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Martel in 725, distributed over Burgundy, Dauphiny, Gascony and Languedoc the riches of his imagination, his religion and his philosophy. From all this complex action and reaction, from the clashing of these hostile and yet harmonious forces, resulted that Queen of the Dark Ages, the wonderful little kingdom of Provence, the very name of whose people was between 1090 and 1290 the synonym for poet, for poetry, for all which was dear to the heart of man in its moments of gallantry, love and adventure. Its geographical boundaries were the sea, the Rhone, the Alps and the Var; its spiritual boundaries were not measured by parallels of latitude. The very time of the mediæval period was, so to speak, calculated upon the meridian of Aix, its capital, for we find the German imitators of Provençal song celebrating in their Minnesongs the French spring-month April instead of their own, which was May. No Anglo-Norman, Teutonic or Spanish troubadour dared depart from the established usages of those amiable sonneteers, who addressed a hymn to the moon or to Blanchefleur, to the Virgin or to a flower, with equal ease, grace and point. Its arms coil all about the feudal times like the serpent of Laocoön, not in deadly but in genial compression, exercising the gentlest of tyrannies,
a force that was persuasive, that stirred men up to noble deeds, that sang and died with the pilgrim-kings before the Holy Sepulchre, that cheered the captivity of monarchs, that filled the whole country south of the Loire with bright and busy throngs who to the sound of lute, harp and viol contended in poetic tourneys and carried on lance or shield the love-favors of their dames. It was almost inconceivable how this great tide, drawn by some unseen moon, rose to the brink, brimmed over, flooded the civilised world, and then mysteriously crept off-drew in its floods, sank downward into the earth, and left it utterly, to the point of being entirely forgotten from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. It was the fable of Luna and Endymionthe kiss, the ambrosial presence, the light, then flight, abandonment, darkness. In our day nobody knows anything of Provençal literature except it swell upward in a mysteriously sweet chord of Petrarch, in an echo from the poems of Dante. These great geniuses did not disdain to interweave with their writings the Easter-daisy and the dark-leaved olive of Provence. Through the canzone and the Divina Commedia Provençal influence steals like a sinuous river, now sinking out of sight, now re-appearing as a thread of silver. There was more than one ray of it in the great radiance which the poet and his conductor saw from afar, and which turned out to be the face of Beatrice. The sudden silence after so much tumult, the quiet that fell over France after the pastorals and the war-songs, the tensons and the chansons de geste, the jeu-parti and the cour d'amour of the troubadours, was like the spell that a snake casts over an aviary. There was a hush all the more painful from the musical babble that had preceded it-gray sand-bars after the tides had gone out - a period of widowhood in forlorn contrast with the brightness and the cheer, the gaiety and the abundance of the pristine minstrelsy. Aix and Arles, Romanin and the others, from capitals whose wealth and influence assembled a hundred contending talents to their jousts and tournaments, dwindled into haunts of rural nobility. Provence lost
its antique savor; its language, which had stood midway between the Latin and the French, and was a written language when Middle High German and French were little above barbarous dialects, lost its hold and sank into a patois, while the beautiful literature it had produced lay in obscure libraries and waited till the times and the eyes of Raynouard and Diez, Bartsch and Meyer for interpretation. The hour came when the tongue that had been the delight of Thibaud de Champaigne and Alphonse of Spain, of Limousin troubadour and fair châtelaine, decayed to a peasant's jargon and became an utter non-conductor of poetic as of every kind of thought. So it remained, fallen from its ancient prerogatives, while its rival on the north of the Loire, the Langue d'Oil, rose and shook itself like a giant ready for the race, gradually perfected itself through the stories (contes) and allegories (fabliaux) of the Trouvères, proceeded from stage to stage, from the chronicles of Turpin to the chronicles of Froissart, from the fables of Adam to the fables of Lafontaine, from the Romance of the Rose to the romance of Madame de La Fayette, and came forth the language that is now spoken all over the globe.
The purpose of this preliminary sketch is in some degree to prepare the reader for what follows, to introduce to him the national poet of the South of France, who has rescued this language from neglect and placed it again in the ranks of living languages; the man who, since 1820, has revived the olden troubadour fervor that has always slept in the veins of the Gascons, and has called into being rivals and imitators throughout his country; the man whose works, written in a tongue long abandoned for literary work, now shine among the classics in the best libraries, have been translated into English, French and German, and have become text books in almost all the seminaries and lycées of Languedoc-JACQUES JASMIN, THE TROUBADOUR. Our age has witnessed many reforms and innovations, many revivals of ancient things and discoveries of new; yet perhaps none more quiet, more thorough, or more unique than the upstarting of an entire nationality into rejuvenated and rejoicing life, the re-birth of an extinct but noble literature. This re-awakening began with the people, the mother of us all, the common source of all strength and failure, the warm compensator of all that is true and high. It was early one morning in 1798, in an old rat-haunted house in Agen, behind the door, that Jacques Jasmin, the son of a tailor, came into the world. His father had a hump and his mother was lame; they were poor laboring people, frightfully poor, so poor that they often knew not whence their supper was to come, or whether the bailiff would not be upon them for arrears of rent before the soft southern night closed in over their heads. It was a tradition and a fact in the family that all the Jasmins died in the poor-house. Toward this bourne father and grandfather and son saw themselves drifting from generation to generation, from birth to death, through long years of wearisome and unavailing toil. It was the one shadow that overspread their lives; for they were happy people, and on the road to the last stopping-place they managed to have many a moment of joy that did not cost anything, or if it did, the sou that was spent spread open like the fairy's pavilion and embraced them all in its wonderful arms. It was a fate
no worse than that of thousands that had struggled uncrowned with success against circumstance: a hard profession that worked almost to the quick and did not reward; the small wages pitifully doled out, the harsh words, the consumption day by day of what was earned, the weeks of languor or of lying-in, the neglect or the penury of which the world recked not. The birth of the poet was not ushered in, as we learn from him, by salvos of artillery like a prince's, but to the uproar of a great charivari headed by his father, who had composed verses for the occasion, and with vast tumult of horns and kettledrums was serenading a neighbor. The child lay upon a little cot which was stuffed with lark's feathers, a meagre, tiny little fellow, but "fed on good milk and growing like a king's son," a wee bundle of humor and sadness, a nervous little accretion of tears and smiles, swaddled in rags, not a whit less comfortable, perhaps, than the lace and cambric of gentler blood. When he was seven years old he valiantly toddled after his father to charivaris, horn in hand, with his head done up in gray curl-papers; or, carrying his lunch, went a-brush gathering in the islets of the river with his little play-mates, no doubt all as ragged and bright little tatterdemalions as ever pilfered the sunshine or the fruit of a neighbor's garden. The sunshine was the only fireside that they had; but it was very beautiful for all that, and made them live in no envy of the rich children that had card-houses and rattles and ill-health for their share. "To the isle!" was always the cry with the young vagabond and his companions, for the sand was like velvet there; at no other place in the world was lunch so sweet, and abundance of bark, brush-wood, small branches and stray lumber thrown up by the river, was to be found. How deftly they bound it with osier withes, and how much they gathered before the advent of the evening star! And then what a pretty little tableau on the homeward march: thirty fagots balancing on thirty heads, and thirty childish voices mingling in one refrain! The story of his youth as told by Jasmin in the most musical of poetic memoirs, Mes Souvenirs (Mous Soubenis), smells like Sicilian thyme where the bees of Hybla collected their honey. It is the prattle of a child through which breathes the deep tenderness of the man, the tender smile of the father. Common apples become apples of the Hesperides when smitten by the golden light of this mind, so genially retrospective, so ardently responsive to what is beautiful and true. The forlorn poverty of those early years breaks through in spite of the laugh, however; but through the story there runs a rhythm that is inimitable: it is a song without words; it is like the touch of Mendelssohn; it is the sea beating time on the shore; it is Ariel in the wind. So light, so musical is the treatment: the poet is going over the dulcia arva, the pleasant fields of youth; like the lost Hylas, he lies on the hyacinths among herbage that the lowing cattle love; he calls up his remembrances from the highways, and makes them, like the antique shepherds, flute forth all their soul to the reader. Simple though they be, they are full of cadence, full of sparkle. The wonder is how incidents in themselves so commonplace can have gathered to themselves tones that belong to the great masters, bars that seem stolen from one of Beethoven's symphonies, cadences that seem
caught from the full sweep of Mozart's fingers. He puts his winning life-story, as it were, into a little boat, and sets it adrift on the sympathies of his race. Even in the French translation of this poem which is rude all that limpid peculiarity is preserved through which as in a clear pool we see every pebble, every water-lichen, every minnow that darts like a sunbeam or cleaves the light like a prism; the naiads among the grasses and lilies reach upward their arms and draw us down despite ourselves. We see him as he leapt fences and filched nectarines from his neighbor's close; and it is pleasant to remember the kindly remorse that seized him for it in after-life, and made him pardon those who robbed his own little vineyard. spite of his pranks, however, he was a dreamer; the single word school made him mute, and produced on him an effect like the sound of a viol; he could have wept, he did not know why, when he heard his mother in her corner at the spinning-wheel repeat it softly to the old grandfather and glance furtively toward him. So, too, when he had filled the boursette with big sous by running errands during the fair and handed them over to his mother, her sigh and her thanks would go like a poniard to his heart. But there was a butterfly there, a flower, and in the flower a fairy that tickled him elfishly and made him wild and hopeful beyond the reach of trouble. In winter for lack of fuel they sunned themselves; but how sweet were the winter evenings when forty village gossips in the room at forty spinning-wheels, made forty bobbins fly, and grouped themselves round the marvellous crone children and all who told of the Ogre and Tom Pouce, the Sorcerer, Barbe-Bleue, and the Wehr-wolf howling in the street! Half dead with fear they would creep to their couches pursued by sorcerers and ogres, and the next evening reassembled to work and to listen to the superstitions that with Plutarch and the Bible have from time immemorial formed the sweetest aliment of our human kind. Scheherazade is the Homer of children, and the morose Sultan of the Indies is humanity, that will hearken as long as she talks. We all become Khalifs and ghebirs and genii when we dive into this underworld of gnomes and dwarfs, wehr-wolves and swan-maidens. It is the cranes of Ibycus that will always make known the murder and form the theme for infinite poetising as long as life lasts. And so in this hot Gascon blood the old leaven was at work. One day while at his sports an unusual procession in the street attracted his attention: he looked up-it was his grandfather whom they were carrying on a litter to die in the hospital! No more fun, no more amusement for him. His eye involuntarily turned to make an inventory of the old chamber, open to the four winds: three poor beds, a half dozen curtains riddled by mice-teeth like a sieve, four or five cracked plates, two broken jars, a wooden goblet worn at the edges, pieced garments, clippings of cloth from his father's scissors, a pitchy candlestick, a frameless mirror blurred by smoke, four bottomless chairs, an armoire without a key, a wallet, a beggar's staff that was all. And the dear grandfather who had chosen always for him the tenderest morsel of the bread that he had pitifully begged, was gone! From this moment the iron entered his soul, to become afterwards wondrously transmuted into gold, into fame, into
universal veneration and respect, into verse that should become classic and be placed on the same shelf with the richest intellectual inheritance of his native land. Books that were to be dedicated to Charles Nodier, to Ste.-Beuve, to Lamartine, lay in the glance that followed that stricken procession through the streets of Agen to the hospital. A ring set with gems was to replace the wedding-ring that the mother wrung from her finger and turned into bread for him. The bitter herbs were to be followed by banquets innumerable; the ragged urchins among whom his early associations fell were to be succeeded by lords and ladies, even kings and princesses. A singular future lay on the hills for him like a light from heaven. A medal, a prize of 5000 francs was to be adjudged by the French Academy to the lofty morality and genius of the words that were to come from this child of the South, the son of deformed beggars, the descendant of those whose habitual need it had been to take alms, and to take them gratefully. The forgotten Provençal (or rather the written Provençal, for it had always been alive) was to resume something of its olden dignity; the chorister of Magdeburg was to be the author of sweet and noble hymns; the boy of Agen was to be a hero of whom an Odyssey of wanderings from ovation to ovation and from town to town was to be recounted and remembered. There is something in this career that calls to mind knights-errant journeying from court to court, the life of Walter von der Vogelweide or one of the retainers of Hermann of Thuringia.
Meanwhile to school he went: in six months he had learned to read; six months after he served at mass, became chorister, intoned the Tantum ergo, was entered at the seminary on a charity-scholarship, and then driven forth soon after with execration and curses. He himself tells the circumstance with infinite verve in his Soubenis (from which these details are all extracted). He had so far ingratiated himself by his studiousness and zeal as to win an old cassock that had been offered by the priests as a prize; but having been guilty of some unchorister-like improprieties, his misdeed was found out, and the culprit locked up during the whole carnival, with mighty hue and cry on the part of his clerical confrères. Unfortunately the prison was adjacent to the Superior's pantry; and being one day an-hungered, the luckless youth, forgetting the awful sanctity of this spot whereto the Superior was wont to withdraw for devotions, fell tooth and nail upon the delicacies therein stored with an appetite to which bread-and-butter had given additional fierceness. The good Superior meanwhile, with soul full of pardon, had determined to forgive the improprieties, which were after all very pardonable, and to release the delinquent. So puffing and perspiring with benevolence he arrived at the door, walked in and what a scene! The miscreant was finishing a jar of grape-preserve. With a bound and a yell "Ma confiture!" that rang like the crack of doom, the canon pounced upon the burglar, swore at him roundly, and shook him till the jar delivered up its contents at his feet:—
- Dehors, diablotin, dehors!
Ceci est un péché que nous ne pardonnons pas !