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dominance of song, as a great social agent, (penalty ; where the law exceeds the strict over all other means of inter-communica- measure of justice, the song is at hand tion amongst the Bretons. Like all primi- with its compensation. It not only extive people, they are enthusiastically fond presses public opinion, but frequently creof music. With them it is the language of ates it. the passions, and the whole of their litera- Let us now glance at the divisions into ture is, more or less, under the influence of which the lyrical poetry of the Bretons may this musical spirit. Songs perform for be properly distributed. In this arrangethem all the functions of the journal and ment we shall not follow the order of M. the telegraph; and passing from hill to hill, Villemarqué, who satisfies himself with the from valley to valley, they diffuse intelli- simpler, but less distinctive divisions of hisgence with incredible rapidity. Innumera- torical, amatory, and religious. ble instances might be related in illustra- There are four classes sufficiently distion of the extraordinary sway they exercise tinguished from each other by style and over the minds of the population, on mat- subject to demand separate enumeration. ters in which the decrees of the established These are, I, Canticles; 2, Guerz; 3, authorities produce no effect whatever. A Sones; and 4, Chansons, as the miscellacase of this kind occurred when the cholera neous popular songs may be called for diswas raging throughout Brittany. Official tinction. We will give a brief description instructions how to deal with the dreadful of each. malady were industriously distributed in 1. The Canticle is an exceedingly poputhe shape of circulars, and affixed in all lar form of song. It relates exclusively to directions on the doors of churches and heaven and hell-rewards and punishments cemeteries, but in vain. The peasant pass-1-sin and expiation-the hope of pardon ed on with his hat slouched over his eyes, and the fear of condemnation. These paying no more attention to the official Canticles are always written by the priests. warning than if it were a notice to the They present a curious combination of the gendarmerie of the arrondissement. In more ecstatic and spiritual elements of the the meanwhile, the plague ravaged the hymn and the love-song, and a strange mixcountry side, the peasantry taking no heed ture of the ballad and the legend. Withto prevent its approaches, or to subdue it out wholly losing the dramatic feeling of when it came. At last a travelling poet the ballad, they are more grave in manner, bethought him of putting the official in- and more imposing in structure. The structions into the shape of a song. In narrative predominates over the action, and one week, the ballad might be heard in from the constant presence of the poet, every farm, hamlet, and town, chanted to moralizing and reasoning in the verse, they one of the well-known national airs. The acquire something of a clerical and didacbest of it was, that the foolish prefet, feel- tic character, while they still retain for the ing the dignity of his office insulted, re- populace all the fascinations of music and fused to circulate the song by means of the saintly story. communal mayors, because it was not sign- 2. The Guerz might be correctly deed by a physician. The public health was, scribed as the historical ballads of the therefore, confided to the mendicants, who Bretons, were it not that they also include hawked the death-sickness from village to in their wide range, other and different, village, while the prefet continued to write although not dissimilar, subjects. Some of his circulars. In the same way, the vice of them are the oldest of all the poems exdrunkenness, common to the whole Celtic tant in the lyrical form in Brittany. Even stock, and to which the Breton, habitually M. Souvestre thinks that a few of them sober, abandons himself on his fête days, may be traced to the third century. Many has been sensibly diminished in a particu- belong to the sixteenth century, but the lar canton by a ballad, wherein the poet great bulk of them are scarcely more than confesses himself to have been once ad-two hundred years old. These Armorican dicted to that habit, the evil effects of Guerz are of various kinds, and relate lewhich he energetically points out, exhort- gends of saints and old chronicles; stories ing the people to follow his example, and of apparitions and miracles; the fabliaur abjure the destructive indulgence. The of the middle ages, which are quaintly callBreton song is, in short, the condensed ex- ed the guerz plaisant; and historical pression of public opinion. Where the law events. They offer no material contrast to fails in its office, the song supplies the the old ballads of most other countries, except in that remarkable regularity of form, hearts of the young! Seldom does the which imparts, indeed, to all these produc- poor kloer go back to the city without cartions so peculiar a character.
rying with him the germ of a first passion. 3. The sones are unquestionably the Then the storm rises in his soul, and the most interesting and extraordinary of all struggle begins to take place between love the popular shapes into which the minstrel and religion. Every thing contributes to sy of the Bretons throws itself. They are heighten the rebellious feeling—the conlyrical dirges generally composed by the trast between present servitude and the freeyoung candidates for the priesthood, in dom of the woods—his isolation-his rewhich the writers confess their human grets—the mal du pays. Sometimes love weaknesses, the disappointments of the triumphs, and then the scholar throws his heart they have met, and the final dismissal books into the fire, swears against the city from their thoughts of the women who and the college, renounces the ecclesiastiused to haunt and torture their souls. In cal state for ever, and returns to his village. fact, these pieces are their leave-takings of But more frequently the church secures society, and are frequently inspired with a the victory; in which case the misery of charming simplicity, and full of touching the young priest finds a congenial vent poetical images. They form a sort of eter- in poetry; the muse becomes the connal and continuous memory of cloistered fidant of his tears and his memories; and love, to which each abbé adds his page be- he pours into the melancholy sone the fore he breaks for ever with the world. story of his sacrifice. The intimate sin
The young ecclesiastical students who cerity of these elegies gives them the atcompose these sones are called in the Bre-traction of truth; and the fresh and incipi. ton kloers or clercs--corresponding exactly ent scholarship of their authors inspires with the kler of the Welch. In order to them with something of a refined and finenter truly into the spirit of such composi- ished air. Sometimes, indeed, they rise tions, it is necessary that we should bring into classical grandeur, and the tenderness before us the peculiar circumstances of the of the young priest becomes oppressed under authors, and the influences, often painful the weight of the whole Roman mythology. and conflicting, which surround them, and It is a curious trait in the popular histowhich constantly communicates so tristful ry of the Bretons, showing how closely a spirit to their poetical legacies. They their religious sentiments are identified belong for the most part to the class of the with the lives of the priesthood, that these peasantry or of the small tradespeople of sones are the universal love elegies of the the cities and villages; and come up in country. There is not a village, nor a bands froin the remotest parts of the coun- farm-house that has not its sone, the work try to the episcopal towns, where they en- of a friend or a relative, transmitted by ter upon their studies. The appearance of tradition from generation to generation. It these uncouth youths is singularly striking is the romance of Bretagne—the passionin the streets of the, comparatively, civiliz- ate inspiration of her poets—the literature ed cities, with their strange costume, long of the youth of the country. hair, and unfamiliar dialects. The majori- 4. The peculiarity of the chansons conty of them are not less than from eighteen sists principally in this, that, unlike French to twenty years of age. They live together songs in general, they are rarely of a lively in the faubourgs; the same garret (says turn. Their mirth, when there is any, is Villemarque, who drew the picture from heavy and cumbrous. In this, however, personal observation) serves them for bed- they only reflect the humor of the people, room, kitchen, dining-room, and study. It who are, constitutionally, too grave for the is a very different sort of existence from sparkling points and trivial pleasantries of that to which they had been accustomed in the vaudeville—which, by the way, oddly the open fields! A complete rerolution enough, had its origin in the neighboring has taken place in them; and in proportion province of Normandy. Even in their most as their bodies grow enervated and their exciting compositions, there is always a hands white, their intelligence becomes de- piece of seriousness lurking at the bottom, veloped, and their imagination takes new and dragging down the sluggish merriment. liberties with life. At last, summer and The Bretons, like other people, have their the holidays come, and they return to their varieties of temperament, but they are never villages : it is the season of fêtes and plea- gay, sans y songer, as we see other Frenchsures, 'when the flowers open with the men. When they laugh they must know
the reason why. They have had their j ame Villemarqué was so struck by the popular chansons for at least three hundred beauty of the poetry, that she cultivated a years, yet it would puzzle a conjuror to closer acquaintance with these wild lyrics; find a verbal joke, or a flash of heedless the collection rapidly increased, but she vivacity of any kind in any one of them. died in the midst of her labors. Thus this The fact is there is no such thing. They anthology was born. M. Villemarqué sucdo condescend sometimes, however, to be ceeded to the treasures and the enthusiasm merry after their own fashion ; but it is a fash- of his mother, and embarked in the design ion not very likely to find favor elsewhere, with a larger ambition and greater means nor is it always intelligible out of the imme- of execution. For many years he traversed diate district to which it especially applies. every corner of Brittany, entered thoroughThis merriment, if it may be called so, ly into the pastimes and re-unions of the consists in quaint philosophical quibbles, people—their fêtes, religious and festive, broad jokes, often of the coarsest kind, adroit- pardons, fairs, and wakes :—the bards, begly addressed to the actual mode of living gars, millers, laborers, were his most actand direct experiences of the people, and ive collaborateurs ; and he frequently conallusions that are sure to tell amongst the sulted with advantage old women, nurses, hearers, although, lacking the universality and young girls ; even the children, in of wit, they are little else than conun- their plays, sometimes revealed information drums to every body else. It is doubtful unconsciously to him; and he adds the whether the Bretons could give expression curious fact, already referred to, that to more aerial pleasantries, even if they while the degrees of intelligence varied had them in their songs. Their style of amongst his informants, he confidently afdelivery is heavy and solemn; they are too firms that not one of them knew how to read. grave and ponderous for the light and rapid The quantity of ballads he thus gathered passages of the ordinary French chanson. was immense. He obtained enough of
Such are the principal characteristics of matter to fill twenty volumes—all oral trathe popular poetry of the Bretons. From ditions of the country, collected from the this general introductory view, the reader lips of the peasantry. From this vast mass will be better prepared for a few selections he has made the selection which occupies from the volumes of M. Villemarqué, which the two volumes before us—a selection diswe shall now introduce without further tinguished by excellent judgment and good commentary.
taste. A glance at a few of the more rePerhaps we ought to explain to the Eng- markable will convey a tolerably correct nolish reader the meaning of the title adopted tion of the predominant features of the whole. by M. Villemarqué. Barzas-Breiz is pure There are four distinct dialects in BritBreton, and may be rendered into a 'Poet- tany—the dialects of Treguiér, Leon, Corical History of Bretagne.' Now the work nouaille, and Vannes. The songs are all is certainly not a poetical history of Britta- composed in one or other of these dialects ny, and the title is therefore a misnomer. (some of which have close affinities), and But it contains a valuable collection of Bre- are given by M. Villemarqué on one page ton popular lyrical poems, and may be ac- in their original words, and on the opposite cepted as something better than a history. page in modern French. Here is a speciWell-selected specimens of a national lite- men from the dialect of Leon. The piece, rature, with such judicious notes as our of which these are the opening lines, is callauthor has industriously supplied, will be ed' Ann Eostik,''Le Rossignol,' or the found more acceptable to most readers, as nightingale : they are unquestionably more curious and instructive, than an elaborate historical dis
Ar greg iaouank a Zant-Malo,
Toull hé senestr deac'h o wélo: quisition on speculative questions, frequent
-Sioaz! sioaz! me-d-ounn fallet! ly founded in error, and generally ending Ma éostik paour a zo lazet ! in smoke. This collection had its origin upwards of
La jeune épouse de Saint-Malo pleurait hier
à sa fenètre: thirty years ago, and has been accumulat
-Helas ! helas! je suis perdue ! mon pauvre ing ever since. M. Villemarqué's mother had her attention drawn to the subject by a
rossignol est tué ! poor mendicant singer who had received This specimen will be enough to show the some kindnesses from her, and who desired essential difference between these dialects to express her gratitude in a song. Mad- and modern French; a difference which will be found to be much greater in other young man to his mother, to let him visit cases. The extraordinary metrical preci- a fête about to be given by the king : sion of the original is, also, worthy of ob
"Oh! listen, mother dear! to meservation. We have not found an instance The fête I long to go and see : throughout the whole work in which these « The fête, and then the races new, songs violate this structural regularity. By grace of our good sovereign too."
As might be expected, Merlin, the fa-" —Now neither to the raree show, mous enchanter, is celebrated among these
Nor to the races shall you go. songs; but he does not make a very con- " You shall not see the foolish sight, spicuous figure after all, and is by no means
For you have wept the live-long night. so distinguished a personage in Armorica
“ You shall not go—I have my fears; as he is in Wales. It has been remarked
Why, even your dreams were full of tears !" by a German critic* as rather a suspicious “ Nay; mother, if you love me, hear-..
Ah! let me go, sweet mother dear!" circumstance, calculated to throw a doubt
“–You'll go with songs of merry strainupon the antiquity of the Round Table
But tears will bring you back again !" legends, that Arthur and his companions are nowhere alluded to in the Breton The youth springs on his red filley, and popular poems. This is a mistake, and we flies off to the festival. The horn sounds may, probably, avail ourselves of another just as he arrives at the field, and the her. opportunity to discuss the question involved ald announces, that whoever clears the in the doubt of the German critic. But barrier at a single leap, shall have the we may observe, en passant, that the infer- daughter of the king in marriage. Of ence he draws from his assumed fact, course the red filley performs this feat to namely, that the Round Table must there-admiration, and the youth claims his bride. fore be a fiction of the middle ages,-is curi- The king is indignant, thinking that a filley ously fallacious, seeing that most of these could not make such a leap except by sorvery poems are themselves of a still later date. cery; but his royal word is pledged, and
Merlin does not seem to have much credit so, throwing what he believes an insuras a sorcerer in Brittany ; but to be re- mountable difficulty in the way, he tells the membered rather as a sage and a bard, youth that he shall have the princess if he with a sort of vague reverence, hinting will bring him the harp of Merlin, which rather than avowing a faith in his super- is suspended over the head of the bard's humanity. There were, in fact, two Mer-bed by four chains of fine gold. The lovelins, and the Breton traditions seemed to stricken boy goes back to his mother in have confounded them, so that it is not despair. very easy to distinguish which of them is
“ Dear mother, if you love me, speak, intended to be embalmed in the ballads.
For my poor heart is nigh to break!" One of them lived about the tenth century, " If thou hadst bent thee to my will, and was the son of a vestal and a Roman Your heart would be untroubled still. consul, and became distinguished as one “But weep not, my poor child, behold of the greatest soothsayers of his time; the
This hammer-'tis of molten gold other, who lived in the sixth century,
" Its blow is dumb-no living ear had the misfortune to kill his nephew in
Its noiseless stroke shall ever hear !" battle, lost his reason in consequence, and Armed with this hammer he succeeds in buried himself for the rest of his life in a obtaining the harp, and returns in triumph wood, passing in history under the name to the court. But the king is not satisfied of Merlin the Savage. The Welsh pos- yet. He requires also the ring which Mersess fragments of the poetry of Merlin, but lin wears on his right hand. It will be the Bretons know him only by the ballads remembered that the heart and ring were in which he is commemorated, and these the emblems of the bards of old, the harp are not numerous. M. Villemarqué gives being the gift of the king, and the ring that us two. From one of them called Merlin of the queen. This still more difficult task the Bard,' we will give one or two pas- the old lady enables the youth sto accomsages, rendered into the metres of the ori- plish, with the help of a palm branch with ginal with as much verbal fidelity as the twelve leaves, which she declares she had different genius of the language will admit
. been seven nights to seek in seven woods, The poem opens with an appeal from a in seven years. At the crowing of the
cock at midnight, the bold feat is accom* Wiener Jahrbücher der Literatur,' 1843. plished, and the youth goes back again to
court, pretty confident this time, at least, rosy mouth and blue eyes, that she thinks that he shall have his bride. The king, it would be no bad thing to make an exhowever, is inexorable. Nothing will sat- change for her own son, as black and spiteisfy him now, but that Merlin himself shall ful as a cat. No sooner said than done. consecrate the marriage in person. One The false child
mother would think it was all over with the youth never suspecting the imposition. As it now; but there are endless lucky contri- grows in stature, so its genius for evil trickvances for lovers in ballads.
ery expands, confounding lovers at their “ Oh ! Merlin, whither dost thou go,
secret meetings, tying logs to the tails of With dress and air disordered so? cattle, overturning honest women's pitch" Where go you thus, 'tis all unmeet, ers, and doing all sorts of mischief. At
With naked head and naked feet? last the distracted mother begins to think “ Old Merlin, whither dost thou wend, that it is a sheer impossibility such a deThy stick of holly in thy hand?"
structive imp can be her natural-born child, He is searching for his lost harp and ring; husband. But he, good, easy man, stretches youth, who prevails upon him to enter his his great hands before ths fire, knocks the cottage, and finally he is carried to the court. cinders out of his pipe, strokes his beard, His approach is announced by loud cries of and-says nothing. Then comes a butcher joy that awaken the royal household; and with a horse and a calf one evening, when the king, finding it useless to contend any window, inquires is there a beast to sell
the poulpican is alone, and knocking at the crier to summon the people to the wedding. the window in the twilight, and supposing
The poulpican seeing their heads through “Get up, good crier, from thy bed, And quickly clear thy sleepy head
them to belong to one person, screams out,
'Well! I'm a hundred years old, and I never “ Let every one be welcome guest, Invited to the bridal feast.
saw the like of that!' The butcher runs away, " The bridal of the princess-she
and informs the mother of what he has heard, In eight fair days shall wedded be. Her fears are now almost wrought into cer“ Bid to the bridal, to a man,
tainty; but in order to make all sure, she All gentlemen throughout Bretagne, breaks a hundred eggs, and arranges the “ All gentlemen and ministers,
shells before the fire-place; then hides and And priests and knightly chevaliers, awaits the sequel. The poulpican, per“ And counts imperial-rich and poor- plexed at so strange a proceeding, and fairly
The lord, the merchant, and the boor! "Quick, scour the land o'er wood and lea, I'm a hundred years old,' &c. Fully con
taken by surprise, screams out again, 'Well! And swiftly hasten back to me.
firmed now, the mother rushes upon the The crier accordingly goes forth, summons wretch, and is about to kill it, when the all the people 'great and small and so fairy appears and ransoms her offspring by ends the ballad of Merlin.
by restoring the proper child. In the The fairies occupy a large space in the version of M. Villemarqué these details superstitions of the Bretons, and, conse- are omitted, the mother recovering her quently, make a very important figure in child by pretending to dress a dinner for some of their songs. One of the most ten laborers in an egg-shell. The poulpican popular of these is ‘L'Enfant Supposé.' is betrayed into a sudden burst of astonThe story itself is common, with various ishment—What! dress a dinner for ten versions, to the fairy superstitions of nearly laborers in an egg-shell! Well, I have all countries; and, according to the most seen many things,-butapproved narrative, which is more circum
" I've seen, dear mother, Gramercy ! stantial than that preserved by M. Ville- The egg before its progeny, marqué, runs thus :-it is founded upon The acorn first, and then the tree; the strange passion attributed to the fairies
“ The acorn first, then sapling straitfor exchanging their own hideous children
I've seen the oak grow tall and great-poulpicans, as they are called for real
But never saw the like of that!” flesh-and-blood · infants, when they can catch them unguarded. A fairy happening
It is rather a remarkable characteristic to hear a child cry one day, as she passes of the Breton fairies that, although they are by a house, peeps in, and seeing a beautiful allowed, on all hands, to possess a great fair child in a cot, is so attracted by its genius for music, and even fine voices, they