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culiarly calculated to call forth exalted sentiments—to tender a man
important in his own eyes and those of others, and to nourish an en-
thusiastic temperament. But the feelings which a sense of independence, and the striking events of Spanish history, were calculated to awaken, were also left in Spain to their free and unfettered operation. Separated from other countries by a barrier of seas and mountains, which rendered commercial intercourse almost impossible, she was allowed to indulge her enthusiastic propensities without restraint. Her feelings were not subjected to the test of examination or comparison, or chilled by the ridicule of strangers, who, uninfluenced by the same associations, would have looked upon her world of imagination only under the ridiculous point of
view which enthusiasm always presents to the eye of reason. In the early
literature of France and Italy, we perceive, at once, an esprit de com— merce destroying all high aspirations—weakening passion by indifference —levelling every thing to the standard of utility, and preparing, from the first, that ridicule of great and generous emotions which was afterwards to characterise the works of Berni and Ariosto. Poetry, has, unfortunately, at all times but too strong a tendency to descend. Every where it has been her fate gradually to narrow her flight—to stoop from divine to heroic, from heroic to common life: but it is an evil omen for the moral greatness of a nation when its poets anticipate the period of ridicule, and accelerate by an unnatural impulse the rapidity of a descent, which is, at best, but too certain and too speedy. Poetry may be said to hang between earth and heaven; and they seem but little deserving of the gratitude of their countrymen who endeavour to fix their attention on the degrading chains which pinion her to the ground, rather than on the golden links that connect her with heaven. But Spain was untouched by the influence of such feelings. There the glorious deeds of antiquity became blended with the habitual feelings of the people. They were in the mouths of all the peasantry." They were sung in the summer evenings to the accom— paniment of the harp and the guitar, and they constituted the chief amusements of the solejares, when in winter the inhabitants of the villages court the beams of the sun, and, like the “Council of Ten" in the Decameron, or the Mahometan story-tellers, circulate the stories of tradition. The combined effects of these feelings of independence and chivalrous enthusiasm on the poetry of the nation, will be intelligible by a single example. Every one is aware of the perfect indifference as to honesly and notions of property which is so common in the Border ballads of England and Scotland, and of the vulgar and degrading nature of the subjects which they generally describe. Our minstrels seem to have known no distinction between the noblest actions and the most reprehensible. The exploits of Robin Hood—the outlaw Murray and Amstrong, —are, at least, as celebrated as those of Wallace or Percy. Sherwood Forest is as classic ground as Bannockburn. A Border foray is placed side by side with a battle; and the stealing of a mare, or the “lifting” of a given number of cattle, is celebrated with as much pomp as the proudest displays of valour or patriotism. The wild life of an outlaw seems to have had something in it particularly captivating; and there is nothing
* One theological writer inveighs bitterly against the popularity of the ballads of the Twelve Peers, which he styles the “laus perennis de los zapateros,” the prayer-book of the shoemakers or artisans.
which is dwelt upon with more pleasure than the ideas of merriment and liberty attached to it.
“Merry it is in the grene woode,
Under a state of manners considerably more refined, but yet connected with ours by strong resemblances, we find in the compositions of the Trouvères the same tendency to waste the labour of imagination on subjects very unworthy of such inspiration. An ingenious trick, or a successful robbery, is always a subject on which they delight to expatiate,_ such are the Fabliaux, “Du Curé et des deux Ribauds,”—“Brifaut"— “Boiven de Provins,” and the well-known tale by Jean de Boves, “Les Trois Larrons,” which has been translated into most of the European languages. But the Spanish ballads are pitched in a higher key. With the exception of some questionable exploits of Rinaldo, alluded to in one of the ballads relating to the court of Charlemagne,+ and an incident in the Chronicle of the Cid, we do not recollect an instance where the early Spanish poets have ventured on this ground, which is so familiar to the Northern Minstrels and the French Trouvères. It was only under the reign of Charles W. that “the picaresco” taste was introduced and sanctioned, by the universal talent of Mendoza; and it is from the publication of his Lazarillo de Tormes, that we must date the appearance of that host of novels, describing only the adventures of sharpers, and minions of the moon, which Le Sage has presented in a softened shape, and adorned with all the graces of polished satire, in his Gil Blas.
Another striking feature of these ballads, and perhaps the only one which can really be traced to the influence of the Arabs, is the spirit of humanity and gentleness which they indicate. Elevation of thought, courage, and respect for engagements, are consistent with a very imperfect degree of civilisation; but humanity in war is the product of an enlightened age. The border warfare of our own countries was a contest of mutual barbarism, which tended rather to aggravate than to soften the native roughness of the combatants; but the long struggle between Spain and Arabia was the meeting of rudeness with refinement; and war, which in other countries, has been the means of perpetuating ignorance, was, in Spain, one of those instruments by which the national character was insensibly refined. The following expansion of the old Roman maxim, “Parcere subjectis,” etc. could only have proceeded from a nation accustomed to receive the like treatment from cultivated adversaries:—
* Perdone al vencido triste,
o' Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough, and William of Cloudesye.
“Spare the unfortunate vanquished, when the enfeebled arm cannot wield the lance—break not the bruised reed—but while the vigour of thine ad– versary endures, stint not the blow—spare not the thrust.”
The influence of this feeling of gentleness has extended itself in these ballads, both to the choice of subjects and the manner in which they are treated. The early literature of Germany, as well as our own, is characterised by a fondness for extravagant horrors and details of cruelty; the natural result of that obtuseness of moral feeling which requires to be operated upon by the most violent stimuli, and which can find, in the ordinary course of human events, no sufficient source of excitement. No one can look at the ballads in Percy's Reliques, or the Minstrelsy of the Border, without being struck with the preponderance of disgusting details;—cool and and deli– berate murders perpetrated almost without a motive, and related in language which betrays no sort of feeling on the part of the narrator, and a constant leaning to the description of things offensive and forbidden. Such, for instance, are the ballads of Lord William, Lord Randal, Young Benjie, The Cruel Sister, The Jew's Daughter, and many others even of a darker cast, which will readily occur to any one at all acquainted with Scottish romance. Now, it is true that, in the Spanish ballads, the details of crime do occur, but the attention is artfully withdrawn from the catastrophe itself to the causes which lead to it; and its horrors are softened by the description of the struggles which preceded, or the remorse that followed, the commission of the crime. Let any one compare the Scottish ballad of Jellon Graeme, which is too revolting to be quoted, but which narrates the murder of a young and helpless female by her lover, with the Spanish ballad of Count Alarcos, in which a similar tragedy is related. What cold-blooded atrocity in the first—what mournful tenderness and pathos in the second The melancholy flow of the prolonged consonante seems to add double sweetness to the ballad. When Alarcos receives from the king the fatal order to put his wife to death—
Llorando si parte el conde—llorando sin alegria,”
Llora tambien el conde, portres hijos que tenia,
- * * o
In justice, however, we must observe, that there is one particular in which the Spanish Ballads have less pretension to a dignified morality. With all their respect for the Eighth Commandment, the Seventh, in its spirit at least, does not seem to have met with the same attention. We need searcely remind our readers of the frequency with which the circumstances of pre-nancy and parturition are brought forward in our ballads, and of the complacent tone in which such incidents are generally related. We rather think the allusions to this subject are less frequent in the Spanish, and they are certainly free from that libertine air which characterises our own; but enough remains to show, that, on these points, a very accommodating syslem of morality prevailed—very inconsistent, no doubt, with the ideal of chivalry, but, we believe, exceedingly consonant to its practice. The number of romances which are either founded entirely on such incidents or in which allusions to them occur, are almost innumerable. Those of Rey— naldos de Montalban—Conde Aleman—De las reales Bodas—De la Hija del Rey de Francia—and Don Galvan, occur to us at this moment. In Conde Claros, which bears a considerable resemblance in its opening to the ballad of Sir Cauline in Percy's collection, and to Boccaccio's Gismunda, the interest arises from the consequences of an illicit amour. In the Romance del Hijo del Rey de Francia, the Infanta complains—
* Our Spanish readers will perhaps be surprised at this system of compressing two short lines into one:—but we have followed Grimm; who gives three reasons for }. so:–1. That he thinks they were originally written in that way;—2. that if they were not, it would have been better if they had; 3. and lastly, that this manner of printing them is a great saving of room. It is this last reason that appears to us the strongest.
* Tiempo es cloavallers—tiempo es de andar d'aqui,
To which she receives a reply more remarkable for its sang froid than its politeness.
* Paridlo, Señora, Paridlo; que asi hizo mi madre a mi.”
- In the Romance de Baldovinos y de la linda Sevilla, the lady convicts Nuño of a falsehood with regard to the death of her lover, by proving a clear alibi. * Nuño vero–Nuño vero mal Cavallero provado Yo te pregunto per nuevas-tu me respondes al contrario
Que aquesta noche pasada, conmigo durmiera el Franco;
And in another we find no less a personage than Virgil doing penance in person for seven years,”
“Por una traycion que hizo en los palacios del Rey,
Before concluding these general remarks on the characteristics of the Spanish Ballads, we may notice, that while the Arabian mythology and fictions seem never to have made any figure in the early poetry of Spain, few traces are to be found of those darker and more gloomy imaginations which are so common in the literature of the Northern nations. Voices, apparitions, and spirits, that ride in mists and storms, are peculiar with the Spanish Romances. The dream of Doña Alda, before she receives the intelligence of the death of her husband at Roncesvalles, is quite in the style of the Northern ballad. We use Mr. Lockhart's translation:—
* Those who are acquainted with the figure which Virgil makes in the writings of the middle ages, will not be surprised at the odd situation in which he is placed by the Spanish poet. The writers of that day seem to have delighted in exhibiting the great characters of antiquity as vetins of love. In the Romance of Vergilius, a story is given of his having been pulled half-way up a tower in a basket, by a lady of whom he was enamoured, and then left suspended and exposed to the ridicule of the multitude. The story has been transferred to Hippocrates, and occur: in the Fabiaux. It is one of thosc, we believe, that has been verified by Imbert.
vol. i. i 1
“O my maidens, quoth the lady, my heart it is full sore,"
“For I was upon a mountain, in a bare and desert place,
Our Teutonic Minstrel is a little more rude :
“I dreamt in my sweven on Thursday eve,
The absence of the darker features of the marvellous, is certainly one of those national peculiarities which may safely be attributed to the influence of climate. The imagination of the North has taken a tinge of gloom from their stormy and inconstant skies; but the sunshine of the South scatters the mists in which spirits find their origin and their refuge. We recollect no instance in the Fabliaux, of any tale, in which such machinery as spectres or evil spirits is employed—and, in the prose romances of chivalry, only the adventure of the haunted chamber in Ysaie le Triste. In the early literature of Italy, the ghostly story of Nastagio in the Decameron is the first and almost the only instance of its occurrence; and that tale was not the invention of Boccaccio, but borrowed from the chronicle of a monk of the thirteenth century, named Helinandus."
We must here close this sketch of the state of Spanish literature, an: tecedent to the age of Charles W. We have not attempted to treat the subject historically; because, in the absence of all early biography, any investigation as to the dates of particular poems is out of the question, and because the compositions of this whole era are connected by so many points of resemblance, and such a similarity of tone, that even if we possessed that information which is wanting, it would be impossible to present any definite notion of the characteristic differences of their authors. One or two names only, before the age of Juan II., have escaped oblivion; and, among the learned men and poets of his court, Juan de Mena is perhaps the only one
* In addition to these interesting remarks on the Spanish ballads, and the causes in which the originated, the reviewer has given many brilliant examples, both in the original and translalo. The limits to which this department of my work is confined prevent me from adding them to the .."; essay, which reflects so much credit on the taste and erudition of the writer. (So pages 4U9—45U. -
In the next £ry the same writer gives a copious account of the lyric poetry of Spain durios the age of Charles W.