from all, in melancholy mood,
Reclin’d against a column’s height he stood,
Till, at the last, in pity of his plight,
Thus counsell’d in his ear a friendly knight:
‘List, sir, to me, nor think my counsel vain,
‘For I once suffer’d of the self-same pain:
‘Scenes such as these desponding minds offend;
‘Hence — mount your steed — and to the green-wood wend;
‘There, as you slowly wind your reckless way,
‘Your ears beguil’d with many a warbler’s lay,
32 ‘Your eyes with springing grass and flowerets bright,
‘Strange solace may arise, and sooth your troubled spright.’
‘Thanks, gentle knight!’ young Aucassin replied,
And from the festive hall unnotic’d hied;
Then, on his steed, the city gates he pass’d.
And sought with heavy cheer the woodland waste.
Hard by the fountain’s brink in rustick chat,
Again, as late, the simple shepherds sat:
A frock for drapet lay upon the grass;
And, bought with bounty of their stranger lass,
Two meal-cakes were their fare; and as they fed,
Thus to his comrades shepherd Lucas said:
‘Good luck, my mates, where-ever he abide,
‘Our gentle valet Aucassin betide!
‘And happy chance the flaxen lass attend,
‘For, soothly, she hath been the shepherd’s friend;
‘Her goodly gift, we wot, hath purchas’d cakes,
‘And case-knives too, and flutes for merrymakes.’
33 Catching his closing word with ravish’d ears,
E’en while he spoke young Aucassin appears,
‘For sure,’ quoth he, ‘these shepherd swains have met
‘My best-belov’d, mine own sweet Nicolette!’
Then, while he dealt them dole with willing hand,
Uprose the ablest spokesman of the band,
And of the milk-white hind he told the tale,
That woo’d the hunter in the forest dale:
‘Thanks, friends!’ quoth Aucassin, and prick’s his steed,
‘Her shall I rouse, so heaven my hopes succeed;’ —
And to the tangled waste he lightly hied;
And, ever and anon, ‘Sweet love!’ he cried,
‘Own sister Nicolette! for thee I haste
‘To brave the salvage monsters of the waste,
‘For peep of thy bright eyes, thy tender smiles,
‘For thy sweet speech that every grief beguiles;’ —
Then spurr’d amain: his limbs were all-to torn
With twining bramble and sharp-pointed thorn,
34 But nought for these he car’d; nor slack’d his way
For the last glimmer of declining day;
Yet, as he saw the sinking sun depart,
From either eye the briny tears did start:
Howbeit the paler moon day’s light supplied,
And on he far’d, with fortune for his guide,
Till hard at hand he spied, in prosperous hour,
His lady’s arbour green, bedeck’d with many a flower.
Scarce on the flowers his ravish’d eyes were set,
But ‘Lo!’ he cried, ‘the bower of Nicolette!
‘Sweet mistress mine! her curios fingers well
‘Have wrought this shade, this heart-delighting cell,
‘And here for love of her will I alight,
‘And musing pass away the livelong night:’
Speaking, he sprang; but by his hast o’erthrown,
Pitch’d from his seat, and lux’d the shoulder-bone:
Maim’d as he was, with single hand made fast
Beneath a spreading tree his steed he plac’d,
35 Then, heedless of his pain, and wild with love,
Sped to the bower his loyal damsel wove,
And, entering there, ‘Hail, dear delicious scene!
‘Hail, flowers!’ he cried, ‘hail pleached branches green!
‘What bliss were mine, what fond embracements dear,
‘Were Nicolette, my heart’s best solace, here.’
The maid o’erheard, and springing up for joy,
Ran from her covert nigh to clasp the boy:
So both are bless’d; and heaven, the aye doth view
With patronage the love that’s pure and true,
So prosper’d the sweet lass, her strength alone
Thrust deftly back the dislocated bone;
Then, culling various herbs of virtue tried,
While her white smock the needful bands supplied,
With many a coil the limb she swath’d around,
And nature’s strength return’d, nor knew its former wound.
Now lightly on his courser, prest for flight,
See the young gallant seat his heart’s delight,
36 Then mount behind; and, in his lusty arms
Still as he clips and treasures all her charms,
With ceaseless soft caress by turns invade
The eyes, fresh lips, and forehead of the maid:
And ‘Whither wend we, love?’ at times she cried;
‘I wot not, I!’ the joyous youth replied;
‘What matters whither, to what land, we flee,
‘So nought divide sweet Nicolette from me.’
Thus, many a mountain tall, and lonely vale,
And populous burghs and cities passing tale,
They travers’d In their course; nor check’d their flight
Till now the billowy sea was full in sight:
On the long strand the busy merchants stood,
Their barks danc’d proudly on the buoyant flood;
One, prest to sail, they spy; their passage crave,
Mount the steep side, and gayly cleave the wave.
Alas! not long: — the sky with alter’d form
Looks darksome round, and speaks the gathering storm:
37 The sailors, timely warn’d, stand in for shore,
And gain the spacious port of strong Torelore.
Here three full years o bliss without alloy
Dwelt with his partner fair the jocund boy;
Till, with a mighty fleet that lin’d the strand,
Came the fierce Saracen to spoil the land:
To hostile power Torelore’s proud fortress yields,
Waste is her peopled town and fertile fields,
Her folk all fallen, of timeless death the prey,
Or driven in sad captivity away:
And, with the rest, to different vessels borne,
Wend the poor maid and Aucassin forlorn,
He, hands and feet, confin’d: the paynim host
Then spread their canvas wide, and quit the ravag’d coast.
Scarce had they lost the land, when o’er the deep,
Howl’d far and wide the storm with scattering sweep.
Far from the rest, toss’d on from shore to shore
Young Aucassin’s light bark the surges bore;
38 Then wreck’d at last, by favouring fortune rare,
Fast by the castle walls of proud Beaucaire.
What wonder reign’d I need not now record,
When the folk saw and hail’d their future lord:
(For, while the son his various fortunes tried,
The father and the mother both had died:)
On to the castle straight the crowds proceed,
With seemly pomp, their sovereign at their head;
There peacefully he reign’d, nor knew regret
Save for sad loss of hapless Nicolette.
The maid, we lately told, from Torelore’s coast
Borne by the foe, and by the tempest toss’d.
To waste that luckless land with dole and dread
The Carthaginian king his fleet had led.
Not singly bent, for mov’d with equal ire
Sail’d his twelve sons, all sovereigns like their sire:
And now, with downcast eye and look depress’d
The monarch’s bark contain’d the captive guest.
Her peerless charms each royal youth control,
Tame his rude will, and regulate his soul;
Much they regard the maid, and oft demand
How nam’d her parents, how her native land:
‘In sooth, I know not,’ Nicolette replied,
‘For I a long captivity have tried:
‘In tender age by paynim corsairs sold;
‘Full fifteen summers since have onward roll’d.’
And now with joy their bark the sailors moor
Where stately Carthage guards the wave-worn shore;
Then what amazement seis’d the captive maid!
Each scene, each spot, her wondering eyes survey’d,
The castle’s rooms and ramparts, — all appears
The witness of her birth and infant years.
Nor less of wonder mov’d, nor less delight,
The monarch old, to hear her lips recite
Such tales of infancy as prov’d her plain
His daughter long time lost, and wail’d in vain.
40 On her soft neck he fell, there silent lay,
And in a flood of tears gave rapture way:
Their father’s joy the gallant princes share,
And clasp by turns their new-found sister fair;
Then fain would sway her to be woo’d and won
By a young Saracen, a monarch’s son:
But the pure mind of Nicolette abhorr’d
To yield her plighted hand to paynim lord;
Young Aucassin alone her thoughts possess’d,
He ’reav’d her days and anxious nights of rest,
None other hope she held, no wish approv’d,
Save once again to join her best-belov’d.
So bent, she cast for furtherance of her plan
To learn the minstrel’s art, and pass for man:
The violin’s soft tones in secret hour
Oft did she wake, and soon was mistress of their power;
Then, when the night its darksome influence shed,
Far from the castle walls the damsel fled,
41 Nor stay’d, till hard beside old ocean’s flood
Where a poor female’s lonely cottage stood,
Her wearied feet were fain to halt at length;
So there she lodg’d, and there renew’d her strength:
Her hands, her beauteous face, she rudely marr’d
With blackening juice from bruised herb prepar’d;
And soon to move with hardier port began,
In mantle, hose, and doublet, garb’d like man:
And, as she sojourn’d thus, and eyed the wave,
Bound to Provence she kenn’d a vessel brave,
And straight for passage sued; and clave the main
With prosperous course to fertile France again.
Now forth she fares, a minstrel in attire,
(Her violin’s sweet notes the swains admire,)
And shapes her course, till hard at hand she spies
Beaucaire’s embattled towers and ramparts rise.
On the high steps that grac’d his palace gate,
Girt with his barons bold in royal state
42 It chanc’d the young Count sat; in pensive mood
His eyes were fix’d upon the neighbouring wood:
There, some years past, in prosperous search he met
His heart’s desire, his own sweet Nicolette:
The well-known scene, to sad remembrance dear,
Swell’d in his heart, and wak’d a glistening tear.
Just then, advancing from the green-wood brake,
Thus to the court the minstrel damsel spake:
‘Please you to hear, my noble masters all,
‘What hap true lovers twain did once befall?
‘Of gentle Aucassin my tale shall tell,
‘And Nicolette, who lov’d each other well.’
E’en as she speaks, applausive murmurs rise,
And straight her violin’s clear tones she tries,
And tunes her voice, and sings the passing truth
Of the maid’s passion for her darling youth;
And how she scap’d the tower, and how she stay’d
Till the boy met her in the woodland shade:
43 Nor slack’d she song, till now her cheerless lay
Reach’d the sad hour that bore them both away;
Their luckless doom the minstrel sang with pain,
Then with the following musick clos’d her strain: —
What needs to tell, now while the lay did last
Distraught seem’d Aucassin, like wight aghast?
Thick rising singults his full heart oppress’d,
And nigh to bursting throbb’d his quivering breast.
44 Far from the crowd, ere well she ceas’d her song,
To a lone spot he led the maid along;
And — ‘Know’st thou then,’ he cried, ‘thou minstrel youth,
‘This maid whose strange adventures wake my ruth?
‘Sweet Nicolette! of whom thy tale doth tell,
‘Who lov’d her gentle Aucassin so well?’
‘To Carthage late my wandering footsteps stray’d,’
The songstress answer’d, ‘there I saw the maid;
‘And one, more seeming for lost love forlorn,
‘More frank, more loyal, never sure was born!
‘Full sore distress and martyrdoms abhorr’d
‘She bore, yet still refus’d a paynim lord.’
‘Sweet gentle friend!’ young Aucassin rejoin’d,
‘Once more, where-e’er she swell, the damsel find!
‘Tell her that once her place of sojourn known,
Straight thither, wing’d with love, I should have flown;
‘Tell her what flattering hopes I still have fed,
‘Her still have vow’d, and her alone, to wed:
45 ‘Go — and be all your choicest arts applied
‘To win her here to me, to be my bride,
‘Large gifts of gold and silver, noble meed
‘As your won thoughts can promise, crown your deed.’
He ceas’d his speech; and, as an earnest paid,
Gave twenty marks of silver to the maid:
She promis’d, and retir’d; yet, as she pass’d,
On her dear lord one parting look she cast,
And saw him all in tears: her heart was mov’d,
Nor could she thus forsake her best-belov’d;
But back she turn’d, and pray’d him to be cheer’d:
‘Put trust in me,’ she cried, ‘be nothing fear’d‘;
‘Soon shall my zeal your warmest hopes fulfil,
‘And win your lovely lady to your will.’
Now, left the castle gates, as swift as thought
The Viscount of Beaucaire the minstrel sought;
With grief she learns her friend no longer liv’d,
In solitude his widow’d spouse surviv’d;
46 She, who in childhood erst the maid did rear,
And as her daughter deem’d, and held as dear,
Beholds her with an ecstasy of joy
In uncouth habit of a minstrel boy:
So there the damsel stay’d; and culling there
Choice cleansing simples from the neighbouring laire,
Chafes with their precious juice all stains away,
And givers her skin’s pure lustre back to day:
The balm of rest, the bath’s salubrious power,
In one short week restores dim beauty’s flower.
The good Viscountess then with joy array’d
In her own costliest robes the lovely maid;
High on a silken couch she seats her charms,
Then speeds to guide her lover to her arms.
He, from the hour he heard the minstrel’s strain,
Had pass’d his days and livelong nights in pain:
‘Rise, follow me,’ the good Viscountess cried,
‘My art perchance may make these woes subside.’
He rose, and follow’d; in his dubious mind
Disquietude with rising hope combin’d;
But, when he enter’d, — when his eyes survey’d —
O strange astonishment! — his loyal maid;
All motionless he stood: at such a sight
Excess of wondrous joy o’ercame him quite.
Light leap’d the damsel from her couch of state,
And sprang with outspread arms to clasp her mate;
Then fondly gaz’ed, then clasp’d him o’er again
And kiss’d with winning smile his eyelids twain.
What mutual soft caresses soon ensued,
By thousands given and ta’en, and still renew’d,
How both together pass’d the fleeting night,
How the next morn surpris’d them with her light,
I tell not here: — suffice, in close of all,
When seemly hour was come, from gorgeous hall
To holy church the youth led on the fair,
And wedlock made her the Countess of Beaucaire.
Thus, many a sore distress and sorrow pass’d,
Behold these lovers reunite at last;
On Aucassin the maid’s true heart was set,
His constant heart still beat for Nicolette;
Long liv’d they both in pleasures unallay’d:
So ends the pretty tale that I have made.
IT may not be amiss to preface the following Note by observing, that most of the head- and tail-pieces throughout the volumes are intended to be something more than mere ornaments, being composed with attention to the costume of the 12th and 13th centuries. They were executed, chiefly after the translator’s sketches, by Messrs. Thomas and John Bewick of Newcastle-upon-Tyne; the younger of whom died while these pages were preparing for the press.
The compositions of the Trouveurs now extant, whether Lays or Fabliaux,, are so universally metrical, that M. Le Grand remarks the present tale is probably the only known exception to this rule, being a mixture 152 of prose and verse. The prose, which forms the body of the narration, was intended to be declaimed, and the pieces of poetry with which it was interspersed, seem to have answered the purpose of the airs in our operas. In the original accordingly the copyist has inserted ‘this part is to be sung,’ ‘this part is to be declaimed.’ In one manuscript the airs are noted; and M. Le Grand remarks, that this is the only example he had been able to discover of the species of musical composition by which the metrical romances were always accompanied.
Page 13, Line 11. ‘Awhile the Viscount hop’d, &c.’
In the original, the Viscount represents to Aucassin the joys of Paradise and the pains of hell; to which Aucassin replies by ridiculing his paradise, which he considers as the habitation of none but dirty monks and priests and hermits; and declares his resolution of going to the devil, with whom he is sure of finding good company: kings, valiant knights and faithful squires, minstrels and jugglers, and, above all, his Nicolette. It has been already observed, that our ancestors in the good old times were not eminent for their pure taste in wit or morality.
Page 15, Line 7. ‘Bold burghers, mounted on the
‘embattled towers, &c.’
The following description of an ancient castle, taken principally from Dr. Henry’s History of England, may serve as a comment on this passage, and explain the general scenery of the tale.
The situation of ancient castles was usually on an eminence, and near a river. The whole site of the castle was surrounded by a deep and broad ditch, sometimes dry, and sometimes filled with water. On the edge of this stood the wall, about eight or ten feet thick, and between twenty and thirty feet high, with a parapet, and a kind of embrasures, called crenelles, on the top. On this wall, at proper distances, were built square towers, two or three stories high, containing apartments for the principal officers, and adjoining to these were lodgings for the common servants or retainers, granaries, storehouses, and other necessary offices. On the top of the wall, and on the flat roofs of these buildings, stood the defenders of the castle when it was besieged, and thence discharged arrows, darts, and stones on the besiegers. Before the great gate was an outwork, called a barbacan, or antemural, which was a strong and high wall with turrets, designed for the defence of the gate and drawbridge. The gate was also defended by a tower on each side, 154 and rooms over the passage, which was closed by thick folding doors of oak, often plated with iron, and by an iron portcullis or grate let down from above. Within this outward wall was a large open space or court, called the outer bayley, in which stood commonly a church or chapel. Within this outer bayley was another ditch, wall, and gate, with their towers, inclosing the inner bayley; within which was the principal hill and tower, called the keep or dungeon. This tower, the palace of the prince or baron, and residence of the constable or governor, was a large square fabrick four or five stories high, having small windows in very thick walls, which rendered the apartments within it dark and gloomy. In it was the great hall, in which the owner displayed his hospitality, by entertaining his numerous friends and followers. The lower part consisted of dark rooms or vaults, often used for the confinement of prisoners; and hence, it has been inferred, this principal tower derived its name of dungeon. (See Henry, Vol. III. page 460. 4to. edit.) The dungeon, however (donjon, dunjo,) more probably receives its appellation from its situation, in duno, seu colle, — on an eminence; and as the most gloomy part of this gloomy edifice was employed as a prison, it has 155 communicated its own name to all dismal places of confinement. (See Preface to Grose’s Antiquities, Vol. I. Pages 10. 12. edit. 1783.)
The following lines in Lydgate’s ‘Fall of Princes,’ (Book VIII. chap. 24.) give support to this etymology of dungeon: —
‘Thus, of Bretayn translated was the sonne,
‘Up to the rich sterry bright dongeon,
‘Astronomers wel rehearse konne,
‘Called Arthur’s constellation.’ —
A representation of an ancient castle, correct enough to illustrate the above note, is given as the tail-piece to ‘The Mule without a Bridle,’ after a place in Grose’s Antiquities, though with the omission of the inner bayley and wall, a fortification by no means universal to such fastnesses.
The reader should, indeed, bear in mind, what the author of that work observes, (Preface, page 8,) that ‘the general shape or plan of these castles depended entirely on the caprices of the architects, or the form of the ground intended to be occupied: neither do they seem to have confined themselves to any particular figure in their towers; square, round, and polygonal, 156 oftentimes occurring in the original parts of the same building.’
Page 17, Line 8. ‘Ere Aucassin was dight, with
Mail armour, of which the hauberk is a species, and which derived its name from maille, a French word for mesh, was of two kinds: plate or scale mail (squamata vestis), and chain mail (hamata vestis). It was originally used for the protection of the body only, reaching no lower than the knees; it was shaped like a carter’s smock-frock, and bound round the waist by a girdle. Gloves and hose of mail were afterwards added, and a hood, which when necessary was drawn over the skin from the impression of the iron net-work of the chain mail, a quilted lining was employed, which, however, was insufficient; and the bath was used to efface the marks of the armour. The engraving prefixed to ‘The Order of Knighthood,’ exhibit’s the scale mail, the plate and scale mail conjointly, and the chain mail.
The hauberk was a complete covering of double chain mail. It consisted of a hood joined to a jacket, with sleeves, breeches, stockings, and shoes; to which were added gloves or gauntlets of the same construction. 157 Some hauberks opened before like a modern coat: others were closed like a shirt.
The chain mail of which they were composed was formed by a number of iron links, each link having others inserted into it, the whole exhibiting a kind of net-work, of which (in some instances at least) the meshes were circular, with every link separately riveted.
The hauberk was proof against the most violent blow of a sword; but the point of a lance might pass through the meshes, or drive the wires into the flesh. To guard against his, a thick and well-stuffed doublet was worn underneath, called a gambeson, under which was commonly added an iron breast-plate. Hence, (or rather, perhaps, from the usage of the 14th and following centuries, when a cuirass was frequently worn over a shirt of mail,) the expression of ‘piercing both plate and mail,’ so common in our earlier poets.
In France, none but persons of a certain estate, called un fief de haubert, were permitted to wear a hauberk, which was the armour of a knight. Esquires might only wear a simple coat of mail, without the hood and hose. (See Grose on Ancient Armour.) Le Grand remarks that Aucassin, not being knighted, could not have appeared at a tournament with the hauberk: 158 perhaps the forms relating to military dress were relaxed in times of real service. On a journey the hauberk was rolled up, and carried behind the saddle.
Mail armour continued in general use in Europe, till about the year 1300, when it was gradually supplanted by plate armour, or suits consisting of large pieces or plates of solid iron, adapted to the different parts of the body. Conjointly with this, however, it was still often worn, as late even as the 16th century. Mail armour is at this day used in the East Indies (See Grose’s Asiatick Armour,) and also by the Circassians.
A representation of plate armour, with its cuirass and its greeves, (iron boots,) is given in the head-piece to ‘The Vale of False Lovers.’ Grose (Ancient Armour, page 74, note,) thinks it most probable that plate armour might have been used by some princes and great men from the time of the Romans, though not commonly adopted.
Page 18, Line 1. ‘His shield, &c.’
The form of a horseman’s shield was most commonly triangular; wide at the top for the protection of the breast, and tapering to the bottom for the sake of lightness. Shields were generally made of wood, covered with boiled leather, or some similar substance. 159 To secure them in some sort from being cut through by the sword, they were surrounded with a loop of metal. On the inside of the shield were one or more loops of leather, or else wooden handles, through which the left hand, or hand and arm, were passed, previous to combat: though sometimes the shield seems, even in battle, to have been only slung round the neck by a leathern thong.
Page 19, Line `. ‘Then by the nasal seis’d, &c.’
The helmet originally consisted only of a sort of scull-cap, from which sometimes a plate of iron, called a nasal, descended to the extremity of the nose. Many helmets of this sort appear in the engravings of the tapestry representing William the Conqueror’s expedition against England, published by Montfaucon in his Monarchie Françoise. The reader will see in the tail-piece to ‘The Knight and the Sword,’ in the second volume, the exact form of a helmet with a nasal.
The helmet, in its improved state, was composed of two parts; the headpiece, which was strengthened 160 within by several circles of iron; and the visor or ventail, which (as the names imply) was a sort of grating to see or breathe through, so contrived as by sliding in a groove, or turning on a pivot, to be raised or lowered at pleasure. Some helmets had a further improvement called a bever; from beuveur, a drinker, or from the Italian bevere,, to drink.
Helmets varied very considerably in their shape in different ages. In the 13th century, (the time when the greater part of the Fabliaux were composed,) they were mostly made with a flat crown: a form of all others the worst calculated for defence. Rounded crowns (which were not unknown before,) grew into use afterwards; and crests and plumes were added for distinction or ornament.
To secure the helmet from the possibility of falling or being struck off, it was tied by several laces to the meshes of the hauberk; consequently when a knight was overthrown, it was necessary to undo these laces before he could be put to death: though this was sometimes effected by lifting up the skirt of the hauberk, and stabbing him in the belly; of which an instance occurs in ‘The Knight and the Sword,’ near the conclusion of the tale. The instrument of death was a small dagger, worn on the right side.161
Page 20, Line 10. ‘Palfreys,, or dogs, or falcons
‘train’d to fight.’
The chase being the principal and almost the sole amusement of the feudal nobility, dogs and falcons were among the presents usually made, even to crowned heads.
Page 20, Line 11. ‘Or choose you sumptuous furs,
‘of vair, or gray.’
Furs constituted one of the most costly articles of dress, and would therefore naturally compose part of a nobleman’s ransome. Of these, the ermine and the sable were considered as the most valuable: the vair and the gray stood next in estimation. The vair was the skin of a species of squirrel, gray on the back, and white on the throat and belly. M. Le Grand concurs with other writers in supposing the fur derives its name of vair from this variety of its colours. A mantle line with many of these skins of vair, exhibiting the form in which heralds delineate the variegations, is given as the tail-piece to ‘The Canonesses and Gray Nuns.’ The skins of vair were, according to Guil. le Breton, imported from Hungary. What particular animal furnished the gris or gray, is not clearly known.162
Page 24, Line 16. ‘But their long garb the glitter-
‘ing blades conceal’d.’
The word in the original, for which garb is here substituted, is cappe. this, which was also spelt chappe and cape, was a large tunick reaching to the feet, and worn over the other garments by both sexes. It was put on like a shirt, having a wide plaited opening called a goule, or gouleron, and seems to have been originally without sleeves. This dress is still worn by some of the monastick orders; whose habits, however ridiculous they may appear to us, exhibit a faithful copy of the national dresses used at the time of their foundation. Louis the VII. prohibited the courtezans of Paris from wearing the cappe, that they might not be confounded with the modest part of the sex. In general the cappe was only worn in the open air; and those designed for rainy weather were provided with a hood.
Page 32, Line 14. ‘Our gentle valet Aucassin be-
The title of valet or varlet was given to all young men of noble birth who had not been knighted. In Villehardouin, the son of the Eastern emperor is called the Varlet of Constantinople.163
Page 35, Line 12. ‘Thrust deftly back the dislo- ‘cated bone, &c.’
Some degree of chirurgical and medical knowledge was considered, during the middle ages, as a very necessary female accomplishment; and, while the occupations and amusements of the men naturally led to bruises and broken bones, it was likely that the ladies would acquire sufficient experience by the casualties that occurred in their own families. It accordingly appears from the Romances that many women of high birth were consulted in preference to the most learned professors; and it is probable that their attentive and compassionate solicitude may have frequently proved more efficacious than the nostrums of the faculty, even when assisted by the magical power of amulets, or the more orthodox energy of holy water. The male professors in medicine during these ages, were eitehr ecclesiasticks, Greeks, or Jews. These last, if they were not very skilful, were singularly confident, since they consented to exercise their art under the most discouraging restrictions. By the laws of Jerusalem promulgated by Godfrey of Bouillon, it is provided, that ‘if any physician shall fail to cure a slave (these were infidel prisoners) he shall be condemned to pay for the said slave, or to substitute another in his place: if a Christian 164 die under his hands, his goods shall be confiscated, and he shall be hanged, havign been first whipped, and conducted to the gallows with an urinal in his hand, as a warning to others.’ (Targioni Viaggi per la Toscana, Vol. II>) The Jews usually studied in the Arabian universities in Spain, where it was supposed that magick was openly taught; and for this reason were universally suspected and persecuted. One circumstance in their mode of practice appears wise: they employed their attention only on particular parts of medicine, and styled themselves ‘physicians for the cure of wounds,’ ‘physicians for the cure of fractures,’ &c. &c.
Page 37, Line 2. ‘And gain the spacious port of
In the original, the description of the country of Torelore forms a most absurd episode, which is suppressed by M. Le Grand. The king is in bed, and pretends to be in labour, when Aucassin arrives; and at the same time the queen, at the head of a female army, is making war with eggs, soft cheeses, and roasted apples. Aucassin puts a speedy end to this war, and by a severe beating exacts from the monarch a promise to abolish these stupid customs.165
Page 45, Line 6. ‘Gave twenty marks of silver to
It was so difficult to estimate with tolerable correctness the relative value of the different coins which at this time circulated in the several kingdoms of Europe, and even in the several provinces of the same kingdom, that it was usual to make large payments by weight: and it is for this reason that we find such frequent mention of marks of silver. The weight of the mark varied considerably in France; but that of Troyes was most generally adopted, on account of the ancient and considerable fairs held in Champagne. This was introduced into England at the time of the Norman conquest; and was equal to two-thirds of the Tower pound, which was coined into twenty shillings; consequently the markwas worth thirteen shillings and four-pence of that time, or about ten pounds of our present money.
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