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ranked among the English trouv&res, since his father was one of the followers of duke William to England; and a family of that name possessed the lordship of Walkeringham in Nottinghamshire. The earliest of his two poems is the "Brut d'Angleterre," which, as it was presented to Elinor of Aquitaine in 1155, was probably undertaken at her request, while duchess of Normandy. Although it is mainly a free translation from the "History of the British Kings,'' by Geoffrey of Monmouth, it yet, especially in those parts relating to Arthur and his court, gives so much that may be considered his own, as to render it, in strict phraseology, the first romance of chivalry.
The introduction is singularly prosaic; and as there is no allusion to Elinor and her patronage, it is not improbable that the work originally commenced with a dedication similar to that prefixed to the voyage of St. Brandan, but which subsequent transcribers might not have taken the trouble to copy. "Whoever wishes to hear and know," says he, "aught concerning ancient kings; what they did, from whence they came, and who first of all had rule in England, who was renowned, and who was brave; master Wace has translated this story, and he tells the truth." He then begins with the flight of Eneas from Troy. All the earlier part of his narrative is closely copied in incidents, though by no means in phraseology, from Geoffrey's history ;*
* The reader, desirous of seeing an excellent epitome of this once far famed history, and a vindication of its supposed author, will find them in the late Mr. G. Ellis's specimens of the early "Metrical Romances."
and scarcely before we come to the "faictes e gestes" of king Arthur, do we find a passage worthy of translation. It is in his account of that already far famed monarch, that Wace first appears as occupying a more important station than that of a mere copyist. His description of Arthur, and his character of his round table, his knights, and his numerous victories, take up nearly two thousand lines; nor is any of this portion borrowed from the history from whence his work is professedly translated, except the coronation feast. From this part, therefore, our specimens will be selected, as in them we shall see the first outlines of the pure and lofty creed of chivalry.
The following extract gives a vivid picture of the confusion occasioned in a city, by the arrival of the king's court and his attendant nobles; a scene, doubtless, often witnessed by Maistre Wace; and the reader will smile at the simplicity of ancient manners, which assigned to the officer next in rank to the knight himself, the esquire, the menial task of actually providing fodder, and preparing the litter for his good steed.
Soleres* or chambers. Order due,
The genuine chivalric character is well delineated, although more than two centuries earlier than Chaucer's picture of the "veray parfait gentil knight," in the following description of Arthur.
"Of Arthur, chiefest, now I'll tell,
* This is the word in the original; it was also used by our forefathers, and means a large room.
t" E centre orguillus fu orguillus,
Nor were his knights unworthy companions of such a monarch, since,—
"For valiant men, and rich also,
It was after his splendid coronation at Caerleon, which Master Wace informs us stands on the river Usk, and is a beautiful place, well supplied with "fish and venison," that Arthur constructed his round table:
"Then for his noble barons, who,
* " Plus erent curteis e vaillant
Of this by Breton bards), and there
Were placed in order regular,
Each vassal seated by his brother,
None first or higher than the other;
For all were equal there, and all
Were served within King Arthur's hall
Alike, that none might vauntingly
Claim o'er the others sovereignty;
For all .was done by courtesy;—
And from all neighbouring ports did come
Unnumbered knights, and made their home
Within his court, his state to see;
For lands king Arthur held in fee
From Mongieu, to the western sea."
The reader, accustomed to the splendid fictions with which the tale of Arthur has been invested by later poets, will be disappointed at the total absence of all these from the narrative of Wace; even his disappearance after his final battle, is related in that matter-of-fact way, which to the Welch and Breton bards must have been absolutely provoking. No hand rises from the lake to snatch Excalibor, when it falls from Arthur's grasp; no Morgain la fay bears him gently on her white arms from the battle field, or sits in the woody isle of Avalon, watching, age after age, his tranced slumbers; but
"Arthur, saith the history, In the heart was striken mortally ;And thence to Avalon was borne, That healed his wounds might be; nor mourn There still he wons; the Bretons wait His coming—for their lays relate He liveth yet, and still they look:— I, Master Wace, who made this book, Will nought affirm, save that I hold That sooth, which prophet Merlin told.*
* " Encore i est, Breton 1'atendent