We need not consider the sudden death of Provençal art; but it is worthy of note that the decline of the troubadour poetry of the North is due to the same cause; I mean the altering of the peculiar social conditions to which it owed its birth. For it was essentially a Court poetry; the poet declaimed or sang his verse to an audience of knightly rimers and noble ladies, and was untroubled by the attention of a larger public. It was an aristocratic art, and so soon as it was adopted by the bourgeois poets of Arras it lost its essential character. By the end of the thirteenth century it was extinct; yet, brief though its duration was, it has an intense effect on the literature of Europe, and we may trace its influence in Dante and in Petrarch.

It is in the sombre years of the fourteenth century that the new era of poetry begins, and Guillaume de Machault is the name usually associated with the first effusion of that deplorable cataract of ballades and rondeaux. The chief penalty that these hard-and-fast genres impose on those who cultivate them is -- as we may see from the innumerable clever imitations of our own time -- that almost any one can write them fairly well, and that almost every one writes them in exactly the same manner. The learned Christine de Pisan and the sagacious Des Champs employ the ballade without the least discrimination for any kind of subject; they moralize, they preach, they sing the praises of the glorious dead and discuss their own physical ailments in the same sempiternal cantering measure. Des Champs, it is true, is redeemed occasionally by a certain fine malice, a hint of that esprit gaulois which runs like a vein of mercury through French from the bragging scene in the Geste du Roi down to the poems of Mathurin Regnier and Béranger; Froissart's verse has a delicate refinement that may be the last trace of the troubadour influence; but for the most part one emerges from a long course of this literature anxious only to take Du Bellay's advice and to leave all these rondeaux, ballades, vyrelaiz, chantz royaux, chansons et autres telles épisseries qui corrumpent le goust de notre langue. If only the splendid creatures would be themselves! But they are wholly content to follow one another like meek sheep; they use the same catch-words; the same patient rimes do duty over and over again; and when we have read the heading of one of their poems we can guess almost exactly what the poet will sing, or rather, say. Only an occasional folk-song, or a plainte like the Olivier Basselin, can save the epoch from being wholly the prey of its `representative' ballad-writers.

Yet this artificial, impersonal genre became vivid and human in the hands of two fifteenth-century poets; the one a man of refined and exquisite talent, the other a lonely and wayward genius. It has been the custom to speak of Charles d'Orléans as if he were merely a clever versifier with a sense of music in words that was denied to his forerunners; but any one who has toiled through the greater part of the work of those forerunners will realize at once, when he reads the ballade written at Dover, or Dieu, qu'il la fait bon regarder, that here at last is a poet with a distinct personal utterance; a poet who perhaps has not any very profound thoughts or great ideas, but possesses a gentle, unforced melancholy or gaiety that is often perfectly expressed. His limitations are obvious, but his success within their bounds is complete.

The other, the earliest great poet of France, --

Ung povre petit escollier
Qui fust nommé François Villon, --
transformed the poor jaded ballade into a living lyric; filling it with heroic melancholy in the Dames du temps jadis, and with grim terror in the Pendus, and with exquisite sympathy for the pathos of old age and weariness in the lines written for his mother. Like all genius, he stands alone and defies all effort to place him in the line of literary evolution. He came at the most unlikely period, he wrote in the most out-worn forms, and he was a burglar, and had a supreme sympathy with all manner of rogues, male and female. Yet he has none of the affectations of the ballade-writers, his poems are amazingly original and vivid; he is eloquent, gay, cynical, pious, scurrilous, and remorseful in turn, and yet never gives us the impression that he is posturing. His predecessors had one mood, and it was insincere. He has a hundred, but he is convincing in every one of them. To read him after the earlier `metre ballad-mongers' is as invigorating as to hear the wind in the mountain- pines after sitting in a drawing-room full of hot air and small-talk.

He stands alone. Clément Marot, who edited his works, learnt nothing from him except perhaps the fact that poetry should be the expression of a personality. The neat, genial rimes of the author of L'Adolescence Clémentine are personal but not poetic; they are full of good sense, clearness, and malicious gaiety; they possess, indeed, as Brunetière has pointed out, all the fine qualities of French prose; but only on a few

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