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And from the pallor o 'er her features spread

He must indeed believe that she was dead.

Thus suffering, wretched, and in anguish bound.
From double pain he wished himself to slay.

Full oft he kissed the face that tears had drowned,
Seeking to kindle the departed ray;

But when in all his grief no sign he found
Of life in her, nor power from death to stay

His ill-starred lady, whom her grief o 'ercame.

He felt assured extinguished was the flame.

Pallid and cold and without sense she lay.
For all that Troilus perceived or knew;

And so that ended was her lovely day
Of life, to him appeared assurance true;

And thus when grief had had its fullest way.
Before he sought the realm to death to view,

Her face he covered, and her limbs composed, —

Service we pay to those whose life is closed.

It was long years after the death of Petrarch and
Boccaccio that any truly valuable addition was made
to Italian poetry. Dante had effectually frightened
off all who might care to write with masculine vigor,
while Petrarch's poetry had just the opposite eft'ect, of
encouraging a score of imitators, all producing some-
thing fairly in the amatory style, that is, fairly like
Petrarch, and never showing on anything the stamp
of genius. These two poets, their predecessors and
followers, wrote chiefly for a select few, and though


in Italy in the year 1400 the aristocracy of literature
was comparatively more numerous than in other coun-
tries, its favorite poetry could hardly be called pop-

But there was floating in the minds of Italians a
mass of legend, which had taken literary form, that
gentle and simple alike could enjoy, and, one would
say, could alike understand, if it were not that neither
wanted to understand it. It could be enjoyed solely
as a matter of fancy and feeling, without requiring
the solution of the deep problems of Dante or the in-
tricate ones of Petrarch. This mass was composed of
the romances of chivalry.

The age of Petrarch had seen knighthood in its full-
est splendors, when the champion cavalier, whose
.brilliant prowess could turn a battle or even a cam-
paign at his will, was not yet extinct in actual practical
warfare, and when, on the other hand, chivalry was
chiefly known by gorgeous pageantry, tournaments,
and passages of arms, which Robert of Normandy or
even Richard Cceur de Lion would have thought a
waste of time and money. The battle of Crecy was
fought when Petrarch and Boccaccio were at the prime
of life, the Order of the Garter had just been founded,
and the Black Prince begun the career which ranked
him the flower of knighthood. Yet when we read that
cannon appeared at the same battle, we know that the


ideal knighthood, the reign of champions, each a match
for a hundred common soldiers, must soon pass away.
In the fifteenth century, then, chivalry was turning
to pageantry, and warfare approaching its modern
form, where the common soldier does the fighting and
the illustrious leader mainly directs.

As actual knighthood became every year less of a
memory and more of a tradition, there grew up
strange stories of the knights of old. With great va-
riety in the details, these all may be considered as bits
of one interminable whole. They all represent a time
when Europe was divided into a number of Christian
monarchies, and Asia and Africa, the latter including
Spain, into as many pagan or Mohammedan kingdoms,
each class perpetually at war with the other— war in
which hundreds of thousands come into the field, yet
the battle is decided or prolonged by. the prowess of
a few knights, all fit f oemen or companions in arms for
one another, and each equal to slaying or routing the
military rabble by scores and myriads.

In fact, one does not exactly see why these vast
armies come into the field at all. The Duke of Welling-
ton remarked that he considered the presence of Napo-
leon as equal to thirty thousand men; so if the kings
on both sides know each that his rival would have with
him a score of invincible paladins, one would think
they might save the lives of their subjects to till the


ground at home, and bid these superhuman cavaliers
fight it out among themselves. As far as Europe goes,
every country is understood to furnish one or more
first-rate knights ; in the romances of Britain and Gaul
these were grouped around Arthur, that semi-mythical
prince who made head against the Saxons, when at-
tacking the west of Britain from the Forth to the
Channel. But the romances from which the Italian
poets drew their themes made their Christian knights
fight under the imperial sway of Charles the Great or
Charlemagne. He claims the allegiance, or at least the
alliance, of all the princes in the north, centre, and
west of Europe ; Spain being held by the Saracens,
with whom he is never at peace, and the south of Italy,
rarely mentioned, being in a like state.

All this might pass for very decent history ; but
there is heaped upon Charlemagne and his Paladins
everything of a military nature which took place in
Europe from the sixth to the eleventh centuries. Any
exploit and any institution of chivalry that the roman-
cers had ever heard of were associated with the stern
German who broke the power of the heathen Saxon
from his palace at Aachen, but whom they represent as
ruling from Paris, a city which history records that he
only once visited in all his long reign. His knights,
from every Christian land, are led by a number of spe-
cial heroes, called Paladins, and always spoken of with


the same respect as Hercules or Hector, Alexander or
Caesar, or the great Charles himself. Foremost among
them is Roland, in Italian Orlando, who is recognized
by all as a peerless cavalier. When he fights, every one.
Christian or Pagan, must yield, if they fight fair; if
ever he is overcome, it is by treachery. This is supplied
by one Gan or Ganellon, of the house of Maganza, who
is always spoken of as the ideal traitor, who could not
be faithful or true if he wanted to. According to one
story, which appears in many romances, the rear-guard
of Charlemagne's army, under its command of Roland,
was, by Ganellon 's treachery, cut off in a defile of the
Pyrenees, and massacred by the Saracens, Roland
being unable to get any assistance from the emperor.
Other paladins are Ogier, or Holger, the national hero
of Denmark; the Marquis Oliver; Astolfo of Britain;
and, above all, Rinaldo, the cousin of Roland, and
nearly equal to him in prowess. These Christian
knights find no lack of worthy foemen among the Sara-
cens, many of whom are represented as positively gi-
gantic in stature, such as Ferrau, the direct ancestor
of Admiral Farragut, Another who, as hero of chiv-
alry, is equal to Roland himself, is Roger or Ruggiero,
who, after fighting zealously for an African king, is
discovered to be of Christian lineage, and reclaimed
to that side, A third is one whose character has given
a word to all modern languages : Rodomonte, the King


of Sarza, who adores neither Christ nor Mohammed,
fears neither God nor devil, and is so absolutely
boundless in his boasting that we recall him whenever
we talk of rodomontade.

The conflicts of these knights with each other are
often personal, and have little reference to their
causes, whether of race or creed. Orlando fights with
his cousin Rinaldo, a great deal of very bad language
being used on both sides, and Rodomonte fights with
Ruggiero when their joint help is seriously needed
by their commander. It should particularly be no-
ticed that these combats are scarcely ever fair, accord-
ing to our notions, because one of the parties is likely
to be assisted by magic. He may be as invulnerable
as Achilles, or he may have a helmet as impenetrable
and a sword as all-penetrating as in any story of
Grimm's. It really seems mean to allow an antagonist
to strike at you for hours continuously and let him
think he has ruined you, because the weight of his
blows has made you to bend your head to the saddle-
bow, or even fall to the ground, when you know all the
time that enchantment saves your armor from ever
getting a crack or your skin a gash. Christian knights
are not safe from this magic, even in their own conti-
nent, where the mighty Merlin, the sorcerer of Ar-
thur's court, has left several monuments of his
incantations ; but as soon as they get beyond Europe,


ranging for adventure in Africa and Asia, there is
absolutely no telling what witchcraft may do to them.

Every one knows that a very important part in ro-
mance is played by ladies. Every knight is supposed
to have one lady to whom he is devoted, and whom he
looks forward to marrying when his warfare gives
him a respite ; but he is also bound to rescue and succor
all distressed females as soon as he knows of their
needs, however much such aid may interfere with the
most important expeditions. I cannot resist the im-
pression, derived from reading some of the chief ro-
mances, that the ladies of chivalry exhibit much more
variety than the men. We have them of all degrees
of beauty, of fidelity and honor, of duplicity and
craft, and especially of all degrees of valor, from the
Amazon who never takes off her armor, to the unre-
sisting maiden who lets herself be tied by the hair to
a tree for a considerable time.

But the marvellous thing about all these characters,
men, women, and monsters,— for the last are not lack-
ing,— is their almost complete insensibility to physical
conditions. They are able to go without eating or
drinking for an indefinite period of time. They are
very sure, in the course of their adventures, to arrive
sooner or later at some brilliant palace, where they are
treated with boundless hospitality, and partake of the
costliest meats and wines ; but it may have been many


days of hard riding, interrupted by fighting, since
their last meal, which have brought them to this pro-
vision. An inn for travellers is not an absolutely un-
known building, nor is the cell of a hermit ; but one is
about as likely to be met with as the other.

And just so about clothes. On certain great occa-
sions the knights and ladies came out in magnificent
costumes; but as a rule they ride days and weeks on
horseback, to all the countries of the earth, carrying
simply nothing in the nature of a change with them,
subject, as they are, to the most thrilling accidents by
field and flood. They sleep pretty regularly, being
quite able to get off their horses, turn them out to pas-
ture, and take a nap anywhere ; and it may be noticed
that, while their garments wax not old, neither do their
shoes wear out. The condition of their armor is more
miraculous still. Knights fight for a whole day, deal-
ing and receiving most fearful blows with lance,
sword, and mace, which, we are told in so many
words over and over again, neither plate nor mail
can stand; but after shield and hauberk and helmet
have been repeatedly shattered, and no squire brings
any new armor,— and if he did there is no time to put
it on,— the champions are still fighting, the blows fall
as before, the armor is shattered as before, and renews
itself like Mayflower furniture.

It should be noticed that the horses and the swords


of the Paladins are quite as important as themselves
or their ladies. The horses Brigliadoro and Baiardo
are famed from Marseilles to Cathay, and are prized
by their owners and their ridel's' enemies beyond a
king's ransom. But every great knight's sword has
its name and its individual value, and we hear about
Durindana and Balisarda and Frusberta till they
bore as much as Cooper's Killbuck.

But perhaps the most remarkable exemption from
all physical laws is in the geography and topography
of the romances. In a time when wheeled carriages
are unheard of, and horses afford the only method of
land-carriage, the knights and ladies think nothing of
setting out on an expedition from Paris to Tartary,
where they expect to meet in a reasonable time, aud
always to hit the roads. This last is not altogether so
absurd as it looks, for there were, and had been for
centuries on centuries, regular lines of transportation
from east to west of Asia by caravans, whose tracks
were not difficult to keep if once hit. But it is rather
startling to have a knight who has been fighting to
the death in some undefined spot of eastern Asia learn
from a messenger that the emperor is under extreme
pressure in France and needs instant aid, post off
through Persia, Armenia, Hungary, and Germany,
and turn up smiling in the Forest of Ardennes without
a word as to the stages or delays of his passage. Still


more singular is it when a bevy of knights and ladies
on various expeditions are intercepted and imprisoned
in an enchanted lake for months, till released by a
champion. They break up into parties, which start,
each for its own former destination, without the slight-
est question that the road thither will reveal itself
before long and the passage there be plain. In short,
time, space, and physical weakness are no barriers to
the attainment of any desired goal.

The explanation of all this mass of absurdities and
contradictions is that people in every age love to hear
the story of adventure; that life in the Middle Ages
was either very monotonous, consisting in daily drud-
gery from which it was impossible to get away, or of
terribly exciting events when pestilence or public war,
or, worst of all, private feud, came down upon the dull
country life, remote from the great centres of activity,
and swept it like a tornado. Men wanted to hear of
something that was done with activity, energy, variety,
different from their own dulness, and with generosity,
courage, and self-denial, different from the tyranny
and misery of their own excitement. A realistic poem,
a poem describing probable and possible life, would
not have amused them, for half of their actual life was
dreary and the other half was painful.

The romances are full of action ; there is not much
philosophizing; now and then a lover or a hero will


stop to indulge in grief or remorse, but it is chiefly
action and conversation, both going on in a full stream
which nothing can stop, — and one might say nothing
ever does stop it. As the romances used to be recited
by the early minstrels, they were doubtless to be had
in lengths,— to be listened to for a short hour in the
evening, when, after the long day's hunting and the
heavy supper, there was still a little time before bed,
—or for a whole day when a heavy storm or perhaps, a
siege kept people shut up in the castle. But even
when the romance had passed out of the uncouth verse,
and scarcely less uncouth prose, of the early writers
into the hands of poets of some skill, taste, and even
genius, it runs on to an inconceivable length, or a
length that can only be conceived by an age which has
brought itself to believe that ' ' The Eing and the Book ' '
is not absurdly long. Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso"
is one of the shorter romances— it has forty-six can-
tos; Pulci, Boiardo, and Berni have each over fifty,
and the "Amadigi" of Bernardo Tasso has a hundred.
This account of the romances of chivalry relates
rather to the subject-matter of these poets. It was in
the stirring fifteenth century, when literature had be-
come all the rage, when political strife was at its high-
est in the cities of Italy, and all the arts were waking
into unheard-of life, that one man of genius after
another discovered the wealth of material hid in these


rude and wild tales that were floating round in all
nations, and used them for narrative poems of im-
mense force and beauty. It would be tedious even to
name all the poets who made one or another of the
Paladins his hero in an epic of romance ; the four
who have just been mentioned are most notable.

It is curious that the first writer who determined to
give literary style to an epic of romance attacked the
enterprise from what one might call the modern side
— the burlesque. Luigi Pulci was a Florentine of high
birth whose life extended from 1432 to 1487. He was
one of the favorite companions of Lorenzo de' Medici
in the brilliant society which he gathered round him
at the Villa Careggi. Very little is known of his life ;
and his character is shown to us chiefly by his handling
of the legends of chivalry in his poem of the "Mor-
gante Maggiore." This poem, while following out
generally the favorite legend of the attack on Charle-
magne by the Saracens and the loss of Orlando by
treachery, is conceived in a different spirit alike from
the old romancists who furnish the material, and from
most of Pulci 's contemporaries and successors who
versified it. Besides the usual array of Christian
Paladins, heathen knights, sorcerers, and fair ladies,
whom Pulci received clothed in the purple robes of
chivalry and chronicled most seriously, he introduces
the giant Morgante and the rogue Margutte. The first


is a Saracen giant whom Orlando, after killing his two
brothers, converts and baptizes ; for the Paladins were
constantly converting their f oemen by arguments that
never fail, and baptizing them into soldiers of the
Cross devoted to their teachers. Morgante becomes
Orlando 's devoted servant, and proves most useful, as
he wields the strength of a dozen men and clears his
master's path of all obstacles. The three brothers
have been the terror of a certain abbey till Orlando
arrives, kills two giants, and converts Morgante, who
becomes his liegeman and provisions the amazed monks
as follows:

There being a want of water in the place,
Orlando, like a worthy brother, said,
"Morgante, I could wish you in this case
To go for water." "You shall be obeyed

In all commands," was the reply, " straightways. "
Upon his shoulder a great tub he laid.

And went out on his way unto a fountain

Where he was wont to drink below the mountain.

Arrived there, a prodigious noise he hears,
"VVTiich suddenly along the forest spread;

Whereat from out his quiver he prepares
An arrow for his bow, and lifts his head;

And lo! a monstrous herd of swine appears,
And onward rushes with tempestuous tread,

And to the fountain's brink precisely pours;

So that the giant's join'd by all the boars.

Morgante at a venture shot an arrow
Which pierced a pig precisely in the ear,


And passed unto the other side quite thorough ;

So that the boar, defunct, lay tripp 'd up near.
Another, to revenge his fellow-farrow,

Against the giant rush 'd in fierce career.
And reach 'd the passage with so swift a foot,
Morgante was not now in time to shoot.

Perceiving that the pig was on him close,
He gave him such a punch upon the head

As floor 'd him so that he no more arose.
Smashing the very bone; and he fell dead

Next to the other. Having seen such blows, .
The other pigs along the valley fled;

Morgante on his neck the bucket took.

Full from the spring, which neither swerved nor shook.

The tun was on one shoulder, and there were
The hogs on t 'other, and he brush 'd apace

On to the abbey, though by no means near,
Nor spilt one drop of water in his race.

Orlando, seeing liim so soon appear

With the dead boars, and with that brimful vase,

Marvell'd to see his strength so very great;

So did the abbot, and set wide the gate.

This is Lord Byron's translation, which is very spir-
ited and fairly exact, though not so precisely literal
as he asserted. He only published one canto, which
did not attract sufficient attention to induce him to go
on with the other fifty-two. But he developed the same
stanza to perfection in "Beppo" and "Don Juan."

Pulci's other original character is Margutte, who is
a professed scamp and thief. He declares himself on
his first appearance to be a knave not merely by prac-
tice but by choice. He is positively unhappy when he


is not cheating or robbing somebody. His special de-
light is to induce an innkeeper to lodge and board
him, and, after living as long as he thinks fit on the fat
of the land, to disappear, carrying off about himself
every article belonging to mine host which he has not
already put into himself. He discusses his own ad-
ventures in the most shameless manner, and delights to
enlarge at enormous length on his love of good cook-
ing, pouring out stanza after stanza in enumeration
of all sorts of delicacies, especially fish, which, it is
well known, all Italians have always a mighty love for.
And it is very noticeable what a large share good eat-
ing, or what was deemed good eating, plays in all the
pictures of life at this time in Italy. It is plain that
the common people at least had no conception of com-
fort but plenty to eat and drink and a fire in winter.
Nay; the life of the wealthy, though often gorgeous,
would seem to us comfortless. Furniture, clothing, and
domestic appointments must have been but squalid
with all their magnificence, and crude with all their

The device of stringing out, name after name, a
whole catalogue of objects which happen to suggest
themselves, is a favorite device of Pulci's, and makes
much of his poem insufferably tedious. Trees, stars,
fishes, jewels, beasts, birds,— he has them all listed and
sets forth his lists in eight-line stanzas. There are


other and greater poets who have fallen into the same
error. Ovid has yielded to it ; so has Spenser ; but it
was reserved for an American to offer his countrymen
long strings of names, arranged, or rather muddled, in
lines neither prose nor verse, and deeply tainted with
obscenity, as the veritable poetry, for which they are
to discard Bryant and Whittier, of whose name this
person's sounds like an awkward imitation. And
a worthy but greatly mistaken society undertakes
to proscribe Boccaccio, and leaves any book-store
free to sell the irretrievable beastliness of ''Leaves of
Grass. ' '

Pulci has other tricks of style, such as beginning
every line of a stanza with the same word, like "This"
or "Which"; but his difficulty, and hence his tedium,
is greatly enhanced even to good Italian scholars by
his writing, not the Tuscan language, but the Floren-
tine dialect, filling his pages with what must sound
immensely witty to those who chance to have mastered
this patois,— ior such it is, even in lovely Florence,—
but unintelligible to such as know only classic Italian.
He thus proposes to add to the comic effect of the
whole poem, which turns all subjects, including those
generally held sacred, not exactly into ridicule, but
into broad fun. Indeed, he handles monks and priests
in such a way that he has often been accused of en-
mity to all religion. This, I think, is not sensible


criticism. The Italians of Pulci's day had but little
respect for the Papacy or Church establishments gen-
erally, which indeed were in a state to make the best
friends of religion sad, and sure to lead to some great
catastrophe. Moreover, the literary and scientific dis-
covery that was pouring in over all the world was not
likely to sustain the spirit of undoubting reverence.
In the generation after Pulci, pure heathenism reigned
in the very Vatican; but in his lifetime the attitude
of the people to sacred names and ideas was rather
that of free, not to say impudent, familiarity, such
as we find lately in the delicious popular tales of Fred-
eric Baron Corvo— the state of feeling expressed in
the *'Biglow Papers" in such lines as:

"God has said so, plump and fairly —
Et 's as long as it is broad;
An ' you 've gut to git up airly
Ef you want to take in God."

I have had an Englishman insist that this was ir-
reverent; he simply did not know the Yankee char-
acter. Pulci begins every canto with an invocation
to the Heavenly Father, the Virgin, or some of the
saints ; and his whole poem impresses me as the work
of a man who never questions the great principles of
religion as his age received them, but despises super-
stition and asceticism. In spite of all its drawbacks,
the "Morgante" is very amusing and bright reading.


Contemporary with Pulci, and almost as well en-
titled to be called the father of romance poetry, was
a very different man, — Count Matteo Boiardo, of the

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Online LibraryWilliam EverettThe Italian poets since Dante → online text (page 3 of 15)