« ForrigeFortsett »
WHEN one considers that at every respectable school, whether for girls or boys, in England, French is a part of the professed course; that a Frenchman is generally specially retained for this branch of instruction, and that a respectable minority of the pupils are really enabled to read French with something like ease and pleasure, it is singular to note the general ignorance on the subject of French literature and literary history. A sort of impression rests on most minds that French literature begins with the “ siècle de Louis Quatorze"; that Boileau, Corneille, Racine were the first French poets; that before them was nothing but the crude efforts of genius struggling with an undeveloped and stubborn language. Some few know of Malherbe, some of Ronsard, and a still smaller number of Clément Marot. How many have heard of François Villon, or Mellin de Saint Gelais ? and how many know anything of the enormous literary activity that began in the thirteenth century, was carried on by Rutebeuf, Marie de France, Gaston de Foix, Thibault de Champagne, and Lorris; was fostered by Charles
of Orleans, by Margaret of Valois, by Francis the First ; that gave a crowd of versifiers to France, enriched, strengthened, developed, and fixed the French language, and prepared the way
for Corneille and for Racine?
The reasons of this ignorance are mainly two; the inefficient and careless way in which French-French, which might be made as useful in education as Latin—is taught, and the lack of English books on the subject. French books, too, are not always easy of access, and our public libraries are generally most deficient in continental literature. And yet the means of acquiring a knowledge of French literature are much more readily got at than those of learning
Numberless essays, études, treatises, collections, and histories have been made in France.
In no country have writers found so much appreciation; in no country are there more careful editions, more elaborate biographies, and more loving criticism. What the student wants is direction and advice; he has to be told when to read and how; and, in general, he has to be taught that France has a literature independent of the wellknown names, as original and as well worthy of study as that of our own country. In one small field I propose to endeavour to afford him information and direction. Should he wish to study the early efforts of France in poetical literature, I hope that in the following pages he may find matter that may not be wholly waste of time.
For the study of French language and literary history is perhaps more interesting than that of any other nation. It may be traced back farther and more clearly. It lies in one unbroken chain; it grows and spreads like a cone of