Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 29

A mirthful man he was — the snows of age

Fell, but they did not chill him. Gayety,

Even in life’s closing, touch’d his teeming brain

With such wild visions as die setting sun

Raises in front of some hoar glacier,

Painting the bleak ice with a thousand hues.

Old Play.

Leaving the Earl of Oxford in attendance on the stubborn Duke of Burgundy during an expedition, which the one represented as a brief excursion more resembling a hunting party than a campaign, and which the other considered in a much graver and more perilous light, we return to Arthur de Vere, or the younger Philipson, as he continued to be called, who was conducted by his guide with fidelity and success, but certainly very slowly, upon his journey into Provence.

The state of Lorraine, overrun by the Duke of Burgundy’s army, and infested at the same time by different scattered bands, who took the field, or held out the castles, as they alleged, for the interest of Count Ferrand de Vaudemont, rendered journeying so dangerous, that it was often necessary to leave the main road, and to take circuitous tracks, in order to avoid such unfriendly encounters as travellers might otherwise have met with.

Arthur, taught by sad experience to distrust strange guides, found himself, nevertheless, in this eventful and perilous journey, disposed to rest considerable confidence in his present conductor, Thiebault, a Provencal by birth, intimately acquainted with the roads which they took, and, as far as he could judge, disposed to discharge his office with fidelity. Prudence alike, and the habits which he had acquired in travelling, as well as the character of a merchant which he still sustained, induced him to waive the morgue, or haughty superiority of a knight and noble towards an inferior personage, especially as he rightly conjectured that free intercourse with this man, whose acquirements seemed of a superior cast, was likely to render him a judge of his opinions and disposition towards him. In return for his condescension, he obtained a good deal of information concerning the province which he was approaching.

As they drew near the boundaries of Provence, the communications of Thiebault became more fluent and interesting. lie could not only tell the name and history of each romantic castle which they passed, in their devious and doubtful route, but had at his command the chivalrous history of the noble knights and barons to whom they now pertained, or had belonged in earlier days, and recount their exploits against the Saracens, by repelling their attacks upon Christendom, or their efforts to recover the Holy Sepulchre from Pagan hands. In the course of such narrations, Thiebault was led to speak of the Troubadours, a race of native poets of Provencal origin, differing widely from the minstrels of Normandy, and the adjacent provinces of France, with whose tales of chivalry, as well as the numerous translations of their works into Norman-French and English, Arthur, like most of the noble youth of his country, was intimately acquainted and deeply imbued. Thiebault boasted that his grandsire, of humble birth indeed, but of distinguished talent, was one of this gifted race, whose compositions produced so great an effect on the temper and manners of their age and country. It was, however, to be regretted, that, inculcating as the prime duty of life a fantastic spirit of gallantry, which sometimes crossed the Platonic bound prescribed to it, the poetry of the Troubadours was too frequently used to soften and seduce the heart, and corrupt the principles. 20

Arthur’s attention was called to this peculiarity, by Thiebault singing, which he could do with good skill, the history of a Troubadour, named William Cabestainy, who loved, par amours, a noble and beautiful lady, Margaret, the wife of a baron called Raymond de Roussillon. The jealous husband obtained proof of his dishonor, and having put Cabestainy to death by assassination, he took his heart from his bosom, and causing it to be dressed like that of an animal, ordered it to be served up to his lady; and when she had eaten of the horrible mess, told her of what her banquet was composed. The lady replied, that since she had been made to partake of food so precious, no coarser morsel should ever after cross her lips. She persisted in her resolution, and thus starved herself to death. The Troubadour, who celebrated this tragic history, had displayed in his composition a good deal of poetic art. Glossing over the error of the lovers as the fault of their destiny, dwelling on their tragical fate with considerable pathos, and finally, execrating the blind fury of the husband with the full fervor of poetical indignation, he recorded, with vindictive pleasure, how every bold knight and true lover in the south of France assembled to besiege the baron’s castle, stormed it by main force, left not one stone upon another, and put the tyrant himself to an ignominious death. Arthur was interested in the melancholy tale, which even beguiled him of a few tears; but as he thought further on its purport, he dried his eyes) and said with some sternness — “Thiehault, sing me no more such lays. I have heard my father say, that the readiest mode to corrupt a Christian man is to bestow upon vice the pity and the praise which are due only to virtue. Your Baron of Roussillon is a monster of cruelty; but your unfortunate lovers were not the less guilty. It is by giving fair names to foul actions that those who would start at real vice are led to practise its lessons, under the disguise of virtue.”

“I would you knew, Seignor,” answered Thiebault, “that this Lay of Cabestainy and the Lady Margaret of Roussillon is reckoned a masterpiece of the joyous science. Fie, sir, you are too young to he so strict a censor of morals. What will you do when your head is gray, if you are thus severe when it is scarcely brown?”

“A head which listens to folly in youth will hardly be honorable in old age,” answered Arthur.

Thiebault had no mind to carry the dispute farther.

“It is not for me to contend with yoi~r worship. I only think, with every true son of chivalry and song, that a knight without a mistress is like a sky without a star.”

“Do I not know that?” answered Arthur; “but yet better remain in darkness than be guided by such false lights as shower down vice and pestilence.”

“Nay, it may be your seignorie is right,” answered the guide. “It is certain, that even in Provence here we have lost much of our keen judgment on matters of love, — its difficulties, its intricacies, and its errors, since the Troubadours are no longer regarded as usual, and since the High and Noble Parliament of Love 21 has ceased to hold its sittings.

“But in these latter days,” continued the Provencal~ kings, dukes, and sovereigns, instead of being the foremost and most faithful vassals of the Court of Cupid, are themselves the slaves of selfishness and love of gain. Instead of winning hearts by breaking lances in the lists, they are breaking the hearts of their impoven shed vassals by the most cruel exactions — instead of attempting to deserve the smile and favors of their lady-loves, they are meditating how to steal castles, towns, and provinces from their neighbors. But long life to the good and venerable King Rene! While he has an acre of land left, his residence will be the resort of valiant knights, whose only aim is praise in arms, of true lovers who are persecuted by fortune, and of high-toned harpers who know how to celebrate faith and valor.”

Arthur, interested in learning something more precise than common fame had taught him on the subject of this prince, easily induced the talkative Provencal to enlarge upon the virtues of his old sovereign’s character, is just, joyous, and debonair, a friend to the most noble exercises of the chase and the tilt-yard, and still more so to the joyous science of Poetry and Music; who gave away more revenue than he received in largesses to knights-errant and itinerant musicians, with whom his petty court was crowded, as one of the very few in which the ancient hospitality was still maintained.

Such was the picture which Thiebault drew of the last minstrel-monarch; and though the eulogium was exaggerated, perhaps the facts were not overcharged.

Born of royal parentage, and with high pretensions, Rene had at no period of his life been able to match his fortunes to his claims. Of the kingdoms to which he asserted right, nothing remained in his possession but the county of Provence itself, a fair and fertile principality, but diminished by the many claims which France had acquired upon portions of it by advances of money to supply the personal expenses of its master, and by other portions, which Burgundy, to whom Rene had been a prisoner, held in pledge for his ransom. In his youth he engaged in more than one military enterprise, in the hope of attaining some part of the territory of which he was styled sovereign. His courage is not impeached, but fortune did not smile on his military adventures; and he seems at last to have become sensible that the power of admiring and celebrating warlike merit is very different from possessing that quality. In fact, Rene was a prince of very moderate parts, endowed with a love of the fine arts, which he craved to extremity, and a degree of good humor, which never permitted him to repine at fortune, but rendered its possessor happy, when a prince of keener feelings would have died of despair. This insouciant, high-tempered, gay, and thoughtless disposition, conducted Rene, free from all the passions which embitter life, and often shorten it, to a hale and mirthful old age. Even domestic losses, which often affect those who are proof against mere reverses of fortune, made no deep impression on the feelings of this cheerful old monarch. Most of his children had died young; Rene took it not to heart. His daughter Margaret’s marriage with the powerful Henry of England was considered a connection much above the fortunes of the King of the Troubadours. But in the issues instead of Rene’ denying any splendor from the match, he was involved in the misfortunes of his daughter, and repeatedly obliged to impoverish himself to supply her ransom, Perhaps in his private soul the old king did not think these losses so mortifying, as the necessity of receiving Margaret into his court and family. On fire when reflecting on the losses she had sustained, mourning over friends slain and kingdoms lost, the proudest and most passionate of princesses was ill suited to dwell with the gayest and best-humored of sovereigns, whose pursuits she contemned, and whose lightness of temper, for finding comfort in such trifles, she could not forgive. The discomfort attached to her presence and vindictive recollections, embarrassed the good-humored old monarch, though it was unable to drive him beyond his equanimity.

Another distress pressed him more sorely.-Yolande, a daughter of his first wife, Isabella, had succeeded to his claims upon the Duchy of Lorraine, and transmitted them to her son, Ferrand, Count of Vaudemont, a young man of courage and spirit, engaged at this time in the apparently desperate undertaking of ma king his title good against the Duke of Burgundy, who, with little right, but great power, was seizing upon and overrunning this rich Duchy, which he laid claim to as a male fief. And to conclude, while the aged king on one side beheld his dethroned daughter in hopeless despair, and on the other his disinherited grandson, in vain attempting to recover part of their rights, he had the additional misfortune to know, that his nephew, Louis of France, and his cousin, the Duke of Burgundy, were secretly contending which should succeed him in that portion of Provence which he still continued to possess; and that it was only jealousy of each other which prevented his being despoiled of this last remnant of his territory. Yet amid all this distress, Rene feasted and received guests, danced, sang, composed poetry, used the pencil or brush with no small skill, devised and conducted festivals and processions, and, studying to promote, as far as possible, the immediate mirth and good-humor of his subjects, if he could not materially enlarge their more permanent prosperity, was never mentioned by them, excepting as Le bon Roi Rene, a distinction conferred on him down to the present day, and due to him certainly by the qualities of his heart, if not by those of his bead.

Whilst Arthur was receiving from his guide a full account of the peculiarities of King Rene, they entered the territories of that merry monarch. It was late in the autumn, and about the period when the south-eastern counties of France rather show to least advantage. The foliage of the olive-tree is then decayed and withered, and as it predominates in the landscape and resembles the scorched complexion of the soil itself, an ashen and arid hue is given to the whole. Still, however, there were scenes in the hilly and pastoral parts of the country, where the quantity of evergreens relieved the eye even in this dead season.

The appearance of the country, in general, had much in it that was peculiar.

The travellers perceived at every turn some marks of the King’s singular character. Provence, as the part of Gaul which first received Roman civilization, and as having been still longer the residence of the Grecian colony who founded Marseilles, is more full of the splendid relics of ancient architecture than any other country in Europe, Italy and Greece excepted. The good taste of the King Rene’ had dictated some attempts to clear out and restore these memorials of antiquity. Was there a triumphal arch, or an ancient temple-huts and hovels were cleared away from its vicinity, and means were used at least to retard the approach of ruin. Was there a marble fountain, which superstition had dedicated to some sequestered naiad — it was surrounded by olives, almond and orange trees — its cistern was repaired, and taught once more to retain its crystal treasures. The huge amphitheatres, and gigantic colonnades, experienced the same anxious care, attesting that the noblest specimens of the fine arts found one admirer and preserver in King Rene, even during the course of those which are termed the dark and barbarous ages.

A change of manners could also be observed in passing from Burgundy and Lorraine, where society relished of German bluntness, into the pastoral country of Provence, where the influence of a fine climate and melodious language, coined to the pursuits of the romantic old monarch, with the universal taste for music and poetry, had introduced a civilization of manners, which approached to affectation. The shepherd literally marched abroad in the morning, piping his flocks forth to the pasture, with some love sonnet, the composition of an amorous Troubadour; and his ”fleecy care“ seemed actually to be under the influence of his music, instead of being ungraciously insensible to its melody, as is the case in colder climates.

Arthur observed, too, that the Provencal sheep, instead of being driven before the shepherd, regularly followed him, and did not disperse to feed until the swain, by turning his face round to them, remaining stationary, and executing variations on the air which he was playing, seemed to remind them that it was proper to do so. While in motion, his huge dog, of a species which is trained to face the wolf, and who is respected by the sheep as their guardian, and not feared as their tyrant, followed his master with his ears pricked, like the chief critic and prime judge of the performance, at some tones of which he seldom failed to intimate disapprobation; while the flock, like the generality of an audience, followed in unanimous though silent applause. At the hour of noon, the shepherd had sometimes acquired an augmentation to his audience, as some comely matron or blooming maiden, with whom he had rendezvoused by such a fountain as we have described, and who listened to the husband’s or lover’s chalumeau, or mingled her voice with his in the duets, of which the songs of the Troubadours have left so many examples. In the cool of the evening, the dance on the village green, or the concert before the hamlet door; the little repast of fruits, cheese, and bread, which the travel was readily invited to share, gave new charms to the illusion, and seemed in earnest to point out Province as the Arcadia of France.

But the greatest singularity was, in the eyes of Arthur, the total absence of armed men and soldiers in this peaceful country. In England, no man stirred without his long-how, sword and buckler. In France, the hind wore armor even when he was betwixt the stilts of his plough. In Germany, you could not look along a mile of highway, but the eye was encountered by clouds of dust, out of which were seen, by fits, waving feathers and flashing armor. Even in Switzerland, the peasant, if he had a journey to make, though but of a mile or two, cared not to travel without his halbert and two-handed sword. But in Provence all seemed quiet and peaceful, as if the music of the land had lulled to sleep all its wrathful passions. Now and then a mounted cavalier might pass them, the harp at whose saddle-bow, or carried by one of his attendants, attested the character of a Troubadour, which was affected by men of all ranks; and then only a short sword on his left thigh, borne for show rather than use, was a necessary and appropriate part of his equipment.

“Peace,” said Arthur, as he looked around him, “is an inestimable jewel; but it will be soon snatched from those who are not prepared with heart and hand to defend it.”

The sight of the ancient and interesting town ot Aix, where King Rene held his court, dispelled reflections of a general character, and recalled to the young Englishman the peculiar mission on which he was engaged.

He then required to know from the Provencal, Thiebault, whether his instructions were to leave him, now that he had successfully attained the end of his journey.

“ My instructions,” answered Thiebault, “are to remain in Aix while there is any chance of your seignorie’s continuing there, to be of such use to you as you may require, either as a guide or an attendant, and to keep these men in readiness to wait upon you when you have occasion for messengers or guards. With your approbation, I will see them disposed of in fitting quarters, and receive my farther instructions from your seignorie wherever you please to appoint me. I propose this separation, because I understand it is your present pleasure to be private.”

“I must go to court,” answered Arthur, “without any delay. Wait for me in half an hour by that fountain in the street, which projects into the air such a magnificent pillar of water, surrounded, I would almost swear, by a vapor like steam, serving as a shroud to the jet which it envelops.”

“The jet is so surrounded,” answered the Provencal, “because it is supplied by a hot spring rising from the bowels of the earth, and the touch of frost on this autumn morning makes the vapor more distinguishable than usual. — But if it is good King Rene whom you seek, you will find him at this time walking in his chimney. Do not be afraid of approaching him, for there never was a monarch so easy of access, especially to good-looking strangers like your seignorie.”

“But his ushers,” said Arthur, “will not admit me into his hall.”

“His hall!” repeated Thiebault —” Whose hall?”

“ Why, King Rene’s, I apprehend. If he is walking in a chimney, it can only be in that of his hall, and a stately one it must be to give him room for such exercise.”

“You mistake my meaning,” said the guide, laughing-“What we call King Rene’s chimney is the narrow parapet wonder; it extends between these two towers, has an exposure to the south, and is sheltered in every other direction. Yonder it is his pleasure to walk and enjoy the beams of the sun, on such cool mornings as the present. It nurses, he says, his poetical vein. If you approach his promenade he will readily speak to you, unless indeed, he is in the very act of a poetical composition.”

Arthur could not forbear smiling at the thoughts of a king, eighty years of age, broken down with misfortunes and beset with dangers, who yet amused himself with walk.ng in an open parapet, and composing poetry in presence of all such of his loving subjects as chose to look on.

“ If you will walk a few steps this way,” said Thiebault, you may see the good King, and judge whether or not you will accost him at present. I will dispose of the people, and await your orders at the fountain in the Corso.”

Arthur saw no objection to the proposal of his guide, and was not unwilling to have an opportunity of seeing something of the good King Rene, before he was introduced to his presence.

20 Note D. Provencal Troubadours.

The smoothness of the Provencal dialect, partaking strongly of the Latin, which had been spoken for so many ages in what was called for distinction’s sake the Rorman Province of Gaul, and the richness and fertility of a country abounding in all that could delight the senses and soothe the imagination, naturally disposed the inhabitants to cultivate the art of poetry, and to value and foster the genius of those who distinguished themselves by attaining excellence in it Troubadours, that is, finders or inventors, equivalent to the northern term of makers, arose in every class, from the lowest to the highest, and success in their art dignified men of the meanest rank, and added fresh honors to those who were born in the Patrician file of society. War and love, in ore especially the latter, were dictated to them by the chivalry of the times as the especial subjects of their verse. Such, too, were the themes of our northern minstrels. But whilst the latter confined themselves in general to those well-known metrical histories in which scenes of strife and combat mingled with adventures of enchantment, and fables of giants and monsters subdued by valiant champions, such as best attracted the ears of the somewhat duller and more barbarous warriors of northern France, of Britain, and of Germany — the more lively Troubadours produced poems which turned on human passion, and on love, affection, and dutiful observance, with which the faithful knight was bound to regard the object of his choice, and the honor and respect with which she was bound to recompense his faithful services.

Thus far it cannot be disputed that the themes selected by the Troubadours were those on which poetry is most naturally exerted, and with the best chance of rising to excellence. But it usually happens that when any one of the fine arts is cultivated exclusively, the taste of those who practice and admire its productions loses sight of nature, simplicity, and true taste, and the artist endeavors to discover, while the public learn to admire, some more complicated system, in which pedantry supersedes the dictates of natural feeling, and metaphysical ingenuity is used instead of the more obvious qualifications of simplicity and good sense. Thus, with the unanimous approbation of their hearers, the Troubadours framed for themselves a species of poetry describing and inculcating a system of metaphysical affection, as inconsistent with nature as the minstrel’s tales of magicians and monsters; with this evil to society, that it was calculated deeply to injure its manners and its morals. Every Troubadour, or good Knight, who took the maxims of their poetical school for his rule, was bound to choose a lady-love, the fairest and noblest to whom he had access,, to whom he dedicated at once his lyre and his sword, and who, married or single, was to be the object to whom his life, words, and actions, were to be devoted. On the other hand, a lady thus honored and distinguished, was bound, by accepting the services of such a gallant, to consider him as her lover, and on all due occasions to grace him as such with distinguished marks of personal favor. It is true, that, according to the best authorities, the intercourse betwixt her lover and herself was to be entirely of a Platonic character, and the loyal swain was not to require, or the chosen lady to grant, anything beyond the favor she might in strict modesty bestow. Even under this restriction, the system was like to make wild work with the domestic peace of families, since it permitted, or rather enjoined, such familiarity betwixt the fair dame and her poetical admirer; and very frequently human passions, placed in such a dangerous situation, proved too strong to be confined within the metaphysical bounds prescribed to them by so fantastic and perilous a system. The injured husbands on many occasions avenged themselves with severity, and even with dreadful cruelty, on the unfaithful ladies, and the musical skill and chivalrous character of the lover proved no protection to his person. But the reai spirit of the system was seen in this, that in the poems of the other Troubadours, by whom such events are recorded, their pity is all bestowed on the hapless lovers, while, without the least allowance for just provocation, the injured husband is held up to execration.

21 Note E. Parliament of Love.

During the flourishing time of the Troubadours, Love was esteemed a grave and formal a part of the business of life, that a Parliament or High Court as Love was appointed for deciding such questions. This singular tribunal was, it may be supposed, conversant with more of imaginary than of real suits; but it is astonishing with what cold and pedantic ingenuity the Troubadours of whom it consisted set themselves to plead and to decide, upon reasoning which was not less singular and able than out of place, the absurd questions which their own fantastic imaginations had previously devised. There, for example, is a reported case, of much celebrity, where a lady sitting in company with three persons, who were her admirers, listened to one with the most favorable smiles, while she pressed the hand of the second, and touched with her own the foot of the third. It was a case much agitated and keenly contested in the Parliament of Love, which of these rivals had received the distinguishing mark of the lady’s favor. Much ingenuity was wasted on this and similar cases, of which there is a collection, in all judicial form of legal proceedings, under the title of Arrets d’Amour (Adjudged cases of the Court of Love).

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29