« ZurückWeiter »
names of all the works sold within, informed the passing traveller, who was indolent enough to stop and examine it, that a new book had been given to the world. · But if there were some inconveniences to the author and his book in this state of things, there were also some advantages. If he could not expect that an ingenious literary friend should lift it into public favor by a cunning exposition of its latent merits, and an artful selection of fortunate passages, so neither could he apprehend that any ill-natured critic should injure its circulation, by caricaturing its defects, and making a bouquet of its absurdities and mistakes. Still less could he fear the machinations of any of those dexterous gentlemen, who, under color of reviewing a work, grow exceedingly learned by the aid of its contents, and ruin its sale entirely, by giving them to the public in a more concise and popular form. · On the whole, those were happy times for the author of weak nerves or of doubtful merit. The troublesome race of pamphleteers who preceded the reviewers, and of whom the Grubstreet writers, in the reign of Queen Anne, are perhaps the most perfect specimen, had not then appeared—they were the spawn of a later age, and the plague of a more book-making generation. Nor did they pester any but the great, and those who had reputation enough to give notoriety and importance to the attacks made upon them, they were bull-dogs who fastened only on the largest and fattest of the herd. In the days of John of Nostradamus, the world must have been a sort of Elysium to the new author—the very fairy land of compliment. A thousand ill-natured things are said of a book that never come to the writer's ears ; but not one is printed which he does not read, and read too, let him pretend what he will, with some degree of emotion. In an age when criticism was not wont to deliver its oracles through the medium of the press, her voice must have been incredibly softened, when it addressed the author himself. The many civil things that well bred people would say to him about his book, the letters of his friends predisposed to regard it with a favorable judgment, and the smiles of the exalted personage to whom he had been permitted to dedicate it, would naturally seem to him the indications of public opinion, and fill his mind with a most delightful self-complacency. A very silly book might then be published, laughed at, and forgotten, while the author was all the while fancying himself a great benefactor to the world for having produced it. Even if he should be sensible of its passage to oblivion, he would, at least, have the melancholy satisfaction of thinking that it died a natural death,—instead of seeing, as he must do at the present day, with all the agony of a parent at the destruction of his offspring, a crew of grim looking, hard-hearted ruffians, pouncing upon the sickly infant as soon as it is born, embruing their hands in its thin blood, and fairly murdering the poor thing in its swaddling clothes. Although the book should have been generally and decidedly condemned, he must have suffered much less from the expression of the public disapprobation than he would now do. What Chaucer calls the posterior trumpet of fame, would then have been sounded at a distance, and almost out of his hearing—at the present day, it is the fashion to blow it in his very ears.
If John of Nostradamus, the writer of this little book, has been thus fortunate in his life-time, and for so many years after his death, it seems to us that the world is absolved from the obligation of all further forbearance, and we have therefore taken the liberty to make his work the subject of the present article. That he has even escaped so long, is owing probably to the great rarity of the book, the copies of which are extremely scarce. Nothing comes amiss to the thorough-bred reviewer, whatever may be its antiquity. He is an anatomist, who, from dissecting a carcass warm from the gallows, will turn to cut up a mummy from the catacombs of Egypt. Witness the great writers of former times, particularly those of foreign languages, whose repose, within a few years, has been troubled in this way with very little ceremony. We speak not now of the retrospective reviews, which drive a regular trade in the exhumation of buried literature, but of journals professedly devoted to the consideration of modern works.
The fathers of German literature have been called from their tombs to furnish matter for many an article in the reviews. Petrarch, and Ariosto, and Tasso, with his venerable translator Fairfax, have been dragged from their slumbers to be made the subjects of critical discussion along with the writers of the day. The great Dante has not been suffered to sleep in his awful sepulchre ;—and shall the grave, and the lapse of two hundred and fifty years, protect John of Nostradamus, the humble procurator at the parliament of Provence, the laborious compiler of the biographies of greater men than himself?
The writer of this book was one who employed the intervals of a laborious profession in studying the old poets of his country, and in collecting the particulars of their lives from the Provensal biographers and putting them into barbarous French, for the edification of the Queen of France, to whom his work was dedicated, as well as of all others, who might not understand the Provensal language. This language, according to his own account, had, in 1575, the time this book was published, degenerated into a sort of patois, the obscure unwritten dialect of a province, abandoned to the illiterate. It would appear, however, that some of its original beauty and purity was to be observed in the metrical compositions current in the mouths of the people, for the author says in his preface· “In the church of St. Saviour of Aix, and throughout all the diocese thereto appertaining, they sing, on the feast and day of Stephen the martyr, a hymn in our Provensal language. And in what choice expression, and beautiful rhithm, are composed the seven penitential psalms, sung by those who go begging alms from door to door, than which no finer verses were ever made.”—p. 17. . We are told by Moreri, in his Historical Dictionary, that this John of Nostradamus, for a period of many years exercised the profession of procureur or attorney, at the parliament of Provence, with great diligence and reputation. The following eulogium of the Provensal laws, is therefore entitled to some credit, as coming from one who was well acquainted with the subject, though we cannot be certain that some deductions are not to be made from it, on the score of professional prejudice.
“But in what perspicuous and beautiful language are written the statutes of Provence, in our Provensal tongue, which are the laws and customs of the country; wherein also are comprised the requests and demands which the general assemblies of the three estates made to the counts of Provence, and to the kings of Naples and of Sicily, with the answers returned by their majesties.”—pp. 17, 18. . .
If this praise be rightly bestowed, the days of Nostradamus were the golden age of the law-of its subjects we mean, not of its professors—for we suspect that the gains of the latter are somewhat increased, by the prolixity and obscurity of statutes. What a pity the conquest of England, in 1066, was not a Provensal instead of a Norman conquest, that we might have inherited this beautiful and intelligible body of laws! How unfortunate, that a copy of these exceedingly perspicuous ordinances had not been preserved, to serve as a model for the legislators of England and America! If no other good consequence had followed, it would at least have been a delightful recreation to look over a collection of statutes, whose meaning, like that of any other compositions, we could comprehend as we read, or at most after one or two perusals, instead of being obliged to hunt the sense, through pages of verbiage, and a thousand doublings of expression, in danger every moment of being lost in the maze of words, and sent back to begin the pursuit anew, and, perhaps, after all our labor, to remain uncertain of the true construction.
The book of Nostradamus, though exceedingly meagre and imperfect in most of its details, is the source from which nearly all the knowledge we have of the history of the 'Troubadours is drawn. Sismondi, in his History of the literature of the south. of Europe, and other authors who have written of the Provensal poets, have made a liberal use of its materials. It contains the biographies of about eighty of the Provensal writers, who flourished between the middle of the twelfth century, and the year 1382. This period commences with the time, when Raymond Berenger, count of Barcelona and Provence, espoused Rixenda, or Richilda, queen of Spain, and extends to the end of the reign of Joanna I. queen of Naples and Sicily, and countess of Provence. This was the most flourishing period-indeed, it was nearly the whole duration of Provensal literature. Towards the middle of the fourteenth century, René king of Naples, and count of Provence, made an attempt to revive it; but the race of the troubadours was extinct, and the invasions of the English, which desolated France, left her inhabitants little leisure or disposition for the cultivation of letters. It lingered a little later in Toulouse, and its last steps were in Catalonia, about the beginning of the fifteenth century.*
It is, however, an exceedingly curious and interesting picture, notwithstanding the looseness of its outlines, and its utter want of fulness and exactness, that this little book gives us of the age of the Troubadours. It would seem as if there was, in the literature of Provence, a presentiment of its early decline, and as if it hastened to make amends by its sudden luxuriance, for the shortness of its duration. The very air of that country breathed the infection of poetry. Illustrious and learned strangers visited the courts of its princes and nobles, and went away poets. Grave jurisconsults opened their mouths in verse; gloomy astrologers, laborious mathematicians, and fierce warriors, addressed songs to high-born and beautiful ladies. Probably in no age of the world, were men of letters so highly honored, or so liberally rewarded, as those who then cultivated
* Sismondi. De la literature du midi de l'Europe, vol. i.
the vernacular literature of Provence. The history of the Troubadours, is the history of riches amassed and distinctions gained, by the successful exercise of their art. It is a circumstance not a little remarkable, that this munificence of patronage and encouragement, which is ordinarily the fruit of a very advanced stage of civilization and refinement, should have existed at a period when Europe was just emerging from the darkness of the middle ages, and that its objects should have been those who cultivated the earliest among the modern dialects, which assumed any thing like the form of a regular language. In speaking of the poets of that age, our author says
66 The greater number of them were men of gentle blood, or lords of castles, in love with queens, dutchesses, marchionesses, countesses, and other princesses and gentlewomen, whose husbands esteemed themselves exceedingly fortunate, when our poets addressed to them some new song in our Provensal tongue. The most honourable recompense which they could make the said poets, was to furnish them with clothing, horses, armour, and money, which they did with great liberality; for which reason the authors often attributed their poems to their Meconases, and to those who bestowed on them honors and favors.”_p. 14.
The love which the poets cherished towards these illustrious ladies, was generally, if we may believe Nostradamus, of a Platonic nature. It was a sort of poetical worship, which clothed the breathings of earthly passion in the terms and ideas appropriated to devotion. It was not unusual for the poet to address to his patroness, strains secretly intended for some fair one of greater charms, but less splendid title, the real object of his affections. The lady, however, was always flattered by being made the subject of his songs, and the poet was always rewarded. Even when his homage was unwelcome or inconvenient,
-as when it alarmed the jealousy of a husband, or provoked the malicious interpretation of the envious and ill-natured, the poet was not the less well paid for it. The lady, in such cases, sent him a munificent present of horses, arms, and money, and prayed him, “ de se déporter de cet amour,” or, in plain English, to make love elsewhere, a mandate which the complying troubadour, who was generally well satisfied with the consideration, implicitly obeyed, and withdrew to make his fortune at some other court. Many of the ladies, themselves, became troubadours; and among the most extraordinary institutions of that or any other age, were the courts of love, which they esVOL. 1.