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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, 1, 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--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. 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 fabliaux 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, ex
cept in that remarkable regularity of form, which imparts, indeed, to all these productions so peculiar a character.
hearts of the young! Seldom does the poor kloer go back to the city without carrying 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 love, to which each abbé adds his page before he breaks for ever with the world.
fidant of his tears and his memories; and he pours into the melancholy sone the story of his sacrifice. The intimate sincerity of these elegies gives them the attraction of truth; and the fresh and incipient scholarship of their authors inspires them with something of a refined and finished air. Sometimes, indeed, they rise into classical grandeur, and the tenderness of the young priest becomes oppressed under the weight of the whole Roman mythology.
sones are the universal love elegies of the country. There is not a village, nor a farm-house that has not its sone, the work of a friend or a relative, transmitted by tradition from generation to generation. It is the romance of Bretagne-the passionate inspiration of her poets-the literature of the youth of the country.
The young ecclesiastical students who compose these sones are called in the Breton kloers or clercs-corresponding exactly with the kler of the Welch. In order to enter truly into the spirit of such compositions, it is necessary that we should bring before us the peculiar circumstances of the authors, and the influences, often painful 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 the cities and villages; and come up in bands from the remotest parts of the country to the episcopal towns, where they enter upon their studies. The appearance of these uncouth youths is singularly striking in the streets of the, comparatively, civilized cities, with their strange costume, long 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 revolution 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 collection rapidly increased, but she died in the midst of her labors. Thus this anthology was born. M. Villemarqué succeeded to the treasures and the enthusiasm of his mother, and embarked in the design with a larger ambition and greater means
the reason why. They have had their jame 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 vivacity of any kind in any one of them. The fact is there is no such thing. They do condescend sometimes, however, to be merry after their own fashion; but it is a fashion not very likely to find favor elsewhere, 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 whether the Bretons could give expression to more aerial pleasantries, even if they had them in their songs. Their style of delivery is heavy and solemn; they are too grave and ponderous for the light and rapid passages of the ordinary French chanson.
unconsciously to him; and he adds the curious fact, already referred to, that while the degrees of intelligence varied amongst his informants, he confidently affirms that not one of them knew how to read.
The quantity of ballads he thus gathered 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 re
Perhaps 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 Brittany, and the title is therefore a misnomer. But it contains a valuable collection of Breton popular lyrical poems, and may be accepted as something better than a history. Well-selected specimens of a national literature, with such judicious notes as our author has industriously supplied, will be found more acceptable to most readers, as they are unquestionably more curious and instructive, than an elaborate historical disquisition on speculative questions, frequent. ly founded in error, and generally ending in smoke.
composed in one or other of these dialects (some of which have close affinities), and are given by M. Villemarqué on one page in their original words, and on the opposite page in modern French. Here is a specimen from the dialect of Leon. The piece, of which these are the opening lines, is called Ann Eostik,' Le Rossignol,' or the nightingale :
Ar greg iaouank a Zant-Malo,
jeune épouse de Saint-Malo pleurait hier
à sa fenètre:
-Helas! helas! je suis perdue! mon pauvre rossignol est tué !
This collection had its origin upwards of thirty years ago, and has been accumulating ever since. M. Villemarqué's mother had her attention drawn to the subject by a 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 observation. We have not found an instance throughout the whole work in which these songs violate this structural regularity.
"Oh! listen, mother dear! to me-
As might be expected, Merlin, the famous enchanter, is celebrated among these songs; but he does not make a very conspicuous figure after all, and is by no means so distinguished a personage in Armorica as he is in Wales. It has been remarked by a German critic as rather a suspicious circumstance, calculated to throw a doubt upon the antiquity of the Round Table 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 heropportunity 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. 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 intended to be embalmed in the ballads. One of them lived about the tenth century, 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 Its noiseless stroke shall ever hear!" had the misfortune to kill his nephew in 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 in 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 to 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. The poem opens with an appeal from a
* Wiener Jahrbücher der Literatur,' 1843.
"Dear mother, if you love me, speak,
For my poor heart is nigh to break!" "If thou hadst bent thee to my will,
been seven nights to seek in seven woods, in seven years. At the crowing of the cock at midnight, the bold feat is accomplished, and the youth goes back again to
court, pretty confident this time, at least,
"Oh! Merlin, whither dost thou
He is searching for his lost harp and ring; and thus he is hospitably waylaid by the youth, who prevails upon him to enter his cottage, and finally he is carried to the court. His approach is announced by loud cries of joy that awaken the royal household; and the king, finding it useless to contend any longer, runs out himself and calls up crier to summon the people to the wedding
"Get up, good crier, from thy bed,
And quickly clear thy sleepy head-
All gentlemen throughout Bretagne,
And priests and knightly chevaliers, "And counts imperial-rich and poorThe lord, the merchant, and the boor! "Quick, scour the land o'er wood and lea, And swiftly hasten back to me.' The crier accordingly goes forth, summons all the people 'great and small-and so ends the ballad of Merlin.
The fairies occupy a large space in the superstitions of the Bretons, and, consequently, make a very important figure in some of their songs. One of the most popular of these is 'L'Enfant Supposé.' The story itself is common, with various versions, to the fairy superstitions of nearly all countries; and, according to the most approved narrative, which is more circumstantial than that preserved by M. Villemarqué, runs thus:-it is founded upon the strange passion attributed to the fairies for exchanging their own hideous children -poulpicans, as they are called-for real flesh-and-blood infants, when they can catch them unguarded. A fairy happening to hear a child cry one day, as she passes by a house, peeps in, and seeing a beautiful fair child in a cot, is so attracted by its
rosy mouth and blue eyes, that she thinks
"I've seen, dear mother, Gramercy!
"The acorn first, then sapling strait-
It is rather a remarkable characteristic of the Breton fairies that, although they are allowed, on all hands, to possess a great genius for music, and even fine voices, they