« PreviousContinue »
fate of Bruin, when, ill-counselled he introduces his stupid head into Rustefill's half-split log; has the wedges whisked away, and stands clutched there, as in a vice, and uselessly roaring, disappointed of honey, sure only of a beating without parallel! Not to forget the Mare, whom, addressing her by the title of Goodwife, with all politeness, Isegrim, sore-pinched with hunger, asks whether she will sell her foal, she answers that the price is written in her hinder hoof: which document the intending purchaser, being an Erfurt graduate,' declares his full ability to read; but finds there no writing, or print, save only the print of six horsenails on his own mauled visage, and abundance of the like, sufficient to excuse an old epos on this head, or altogether justify it."*
§ 111. To proceed however with the history of the Renardine stories, which had their origin in times far different from this rail-road age; in times when men were in daily contact with the world of animals, either in tending their peaceful flocks, chasing the wild deer, or hunting down the beasts of the forest. The peculiarities of the different animals
* From an article by Mr. Carlyle on German Literature of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, in the Foreign Quarterly Review, No. XVI. And here it may be as well to remark, lest the reader may recognize in the present sketch much of the materials of another article (in No. xxxiv of the same Review), that the only excuse which the Editor of this reprint can offer for the appropriation, is, the right to do as he pleases with his
were brought by one or other of these causes constantly before their eyes, were constantly becoming the subject of their speculation; and the consideration, that, in many respects, the living creatures which they saw around them resembled the human race, that, in some, as in sharpness of sight, quickness of hearing, and acuteness of the organs of smell, they far excelled them, gave rise to numerous suppositions as to the relationship which they bore to man; and these form the foundation of all those fables in which animals enact their parts. Concerning the two great requisites for the construction of these fables, Grimm speaks as follows:
“In the first place, the fable must exhibit the animals as being endowed with human reason, and initiated into all the customs and conditions of our mode of living, so that their behaviour has nothing at all odd in it. The murdered hen is carried on a bier, with cries of murder, before the king, who orders the service of the dead to be performed and an epitaph to be placed over her. The men of the fable do not hesitate to recognize the tonsure of the wolf, who speaks their language, when he prays to be received into the monastery. The peasant enters into a formal contract with the fox on the subject of his poultry, and in his trial with the animal, recognizes the lion as the common judge between them. But then, on the other hand, the peculiarities of the nature of the several animals must be brought into play and made of good effect. Thus the cock sings standing upon
one leg, and shutting his eyes—a characteristic trait, entirely copied from nature. So, in his battle with the wolf, does the fox avail himself of all his natural cunning. In like manner, the cat's deeply-impressed propensity for mice, the bear's fondness for honey, are necessary levers of the fable, from which the most taking situations arise. Without this uniting into one, of two in reality opposing elements, the animal fable (Thierfabel) cannot exist. Whosoever would invent stories in which the animals merely comported themselves like men, but were occasionally gifted with the names and forms of animals, would fail as completely in catching the spirit of the fable, as he who should attempt to exhibit the animals with all the truth of nature, without human address and without the aimed-at action of men. If the animals of the fable be without any smack of humanity, the fable becomes absurd ; if they are without traces of their animal nature, it becomes wearisome.”
Thus much of the nature of these fables. have already observed, Grimm denies that there exists in them any tendency to satire. He doubts, moreover, and with good show of reason, whether their object was didactic.
“Fable,” says he, “is now entirely instructive, yet I believe its first beginning not to have been instruction.” But we must leave his speculations upon this point, and his shrewd criticism upon the claims of La Fontaine and Lessing to be considered as successful fabulists, and commence our view of the rise and progress of the far-famed adventures of Reynard the Fox.
$ iv. Some critics of Reynard, acting upon that wise and ancient law of tale-tellers, “ Initiamus ab initio," have endeavoured to discover the precise moment when the events recorded by the historians of Reynard are supposed to have happened. Without entering into speculations so recondite, we shall not greatly err, if we ascribe them to that interesting period spoken of by the venerable chronicler of St. Denis, as “ce tans que les bestes parloient,”—an epoch likewise referred to by the sagacious Bertoldo as one “quando le bestie parlavano.” What was the language thus spoken by animals in the olden time, is a matter hard to decide, but we may fairly presume that it was one of the learned languages. A competent authority has asserted that Latin was formerly employed by birds :
“Li oisiaux dist en son Latin,” says Li Lais de l'Oiselet.
But though the question as to when Reynard flourished is involved in this obscurity, the labours of modern antiquaries have thrown considerable light upon the next question, namely, when his name was chosen, like that of the great Gustavus,
“To point a moral and adorn a tale."
Grimm produces a host of witnesses to show how widely spread and favourably received Reynard's History was in the days gone by. Gautier de Coinsi, one of the best poets of his age, who, as a pious ecclesiastic, held in slight estimation all the profane materials of poetry, maintains, when speaking of his “ Miracles de la Vierge,” which was completed in 1233, that
“ Plus delitous sont si fait conte
and further observes that even churchmen were more desirous of having representations from this fable in their chambers, than images of the saints in their churches :
“ En leur moustiers ne font
Another proof of the early popularity of this story may be found in Saint Foix's “ Essais Historiques sur Paris,” where we are told that Philip le Bel, probably to mortify the Pope (Boniface VIII, who died 1303), with whom he was on bad terms, caused the “Procession Renart" to be solemnly represented, in which a mummer, clothed in the skin of a fox, over which he wore a priest’s robes, performed mass, and then ran after and devoured the poultry; and it is probable that such exhibitions were frequent.
Sv. The Provençals, as far as we at present know, never selected Reynard for the hero of any poems. Nevertheless, it is obvious that, from their intercourse with the Normans and their acquaintance with the literature of their rivals, they soon became familiar with his exploits; and the consequence is, that amongst the lyrical compositions of the Troubadours we find allusions to this story older than any poem by a