The most ancient monuments of Castilian literature can be referred to no time later than the twelfth century, and they have been dated earlier with some plausibility. As with men of Spanish stock, so with their letters: the national idiosyncrasy is emphatic—almost violent. French literature is certainly more exquisite, more brilliant; English is loftier and more varied; but in the capital qualities of originality, force, truth, and humour, the Castilian finds no superior. The Basques, who have survived innumerable onsets (among them, the ridicule of Rabelais and the irony of Cervantes), are held by some to be representatives of the Stone-age folk who peopled the east, north-east, and south of Spain. This notion is based mainly upon the fact that all true Basque names for cutting instruments are derived from the word aitz (flint). Howbeit, the Basques vaunt no literary history in the true sense. The Leloaren Cantua (Song of Lelo) has been accepted as a contemporary hymn written in celebration of a Basque triumph over Augustus. Its date is uncertain, and its refrain of “Lelo” seems a distorted reminiscence of the Arabic catchword Lā ilāh illā ‘llāh; but the Leloaren Cantua is assuredly no older than the sixteenth century.
A second performance in this sort is the Altobiskarko Cantua (Song of Altobiskar). Altobiskar is a hill near Roncesvalles, where the Basques are said to have defeated Charlemagne; and the song commemorates the victory. Written in a rhythm without fellow in the Basque metres, it contains names like Roland and Ganelon, which are in themselves proofs of French origin; but, as it has been widely received as genuine, the facts concerning it must be told. First written in French (circa 1833) by François Eugène Garay de Monglave, it was translated into very indifferent Basque by a native of Espelette named Louis Duhalde, then a student in Paris. The too-renowned Altobiskarko Cantua is therefore a simple hoax: one might as well attribute Rule Britannia to Boadicea. The conquerors of Roncesvalles wrote no triumphing song: three centuries later the losers immortalised their own overthrow in the Chanson de Roland, where the disaster is credited to the Arabs, and the Basques are merely mentioned by the way. Early in the twelfth century there was written a Latin Chronicle ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, an historical personage who ruled the see of Rheims some two hundred years before his false Chronicle was written. The opening chapters of this fictitious history are probably due to an anonymous Spanish monk cloistered at Santiago de Compostela; and it is barely possible that this late source was utilised by such modern Basques as José María Goizcueta, who retouched and “restored” the Altobiskarko Cantua in ignorant good faith.
However that may prove, no existing Basque song is much more than three hundred years old. One single Basque of genius, the Chancellor Pero López de Ayala, shines a portent in the literature of the fourteenth century; and even so, he writes in Castilian. He stands alone, isolated from his race. The oldest Basque book, well named as Linguæ Vasconum Primitiæ, is a collection of exceedingly minor verse by Bernard Dechepare, curé of Saint-Michel, near Saint-Jean Pied de Port; and its date is modern (1545). Pedro de Axular is the first Basque who shows any originality in his native tongue; and, characteristically enough, he deals with religious matters. Though he lived at Sare, in the Basses Pyrénées, he was a Spaniard from Navarre; and he flourished in the seventeenth century (1643). It is true that a small knot of second-class Basque—the epic poet Ercilla y Zúñiga, and the fabulist Iriarte—figure in Castilian literature; but the Basque glories are to be sought in other field—in such heroic personages as Ignacio Loyola, and his mightier disciple Francisco Xavier. Setting aside devotional and didactic works, mostly translated from other tongues, Basque literature is chiefly oral, and has but a formal connection with the history of Spanish letters. Within narrow geographical limits the Basque language still thrives, and on each slope of the Pyrenees holds its own against forces apparently irresistible. But its vitality exceeds its reproductive force: it survives but does not multiply. Whatever the former influence of Basque on Castilian—an influence never great—it has now ceased; while Castilian daily tends to supplant (or, at least, to supplement) Basque. Spain’s later invaders—Iberians, Kelts, Phœnicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Alani, Suevi, Goths, and Arabs—have left but paltry traces on the prevailing form of Spanish speech, which derives from Latin by a descent more obvious, though not a whit more direct, than the descent of French. So frail is the partition which divides the Latin mother from her noblest daughter, that late in the sixteenth century Fernando Pérez de Oliva wrote a treatise that was at once Latin and Spanish: a thing intelligible in either tongue and futile in both, though held for praiseworthy in an age when the best poets chose to string lines into a polyglot rosary, without any distinction save that of antic dexterity.
For our purpose, the dawn of literature in Spain begins with the Roman conquest. In colonies like Pax Augusta (Badajoz), Cæsar Augusta (Zaragoza), and Emerita Augusta (Mérida), the Roman influence was strengthened by the intermarriage of Roman soldiers with Spanish women. All over Spain there arose the odiosa cantio, as St. Augustine calls it, of Spanish children learning Latin; and every school formed a fresh centre of Latin authority. With their laws, the conquerors imposed their speech upon the broken tribes; and these, in turn, invaded the capital of Latin politics and letters. The breath of Spanish genius informs the Latinity of the Silver Age. Augustus himself had named his Spanish freedman, Gaius Julius Hyginus, the Chief Keeper of the Palatine Library. Spanish literary aptitude, showing stronger in the prodigious learning of the Elder Seneca, matures in the altisonant rhetoric and violent colouring of the Younger, in Lucan’s declamatory eloquence and metallic music, in Martial’s unblushing humour and brutal cynicism, in Quintilian’s luminous judgment and wise sententiousness.
All these display in germ the characteristic points of strength and weakness which were to be developed in the evolution of Spanish literature; and their influence on letters was matched by their countrymen’s authority on affairs. The Spaniard Balbus was the first barbarian to reach the Consulship, and to receive the honour of a public triumph; the Spaniard Trajan was the first barbarian named Emperor, the first Emperor to make the Tigris the eastern boundary of his dominion, and the only Emperor whose ashes were allowed to rest within the Roman city-walls. And the victory of the vanquished was complete when the Spaniard Hadrian, the author of the famous verses—
himself an exquisite in art and in letters—became the master of the world. Gibbon declares with justice that the happiest epoch in mankind’s history is “that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus”; and the Spaniard, accounting Marcus Aurelius as a son of Córdoba, vaunts with reasonable pride, that of those eighty perfect, golden years, three-score at least were passed beneath the sceptre of the Spanish Cæsars.
Withal, individual success apart, the Spanish utterance of Latin teased the finer ear. Cicero ridiculed the accent—aliquid pingue—of even the more lettered Spaniards who reached Rome; Martial, retired to his native Bilbilis, shuddered lest he might let fall a local idiom; and Quintilian, a sterner purist than a very Roman, frowned at the intrusion of his native provincialisms upon the everyday talk of the capital. In Rome incorrections of speech were found where least expected. That Catullus should jeer at Arrius—the forerunner of a London type—in the matter of aspirates is natural enough; but even Augustus distressed the nice grammarian. A fortiori, Hadrian was taunted with his Spanish solecisms. Innovation won the day. The century between Livy and Tacitus shows differences of style inexplicable by the easy theory of varieties of temperament; and the two centuries dividing Tacitus from St. Augustine are marked by changes still more striking. This is but another illustration of the old maxim, that as the speed of falling bodies increases with distance, so literary decadences increase with time.
As in Italy and Africa, so in Spain. The statelier sermo urbanus yielded to the sermo plebeius. Spanish soldiers had discovered “the fatal secret of empire, that emperors could be made elsewhere than at Rome”; no less fatal was the discovery that Latin might be spoken without regard for Roman models. As the power of classic forms waned, that of ecclesiastical examples grew. Church Latin of the fourth century shines at its best in the verse of the Christian poet, the Spaniard Prudentius: with him the classical rhythms persist—as survivals. He clutches at, rather than grasps, the Roman verse tradition, and, though he has no rhyming stanzas, he verges on rhyme in such performances as his Hymnus ad Galli Cantum. Throughout the noblest period of Roman poetry, soldiers, sailors, and illiterates had, in the versus saturnius, preserved a native rhythmical system not quantitative but accentual; and this vulgar metrical method was to outlive its fashionable rival. It is doubtful whether the quantitative prosody, brought from Greece by literary dandies, ever flourished without the circle of professional men of letters. It is indisputable that the imported metrical rules, depending on the power of vowels and the position of consonants, were gradually superseded by looser laws of syllabic quantity wherein accent and tonic stress were the main factors.
When the empire fell, Spain became the easy prey of northern barbarians, who held the country by the sword, and intermarried but little with its people. To the Goths Spain owes nothing but eclipse and ruin. No books, no inscriptions of Gothic origin survive; the Gongoristic letters ascribed to King Sisebut are not his work, and it is doubtful if the Goths bequeathed more than a few words to the Spanish vocabulary. The defeat of Roderic by Tarik and Mūsa laid Spain open to the Arab rush. National sentiment was unborn. Witiza and Roderic were regarded by Spaniards as men in Italy and Africa regarded Totila and Galimar. The clergy were alienated from their Gothic rulers. Gothic favourites were appointed to non-existent dioceses carrying huge revenues; a single Goth held two sees simultaneously; and, by way of balance, Toledo was misgoverned by two rival Gothic bishops. Harassed by a severe penal code, the Jew hailed the invading Arabs as a kindred, oriental, circumcised race; and, with the heathen slaves, they went over to the conquerors. So obscure is the history of the ensuing years that it has been said that the one thing certain is Roderic’s name. Not less certain is it that, within a brief space, almost the entire peninsula was subdued. The more warlike Spaniards,
foregathered with Pelayo by the Cave of Covadonga, near Oviedo, among the Pyrenean chines, which they held against the forces of the Berber Alkamah and the renegade Archbishop, Don Opas. “Confident in the strength of their mountains,” says Gibbon, these highlanders “were the last who submitted to the arms of Rome, and the first who threw off the yoke of the Arabs.” While on the Asturian hillsides the spirit of Spanish nationality was thus nurtured amid convulsions, the less hardy inhabitants of the south accepted their defeat. The few who embraced Islamism were despised as Muladíes; the many, adopting all save the religion of their masters, were called Muzárabes, just as, during the march of the reconquest, Moors similarly placed in Christian provinces were dubbed Mudéjares.
The literary traditions of Seneca, Lucan, and their brethren, passed through the hands of mediocrities like Pomponius Mela and Columella, to be delivered to Gaius Vettius Aquilinus Juvencus, who gave a rendering of the gospels, wherein the Virgilian hexameter is aped with a certain provincial vigour. Minor poets, not lacking in marmoreal grace, survive in Baron Hübner’s Corpus Inscriptionum Latinorum. Among the breed of learned churchmen shines the name of St. Damasus, first of Spanish popes, who shows all his race’s zeal in heresy-hunting and in fostering monkery. The saponaceous eloquence that earned him the name of Auriscalpius matronarum (“the Ladies’ Ear-tickler”) is forgotten; but he deserves remembrance because of his achievement as an epigraphist, and because he moved his friend, St. Jerome, to translate the Bible. To him succeeds Hosius of Córdoba, the mentor of Constantine, the champion of Athanasian orthodoxy, and the presiding bishop at the Council of Nicæa, to whom is attributed the incorporation in the Nicene Creed of that momentous clause, “Genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri.”
Prudentius follows next, with that savour of the terrible and agonising which marks the Spagnoletto school of art; but to all his strength and sternness he adds a sweeter, tenderer tone. At once a Christian, a Spaniard, and a Roman, to Prudentius his birthplace is ever felix Tarraco (he came from Tarragona); and he thrills with pride when he boasts that Cæsar Augusta gave his Mother-Church most martyrs. Yet, Christian though he be, the imperial spirit in him fires at the thought of the multitudinous tribes welded into a single people, and he plainly tells you that a Roman citizen is as far above the brute barbarian as man is above beast. Priscillian and his fellow-sufferer Latrocinius, the first martyrs slain by Christianity set in office, were both clerks of singular accomplishment. As disciple of St. Augustine, and comrade of St. Jerome, Orosius would be remembered, even were he not the earliest historian of the world. Like Prudentius, Orosius blends the passion of universal empire with the fervour of local sentiment. Good, haughty Spaniard as he is, he enregisters the battles that his fathers gave for freedom; he ranks Numancia’s name only below that of the world-mother, Rome; and his heart softens towards the blind barbarians, their faces turned towards the light. Cold, austere, and even a trifle cynical as he is, Orosius’ pulses throb at memory of Cæsar; and he glows on thinking that, a citizen of no mean city, he ranges the world under Roman jurisdiction. And this vast union of diverse races, all speaking one single tongue, all recognising one universal law, Orosius calls by the new name of Romania.
Licinianus follows, the Bishop of Cartagena and the correspondent of St. Gregory the Great. A prouder and more illustrious figure is that of St. Isidore of Seville—”beatus et lumen noster Isidorus.” Originality is not Isidore’s distinction, and the Latin verses which pass under his name are of doubtful authenticity. But his encyclopædic learning is amazing, and gives him place beside Cassiodorus, Boëtius, and Martianus Capella, among the greatest teachers of the West. St. Braulius, Bishop of Zaragoza, lives as the editor of his master Isidore’s posthumous writings, and as the author of a hymn to that national saint, Millán. Nor should we omit the names of St. Eugenius, a realist versifier of the day, and of St. Valerius, who had all the poetic gifts save the accomplishment of verse. Naturalised foreigners, like the Hungarian St. Martin of Dumi, Archbishop of Braga, lent lustre to Spain at home. Spaniards, like Claude, Bishop of Turin and like Prudentius Galindus, Bishop of Troyes, carried the national fame abroad: the first in writings which prove the permanence of Seneca’s tradition, the second in polemics against the pantheists. More rarely dowered was Theodolphus, the Spanish Bishop of Orleans, distinguished at Charlemagne’s court as a man of letters and a poet; nor is it likely that Theodolphus’ name can ever be forgotten, for his exultant hymn, Gloria, laus, et honor, is sung the world over on Palm Sunday. And scarcely less notable are the composers of the noble Latin-Gothic hymnal, the makers of the Breviarum Gothicum of Lorenzana and of Arévalo’s Hymnodia Hispanica.
Enough has been said to show that, amid the tumult of Gothic supremacy in Spain, literature was pursued—though not by Goths—with results which, if not splendid, are at least unmatched in other Western lands. Doubtless in Spain, as elsewhere, much curious learning and insolent ignorance throve jowl by jowl. Like enough, some Spanish St. Ouen wrote down Homer, Menander, and Virgil as three plain blackguards; like enough, the Spanish biographer of some local St. Bavo confounded Tityrus with Virgil, and declared that Pisistratus’ Athenian contemporaries spoke habitually in Latin. The conceit of ignorance is a thing eternal. Withal, from the age of Prudentius onward, literature was sustained in one or other shape. For a century after Tarik’s landing there is a pause, unbroken save for the Chronicle of the anonymous Córdoban, too rashly identified as Isidore Pacensis. The intellectual revival appears, not among the Arabs, but among the Jews of Córdoba and Toledo; this last the immemorial home of magic where the devil was reputed to catch his own shadow. It was a devout belief that clerks went to Paris to study “the liberal arts,” whereas in Toledo they mastered demonology and forgot their morals. Córdoba’s fame, as the world’s fine flower, crossed the German Rhine, and even reached the cloister of Roswitha, a nun who dabbled in Latin comedies. The achievements of Spanish Jews and Spanish Arabs call for separate treatises. Here it must suffice to say that the roll contains names mighty as that of the Jewish poet and philosopher Ibn Gebirol or Avicebron (d. ? 1070), whom Duns Scotus acknowledges as his master; and that of Judah ben Samuel the Levite (b. 1086), whom Heine celebrates in the Romanzero:
In one sense, if we choose to fasten on his favourite trick of closing a Hebrew stanza with a romance line, Judah ben Samuel the Levite may be accounted the earliest of known experimentalists in Spanish verse; and an Arab poet of Spanish descent, Ibn Hazm, anticipated the Catalan, Auzías March, by founding a school of poetry, at once mystic and amorous.
But the Spanish Jews and Spanish Arabs gained their chief distinction in philosophy. Of these are Ibn Bājjah or Avempace (d. 1138), the opponent of al-Gazāli and his mystico-sceptical method; and Abū Bakr ibn al-Tufail (1116-85), the author of a neo-platonic, pantheistic romance entitled Risālat Haiy ibn Yakzān, of which the main thesis is that religious and philosophic truth are but two forms of the same thing. Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd (1126-98), best known as Averroes, taught the doctrine of the universal nature and unity of the human intellect, accounting for individual inequalities by a fantastic theory of stages of illumination. Arab though he was, Averroes was more reverenced by Jews than by men of his own race; and his permanent vogue is proved by the fact that Columbus cites him three centuries afterwards, while his teachings prevailed in the University of Padua as late as Luther’s time. A more august name is that of “the Spanish Aristotle,” Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides (1135-1204), the greatest of European Jews, the intellectual father, so to say, of Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas of Aquin. Born at Córdoba, Maimonides drifted to Cairo, where he became chief rabbi of the synagogue, and served as Saladin’s physician, having refused a like post in the household of Richard the Lion-hearted. It is doubtful if Maimonides was a Jew at heart; it is unquestioned that at one time he conformed outwardly to Muhammadanism. A stinging epigram summarises his achievement by saying that he philosophised the Talmud and talmudised philosophy. It is, of course, absurd to suppose that his critical faculty could accept the childish legends of the Haggadah, wherein rabbis manifold report that the lion fears the cock’s crow, that the salamander quenches fire, and other incredible puerilities. In his Yad ha-Hazakah (The Strong Hand) Maimonides seeks to purge the Talmud of its pilpulim or casuistic commentaries, and to make the book a sufficient guide for practical life rather than to leave it a dust-heap for intellectual scavengers. Hence he tends to a rationalistic interpretation of Scriptural records. Direct communion with the Deity, miracles, prophetic gifts, are not so much denied as explained away by means of a symbolic exegesis, infinitely subtle and imaginative. Spanish and African rabbis received the new teaching with docility, and in his own lifetime Maimonides’ success was absolute. A certain section of his followers carried the cautious rationalism of the master to extremities, and thus produced the inevitable reaction of the Kabbala with its apparatus of elaborate extravagances. This reaction was headed by another Spaniard, the Catalan mystic, Bonastruc de Portas or Moses ben Nahman (1195-1270); and the relation of the two leaders is exemplified by the rabbinical legend which tells that the soul of each sprang from Adam’s head: Maimonides, from the left curl, which typifies severity of judgment; Moses ben Nahman from the right, which symbolises tenderness and mercy.
On literature the pretended “Arab influence,” if it exist at all, is nowise comparable to that of the Spanish Jews, who can boast that Judah ben Samuel the Levite lives as one of Dante’s masters. Judah ranks among the great immortals of the world, and no Arab is fit to loosen the thong of his sandal. But it might very well befall a second-rate man, favoured by fortune and occasion, to head a literary revolution. It was not the case in Spain. The innumerable Spanish-Arab poets, vulgarised by the industry of Schack and interpreted by the genius of Valera, are not merely incomprehensible to us here and now; they were enigmas to most contemporary Arabs, who were necessarily ignorant of what was, to all purposes, a dead language—the elaborate technical vocabulary of Arabic verse. If their own countrymen failed to understand these poets, it would be surprising had their stilted artifice filtered into Castilian. It is unscientific, and almost unreasonable, to assume that what baffles the greatest Arabists of to-day was plain to a wandering mummer a thousand, or even six hundred, years ago. There is, however, a widespread belief that the metrical form of the Castilian romance (a simple lyrico-narrative poem in octosyllabic assonants) derives from Arabic models. This theory is as untenable as that which attributed Provençal rhythms to Arab singers. No less erroneous is the idea that the entire assonantic system is an Arab invention. Not only are assonants common to all Romance languages; they exist in Latin hymns composed centuries before Muhammad’s birth, and therefore long before any Arab reached Europe. It is significant that no Arabist believes the legend of the “Arab influence”; for Arabists are not more given than other specialists to belittling the importance of their subject.
In sober truth, this Arab myth is but a bad dream of yesterday, a nightmare following upon an undigested perusal of the Thousand and One Nights. Thanks to Galland, Cardonne, and Herbelot, the notion became general that the Arabs were the great creative force of fiction. To father Spanish romances and Provençal trobas upon them is a mere freak of fancy. The tacit basis of this theory is that the Spaniards took a rare interest in the intellectual side of Arab life; but the assumption is not justified by evidence. Save in a casual passage, as that in the Crónica General on the capture of Valencia, the Castilian historians steadily ignore their Arab rivals. On the other hand, there is a class of romances fronterizos (border ballads), such as that on the loss of Alhama, which is based on Arabic legends; and at least one such ballad, that of Abenamar, may be the work of a Spanish-speaking Moor. But these are isolated cases, are exceptional solely as regards the source of the subject, and nowise differ in form from the two thousand other ballads of the Romanceros. To find a case of real imitation we must pass to the fifteenth century, when that learned lyrist, the Marqués de Santillana, deliberately experiments in the measures of an Arab zajal, a performance matched by a surviving fragment due to an anonymous poet in the Cancionero de Linares. These are metrical audacities, resembling the revival of French ballades and rondeaux by artificers like Mr. Dobson, Mr. Gosse, and Mr. Henley in our own day. On the strength of two unique modern examples in the history of Castilian verse, it would be unjustifiable to believe, in the teeth of all other evidence, that simple strollers intuitively assimilated rhythms whose intricacy bewilders the best experts. This is not to say that Arabic popular poetry had no influence on such popular Spanish verse as the coplas, of which some are apparently but translations of Arabic songs. That is an entirely different thesis; for we are concerned here with literature to which the halting coplas can scarcely be said to belong.
The “Arab influence” is to be sought elsewhere—in the diffusion of the Eastern apologue, morality, or maxim, deriving from the Sanskrit. M. Bédier argues with extraordinary force, ingenuity, and learning, against the universal Eastern descent of the French fabliaux. However that be, the immediate Arabic origin of such a collection as the Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alfonsus (printed, in part, as the Fables of Alfonce, by Caxton, 1483, in The Book of the subtyl Historyes and Fables of Esope), is as undoubted as the source of the apologue grafted on Castilian by Don Juan Manuel, or as the derivation of the maxims of Rabbi Sem Tom of Carrión. To this extent, in common with the rest of Europe, Spain owes the Arabs a debt which her picaresque novels and comedies have more than paid; but here again the Arab acts as a mere middleman, taking the story of Kalilah and Dimna from the Sanskrit through the Pehlevī version, and then passing it by way of Spain to the rest of the Continent. Nor should it be overlooked that Spaniards, disguised as Arabs, shared in the work of interpretation.
It is less easy to determine the extent to which colloquial Arabic was used in Spain. Patriots would persuade you that the Arabs brought nothing to the stock of general culture, and the more thoroughgoing insist that the Spaniards lent more than they borrowed. But the point may be pressed too far. It must be admitted that Arabic had a vogue, though perhaps not a vogue as wide as might be gathered from the testimony of Paulus Alvarus Cordubiensis, whose Indiculus Luminosus, a work of the ninth century, taunts the writer’s countrymen with neglecting their ancient tongue for Hebrew and Arabic technicalities. The ethnic influence of the Arabs is still obvious in Granada and other southern towns; and intermarriages, tending to strengthen the sway of the victor’s speech, were common from the outset, when Roderic’s widow, Egilona, wedded Abd al-Aziz, son of Musa, her dead husband’s conqueror. An Alfonso of León espoused the daughter of Abd Allah, Emir of Toledo; and an Alfonso of Castile took to wife the daughter of an Emir of Seville. “The wedding, which displeased God,” of Alfonso the Fifth’s sister with an Arab (some say with al-Mansūr), is sung in a famous romance inspired by the Crónica General.
In official charters, as early as 804, Arabic words find place. A local disuse of Latin is proved by the fact that in this ninth century the Bishop of Seville found it needful to render the Bible into Arabic for the use of Muzárabes; and still stronger evidence of the low estate of Latin is afforded by an Arabic version of canonical decrees. It follows that some among the very clergy read Arabic more easily than they read Latin. Jewish poets, like Avicebron and Judah ben Samuel the Levite, sometimes composed in Arabic rather than in their native Hebrew; and it is almost certain that the lays of the Arab rāwis radically modified the structure of Hebrew verse. Apart from the evidence of Paulus Alvarus Cordubiensis, St. Eulogius deposes that certain Christians—he mentions Isaac the Martyr by name—spoke Arabic to perfection. Nor can it be pleaded that this zeal was invariably due to official pressure: on the contrary, a caliph went the length of forbidding Spanish Jews and Christians to learn Arabic. Neither did the fashion die soon: long after the Arab predominance was shaken, Arabic was the modish tongue. Álvar Fáñez, the Cid’s right hand, is detected signing his name in Arabic characters. The Christian dīnār, Arabic in form and superscription, was invented to combat the Almoravide dīnār, which rivalled the popularity of the Constantinople besant; and as late as the thirteenth century Spanish coins were struck with Arabic symbols on the reverse side.
Yet, even so, the rude Latin of the unconquered north remained well-nigh intact. Save in isolated centres, it was spoken by countless Christians and by the Spaniards who had escaped to the African province of Tingitana. Vast deduction must be made from the jeremiads of Paulus Alvarus Cordubiensis. As he bewails the time wasted on Hebrew and Arabic by Spaniards, so does Avicebron lament the use of Arabic and Romance by Jews. “One party speaks Idumean (Romance), the other the tongue of Kedar (Arabic).” If the Arab flood ran high, the ebb was no less strong. Arabs tended more and more to ape the dress, the arms, the customs of the Spaniards; and the Castilian-speaking Arab—the moro latinado—multiplied prodigiously. No small proportion of Arab writers—Ibn Hazm, for example—was made up of sons or grandsons of Spaniards, not unacquainted with their fathers’ speech. When Archbishop Raimundo founded his College of Translators at Toledo, where Dominicus Gundisalvi collaborated with the convert Abraham ben David (Johannes Hispalensis), it might have seemed that the preservation of Arabic and Hebrew was secure. There and then, there could not have occurred such a blunder as that immortal one of the Capuchin, Henricus Seynensis, who lives eternal by mistaking the Talmud—”Rabbi Talmud”—for a man. But no Arab work endures. And as with Arab philosophy in Spain, so with the Arabic language: its soul was required of it. Hebrew, indeed, was not forgotten; and for Arabic, a revival might be expected during the Crusades. Yet in all Europe, outside Spain, but three isolated Arabists of that time are known—William of Tyre, Philip of Tripoli, and Adelard of Bath; and in Spain itself, when Boabdil surrendered in 1492, the tide had run so low that not a thousand Arabs in Granada could speak their native tongue. Nearly two centuries before (in 1311-12) a council under Pope Clement V. advised the establishment of Arabic chairs in the universities of Salamanca, Bologna, Paris, and Oxford. Save at Bologna, the counsel was ignored; and in Spain, where it had once swaggered with airs official, Arabic almost perished out of use.
Save a group of technical words, the sole literary legacy bequeathed to Spain by the Arabs was their alphabet. This they used in writing Castilian, calling their transcription aljamía (ajami = foreign), which was the original name of the broken Latin spoken by the Muzárabes. First introduced in legal documents, the practice was prudently continued during the reconquest, and, besides its secrecy, was further recommended by the fact that a special sanctity attaches to Arabic characters. But the peculiarity of aljamía is that it begot a literature of its own, though, naturally enough, a literature modelled on the Spanish. Its best production is the Poema de Yusuf; and it may be noted that this, like its much later fellow, La Alabanza de Mahoma (The Praise of Muhammad), is in the metre of the old Spanish “clerkly poems” (poesías de clerecía). So also the Aragonese Morisco, Muhammad Rabadán, writes his cyclic poem in Spanish octosyllabics; and in his successors there are hendecasyllabics manifestly imitated from a characteristic Galician measure (de gaita gallega). The subjects of the textos aljamiados are frankly conveyed from Western sources: the Compilation of Alexander, an orientalised version of the French; the History of the Loves of Paris and Viana, a translation from the Provençal; and the Maid of Arcayona, based on the Spanish poem Apolonio. In the Cancionero de Baena appears Mahomat-el-Xartosse, without his turban, as a full-fledged Spanish poet; and the old tradition of servility is continued by an anonymous refugee in Tunis, who shows himself an authority on the plays and the lyric verse of Lope de Vega.
It is therefore erroneous to suppose that the northern Spaniards on their southward march fell in with numerous kinsmen, of wider culture and of a higher civilisation, whose everyday speech was unintelligible to them, and who prayed to Christ in the tongue of Muhammad. Such cases may have occurred, but as the rarest exceptions. Not less unfounded is the theory that Castilian is a fusion of southern academic Arabic with barbarous northern Latin. In southern Spain Latin persisted, as Greek, Syriac, and Coptic persisted in other provinces of the Caliphate; and in the school founded at Córdoba by the Abbot Spera-in-Deo, Livy, Cicero, Virgil, Quintilian, and Demosthenes were read as assiduously as Sallust, Horace, and Terence were studied in the northern provinces. Granting that Latin was for a while so much neglected that it was necessary to translate the Bible into Arabic, it is also true that Arabic grew so forgotten that Peter the Venerable was forced to translate the Ku’rān for the benefit of clerks. Lastly, it must be borne in mind that the variety of Romance which finally prevailed in Spain was not the speech of the northern highlanders, but that of the Muzárabes of the south and the centre. Long before “the sword of Pelagius had been transformed into the sceptre of the Catholic kings,” the linguistic triumph of the south was achieved. The hazard of war might have yielded another issue; and to adopt another celebrated phrase of Gibbon’s, but for the Cid and his successors, the Ku’rān might now be taught in the schools of Salamanca, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammad. As it chanced, Arabic was rebuffed, and the Latin speech (or Romance) survived in its principal varieties of Castilian, Galician, Catalan, and bable (Asturian).
Gallic Latin had already bifurcated into the langue d’oui and the langue d’oc, though these names were not applied to the varieties till near the close of the twelfth century. Two hundred years before Roderic’s overthrow a Spanish horde raided the south-west of France, and, in the corner south of the Adour, reimposed a tongue which Latin had almost entirely supplanted, and which lingered solely in the Basque Provinces and in Navarre. In the eighth century this Basque invasion was avenged. The Spaniards, concentrating in the north, vacated the eastern provinces, which were thereupon occupied by the Roussillonais, who, spreading as far south as Valencia, and as far east as the Balearic Islands, gave eastern Spain a new language. Deriving from the langue d’oc, Catalan divides into plá Catalá and Lemosí—the common speech and the literary tongue. Vidal de Besalu calls his own Provençal language limosina or lemozi, and the name, taken from his popular treatise Dreita Maneira de Trobar, was at first limited to literary Provençal; but endless confusion arises from the fact that when Catalans took to composing, their poems were likewise said to be written in lengua lemosina.
The Galician, akin to Portuguese, though free from the nasal element grafted on the latter by Burgundians, is held by some for the oldest—though clearly not the most virile—form of Peninsular Romance. It was at least the first to ripen, and, under Provençal guidance, Galician verse acquired the flexibility needed for metrical effects long before Castilian; so that Castilian court-poets, ambitious of finer rhythmical results, were driven to use Galician, which is strongly represented in the Cancionero de Baena, and boasts an earlier masterpiece in Alfonso the Learned’s Cantigas de Santa María, recently edited, as it deserved, after six centuries of waiting, by that admirable scholar the Marqués de Valmar. Galician, now little more than a simple dialect, is artificially kept alive by the efforts of patriotic minor poets; but its literary influence is extinct, and the distinguished figures of the province, as Doña Emilia Pardo Bazán, naturally seek a larger audience by writing in Castilian. So, too, bable is but another dialect of little account, though a poet of considerable charm, Teodoro Cuesta (1829-95), has written in it verses which his own loyal people will not willingly let die. The classification of other characteristic sub-genera—Andalucían, Aragonese, Leonese—belongs to philology, and would be, in any event, out of place in the history of a literature to which, unlike Catalan and unlike Galician, they have added nothing of importance. What befell in Italy and France befell in Spain. Partly through political causes, partly by force of superior culture, the language of a single centre ousted its rivals. As France takes its speech from Paris and the Île de France, as Florence dominates Italy, so Castile dictates her language to all the Spains. The dominant type, then, of Spanish is the Castilian, which, as the most potent form, has outlived its brethren, and, with trifling variations, now extends, not only over Spain, but as far west as Lima and Valparaiso, and as far east as the Philippine Islands: in effect, “from China to Peru.” And the Castilian of to-day differs little from the Castilian of the earliest monuments.
The first allusion to any distinct variety of Romance is found in the life of a certain St. Mummolin who was Bishop of Noyen, succeeding St. Eloi in 659. A reference to the Spanish type of Romance is found as far back as 734; but the authenticity of the document is very doubtful. The breaking-up of Latin in Spain is certainly observable in Bishop Odoor’s will under the date of 747. The celebrated Strasburg Oaths, the oldest of Romance instruments, belong to the year 842; and, in an edict of 844, Charles the Bald mentions, as a thing apart, “the customary language”—usitato vocabulo—of the Spaniards. There is, however, no existing Spanish manuscript so ancient, nor is there any monument as old, as the Italian Carta di Capua (960). The British Museum contains a curious codex from the Convent of Santo Domingo de Silos, on the margin of which a contemporary has written the vernacular equivalent of some four hundred Latin words; but this is no earlier than the eleventh century. The Charter called the Fuero de Avilésof 1155 (which is in bable or Asturian, not Castilian), has long passed for the oldest example of Spanish, on the joint and several authority of González Llanos, Ticknor, and Gayangos; but Fernández-Guerra y Orbe has proved it to be a forgery of much later date.
These intricate questions of authority and ascription may well be left unsettled, for legal documents are but the dry bones of letters. Castilian literature dates roughly from the twelfth century. Though no Castilian document of extent can be referred to that period, the Misterio de los Reyes Magos (The Mystery of the Magian Kings) and the group of cantares called the Poema del Cidcan scarcely belong to any later time. These, probably, are the jetsam of a cargo of literature which has foundered. It is unlikely that the two most ancient compositions in Castilian verse should be precisely the two preserved to us, and it is manifest that the epic as set forth in the Poema del Cid could not have been a first effort. Doubtless there were other older, shorter songs or cantares on the Cid’s prowess; there unquestionably were songs upon Bernaldo de Carpio and upon the Infantes de Lara which are rudely preserved in assonantic prose passages of the Crónica General. An ingenious, deceptive theory lays it down that the epic is but an amalgam of cantilenas, or short lyrics in the vulgar tongue. At most this is a pious opinion.
To judge by the analogy of other literatures, it is safe to say that as verse always precedes prose (just as man feels before he reasons), so the epic everywhere precedes the lyric form, with the possible exception of hymns. The Poema del Cid, for instance, shows no trace of lyrical descent; and it is far likelier that the many surviving romances or ballads on the Cid are detached fragments of an epic, than that the epic should be a pastiche of ballads put together nobody knows why, when, where, how, or by whom. But in any case the cantilena theory is idle; for, since no cantilenas exist, no evidence is—or can be—forthcoming to eke out an attractive but unconvincing thesis. In default of testimony and of intrinsic probability, the theory depends solely on bold assertion, and it suffices to say that the cantilena hypothesis is now abandoned by all save a knot of fanatical partisans.
The exploits of the battle-field would, in all likelihood, be the first subjects of song; and the earliest singers of these deeds—gesta—would appear in the chieftain’s household. They sang to cheer the freebooters on the line of march, and a successful foray was commemorated in some war-song like Dinas Vawr’s:
Soon the separation between combatants and singers became absolute: the division has been effected in the interval which divides the Iliad from the Odyssey. Achilles himself sings the heroes’ glories; in the Odyssey the ἀοιδός or professional singer appears, to be succeeded by the rhapsode. Slowly there evolve in Spain, as elsewhere, two classes of artists known as trovadores and juglares. The trovadores are generally authors; the juglares are mere executants—singers, declaimers, mimes, or simple mountebanks. Of these lowlier performers one type has been immortalised in M. Anatole France’s Le Jongleur de Notre Dame, a beautiful re-setting of the old story of El Tumbeor. But between trovadores and juglares it is not possible to draw a hard-and-fast line: their functions intermingled. Some few trovadores anticipated Wagner by eight or nine centuries, composing their own music-drama on a lesser scale. In cases of special endowment, the composer of words and music delivered them to the audience.
Subdivisions abounded. There were the juglares or singing-actors, the remendadores or mimes, the cazurros or mutes with duties undefined, resembling those of the intelligent “super.” Gifted juglares at whiles produced original work; a trovador out of luck sank to delivering the lines of his happier rivals; and a stray remendador struggled into success as a juglar. There were juglares de boca (reciters) and juglares de péñola (musicians). Even an official label may deceive; thus a “Gómez trovador” is denoted in the year 1197, but the likelihood is that he was a mere juglar. The normal rule was that the juglar recited the trovador’sverses; but, as already said, an occasional trovador (Alfonso Álvarez de Villasandino, at Seville, in the fifteenth century, is a case in point) would declaim his own ballad. In the juglar’s hands the original was cut or padded to suit the hearers’ taste. He subordinated the verses to the music, and gave them maimed, or arabesqued with estribillos (refrains), to fit a popular air. The monotonous repetition of epithet and clause, common to all early verse, is used to lessen the strain on the juglar’s memory. The commonest arrangement was that the juglar de boca sang the trovador’s words, the juglar de péñola accompanying on some simple instrument, while the remendador gave the story in pantomime.
All the world over the history of early literatures is identical. With the Greeks the minstrel attains at last an important post in the chieftain’s train. Seated on a high chair inlaid with silver, he entertains the guests, or guards the wife of Agamemnon, his patron and his friend. Just so does Phemios sing amid the suitors of Penelope. It was not always thus. Bentley has told us in his pointed way that “poor Homer in those circumstances and early times had never such aspiring thoughts” as mankind and everlasting fame; and that “he wrote a sequel of songs and rhapsodies to be sung by himself for small earnings and good cheer, at festivals, and other days of merriment.” This rise and fall occurred in Spain as elsewhere. For her early trovadores or juglares, as for Demodokos in the Odyssey, and as for Fergus MacIvor’s sennachie, a cup of wine sufficed. “Dat nos del vino si non tenedes dinneros,” says the juglarwho sang the Cid’s exploits: “Give us wine, if you have no money.” Gonzalo de Berceo, the first Castilian writer whose name reaches us, is likewise the first Castilian to use the word trovador in his Loores de Nuestra Señora (The Praises of Our Lady):
But, though a priest and a trovador proud of his double office, Berceo claims his wages without a touch of false shame. In his Vida del glorioso Confesor Sancto Domingo de Silos he proves the overlapping of his functions by styling himself the saint’s juglar; and in the opening of the same poem he vouches for it that his song “will be well worth, as I think, a glass of good wine”:
As popularity grew, modesty disappeared. The trovador, like the rest of the world, failed under the trials of prosperity. He became the curled darling of kings and nobles, and haggled over prices and salaries in the true spirit of “our eminent tenor.” In a rich land like France he was given horses, castles, estates; in the poorer Spain he was fain to accept, with intermittent grumblings, embroidered robes, couches, ornaments—”muchos paños é sillas é guarnimientos nobres.” He was spoon-fed, dandled, pampered, and sedulously ruined by the disastrous good-will of his ignorant betters. These could not leave Ephraim alone: they too must wed his idols. Alfonso the Learned enlisted in the corps of trovadores, as Alfonso II. of Aragón had done before him; and King Diniz of Portugal followed the example. To pose as a trovador became in certain great houses a family tradition. The famous Constable, Álvaro de Luna, composes because his uncle, Don Pedro, the Archbishop of Toledo, has preceded him in the school. Grouped round the commanding figure of the Marqués de Santillana stand the rivals of his own house-top: his grandfather, Pedro González de Mendoza; his father, the Admiral Diego Furtado de Mendoza, a picaroon poet, spiteful, brutal, and witty; his uncle, Pedro Vélez de Guevara, who turns you a song of roguery or devotion with equal indifference and mastery. Santillana’s is “a numerous house, with many kinsmen gay”; still, in all save success, his case typifies a dominant fashion.
In the society of clerkly magnates the trovador’s accomplishments developed; and the equipped artist was expected to be master of several instruments, to be pat with litanies of versified tales, and to have Virgil at his finger-tips. Schools were founded where aspirants were taught to trobar and fazer on classic principles, and the breed multiplied till trovador and juglar possessed the land. The world entire—tall, short, old, young, nobles, serfs—did nought but make or hear verses, as that trovador errant, Vidal de Besalu, records. It may be that Poggio’s anecdote of a later time is literally true: that a poor man, absorbed in Hector’s story, paid the spouter to adjourn the catastrophe from day to day till, his money being spent, he was forced to hear the end with tears.
Troubadouring became at last a pestilence no less mischievous than its successor knight-errantry, and its net was thrown more widely. Alfonso of Aragón led the way with a celebrated Provençal ballad, wherein he avers that “not snow, nor ice, nor summer, but God and love are the motives of my song”:
Not every man could hope to be a knight; but all ranks and both sexes could—and did—sing of God and love. To emperors and princes must be added the lowlier figures of Berceo, in Spain, or—to go afield for the extremest case—the Joculator Domini, the inspired madman, Jacopone da Todi, in Italy. With the juglar strolled the primitive actress, the juglaresa, mentioned in the Libre del Apolonio, and branded as “infamous” in Alfonso’s code of Las Siete Partidas. At the court of Juan II., in the fifteenth century, the eccentric Garci Ferrandes of Jerena, a court poet, married a juglaresa, and lived to lament the consequences in a cántica of the Cancionero de Baena (No. 555). In northern Europe there flourished a tribe of jovial clerics called Goliards (after a mythical Pope Golias), who counted Catullus, Horace, and Ovid for their masters, and blent their anacreontics with blasphemy—as in the Confessio Goliæ, wrongly ascribed to our Walter Map. The repute of this gentry is chronicled in the Canterbury Tales:
And the type, if not the name, existed in the Peninsula. So much might be inferred from the introduction and passage of a law forbidding the ordination of juglares; and, in the Cancioneiro Portuguez da Vaticana (No. 931), Estevam da Guarda banters a juglar who, taking orders in expectance of a prebend which he never received, was prevented by his holy estate from returning to his craft. But close at hand, in the person of Juan Ruiz, Archpriest of Hita—the greatest name in early Castilian literature—is your Spanish Goliard incarnate.
The prosperity of trovador and juglar could not endure. First of foreign trovadores to reach Spain, the Gascon Marcabru treats Alfonso VII. (1126-57) almost as an equal. Raimbaud de Vaquerias, in what must be among the earliest copies of Spanish verse (not without a Galician savour), holds his head no less high; and the apotheosis of the juglar is witnessed by Vidal de Besalu at the court of Alfonso VIII. (1158-1214).
“Fain would I give ye the verses which I heard recited by a juglar at the court of the most learned king that ever any rule beheld.” This was the “happier Age of Gold.” A century and a half later, Alfonso the Learned, himself, as we have seen, a trovador, classes the juglar and his assistants—los que son juglares, e los remendadores—with the town pimp; and fathers not themselves juglares are empowered to disinherit any son who takes to the calling against his father’s will. The Villasandino, already mentioned, a pert Galician trovador at Juan II.’s court, was glad to speak his own pieces at Seville, and candidly avowed that, like his early predecessors, he “worked for bread and wine”—”labro por pan e vino.”
The foreign singer had received the half-pence; the native received the kicks. And in the last decline the executants were blind men who sang before church-doors and in public squares, lacing old ballads with what they were pleased to call “emendations,” or, in other words, intruding original banalities of their own. This decline of material prosperity had a most disastrous effect upon literature. A popular cantar or song was written by a poor man of genius. Accordingly he sold his copyright: that is to say, he taught his cantar to reciters, who paid in cash, or in drink, when they had it by heart, and thus the song travelled the country overlong with no author’s name attached to it. More: repeated by many lips during a long period of years, the form of a very popular cantarmanifestly ran the risk of change so radical that within a few generations the original might be transformed in such wise as to be practically lost. This fate has, in effect, overtaken the great body of early Spanish song.
It is beyond question that there once existed cantares (though we cannot fix their date) in honour of Bernaldo de Carpio, of Fernán González, and of the Infantes de Lara; the point as regards the Infantes de Lara is proved to demonstration in the masterly study of D. Ramón Menéndez Pidal. The assonants of the original songs are found preserved in the chronicles, and no one with the most rudimentary idea of the conditions of Spanish prose-composition (whence assonants are banned with extreme severity) can suppose that any Spaniard could write a page of assonants in a fit of absent-mindedness. Two considerable cantares de gesta of the Cid survive as fragments, and they owe their lives to a happy accident—the accident of being written down. They must have had fellows, but probably not an immense number of them, as in France. If the formal cantar de gesta died young, its spirit lived triumphantly in the set chronicle and in the brief romance. In the chronicle the author aims at closer exactitude and finer detail, in the romance at swifter movement and at greater picturesqueness of artistic incident. The term romanz or romance, first of all limited to any work written in the vernacular, is used in that sense by the earliest of all known troubadours, Count William of Poitiers.
In the thirteenth century, romanz or romance acquires a fresh meaning in Spain, begins to be used as an equivalent for cantar, and ends by supplanting the word completely. Hence, by slow degrees, romance comes to have its present value, and is applied to a lyrico-narrative poem in eight-syllabled assonants. The Spanish Romancero is, beyond all cavil, the richest mine of ballad poetry in the world, and it was once common to declare that it embodied the oldest known examples of Castilian verse. As the assertion is still made from time to time, it becomes necessary to say that it is unfounded. It is true that the rude cantar was never forgotten in Spain, and that its persistence partly explains the survival of assonance in Castilian long after its abandonment by the rest of Europe. In his historic letter to Dom Pedro, Constable of Portugal, the Marqués de Santillana speaks with a student’s contempt of singers who, “against all order, rule, and rhythm, invent these romances and cantares wherein common lewd fellows do take delight.” But no specimens of the primitive age remain, and no existing romance is older than Santillana’s own fifteenth century.
The numerous Cancioneros from Baena’s time to the appearance of the Romancero General (the First Part printed in 1602, with additions in 1604-14; the Second Part issued in 1605) present a vast collection of admirable lyrics, mostly the work of accomplished courtly versifiers. They contain very few examples of anything that can be justly called old popular songs. Alonso de Fuentes published in 1550 his Libro de los Cuarenta Cantos de Diversas y Peregrinas Historias, and in the following year was issued Lorenzo de Sepúlveda’s selection. Both profess to reproduce the “rusticity” as well as the “tone and metre” of the ancient romances; but, in fact, these songs, like those given by Escobar in the Romancero del Cid (1612), are either written by such students as Cesareo, who read up his subject in the chronicles, and imitated the old manner as best he could, or they are due to others who treated the oral traditions and pliegos sueltos (broadsides) of Spain with the same inspired freedom that Burns showed to the local ditties and chapbooks of Scotland. The two oldest romances bearing any author’s name are given in Lope de Stúñiga’s Cancionero, and are the work of Carvajal, a fifteenth-century poet. Others may be of earlier date; but it is impossible to identify them, inasmuch as they have been retouched and polished by singers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. If they exist at all—a matter of grave uncertainty—they must be sought in the two Antwerp editions of Martin Nucio’s Cancionero de Romances (one undated, the other of 1550), and in Esteban de Nájera’s Silva de Romances, printed at Zaragoza in 1550.
There remains to say a last word on the disputed relation between the early Castilian and French literatures. Like the auctioneer in Middlemarch, patriots “talk wild”: as Amador de los Ríos in his monumental fragment, and the Comte de Puymaigre in his essays. No fact is better established than the universal vogue of French literature between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, a vogue which lasted till the real supremacy of Dante and Boccaccio and Petrarch was reluctantly acknowledged. It is probable that Frederic Barbarossa wrote in Provençal; his nephew, Frederic II., sedulously aped the Provençal manner in his Italian verses called the Lodi della donna amata. Marco Polo, Brunetto Latini, and Mandeville wrote in French for the same reason that almost persuaded Gibbon to write his History in French. The substitution of the Gallic for the Gothic character in the eleventh century advanced one stage further a process begun by the French adventurers who shared in the reconquest.
With these last came the French jongleurs to teach the Spaniards the gentle art of making the chanson de geste. The very phrase, cantar de gesta, bespeaks its French source. As the root of the Cid epic lies in Roland, so the Mystery of the Magian Kings is but an offshoot of the Cluny Liturgy. The earliest mention of the Cid, in the Latin Chronicle of Almería, joins the national hero, significantly enough, with those two unexampled paragons of France, Oliver and Roland. Another French touch appears in the Poem of Fernán González, where the writer speaks of Charlemagne’s defeat at Roncesvalles, and laments that the battle was not an encounter with the Moors, in which Bernaldo del Carpio might have scattered them. But we are not left to conjecture and inference; the presence of French jongleurs is attested by irrefragable evidence. Sancho I. of Portugal had at court a French jongleur who in name, if in nothing else, somewhat resembled Guy de Maupassant’s creation, “Bon Amis.” It is not proved that Sordello ever reached Spain; but, in the true manner of your bullying parasite, he denounces St. Ferdinand as one who “should eat for two, since he rules two kingdoms, and is unfit to govern one”:—
Sordello, indeed, in an earlier couplet denounces St. Louis of France as “a fool”; but Sordello is a mere bilk and blackmailer with the gift of song.
Among French minstrels traversing Spain are Père Vidal, who vaunts the largesse of Alfonso VIII., and Guirauld de Calanson, who lickspittles the name of Pedro II. of Aragón. Upon them followed Guilhem Azémar, a déclassé noble, who sank to earning his bread as a common jongleur, and later on there comes a crowd of singing-quacks and booth-spouters. It is usual to lay stress upon the influx of French among the pilgrims of the Milky Way on the road to the shrine of the national St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia; and it is a fact that the first to give us a record of this pious journey is Aimeric Picaud in the twelfth century, who unkindly remarks of the Basques, that “when they eat, you would take them for hogs, and when they speak, for dogs.” This vogue was still undiminished three hundred years later when our own William Wey (once Fellow of Eton, and afterwards, as it seems, an Augustinian monk at Edyngdon Monastery in Wiltshire) wrote his Itinerary (1456). But though the pilgrimage to Santiago is noted as a peculiarly “French devotion” by Lope de Vega in his Francesilla (1620), it is by no means clear that the French pilgrims outnumbered those of other nations. Even if they did, this would not explain the literary predominance of France. This is not to be accounted for by the scampering flight of a horde of illiterate fakirs anxious only to save their souls and reach their homes: it is rather the natural result of a steady immigration of clerks in the suites of French bishops and princes, of French monks attracted by the spoil of Spanish monasteries, of French lords and knights and gentlemen who shared in the Crusades, and whosejongleurs, mimes, and tumblers came with them.
Explain it as we choose, the influence of France on Spain is puissant and enduring. One sees it best when the Spaniard, natural or naturalised, turns crusty. Roderic of Toledo (himself an archbishop of the Cluny clique) protests against those Spanish juglareswho celebrate the fictitious victories of Charlemagne in Spain; and Alfonso the Learned bears him out by deriding the songs and fables on these mythic triumphs, since the Emperor “at most conquered somewhat in Cantabria.” A passage in the Crónica Generalgoes to show that some, at least, of the early French jongleurs sang to their audiences in French—clearly, as it seems, to a select, patrician circle. And this raises, obviously, a curious question. It seems natural to admit that in Spain (let us say in Navarre and Upper Aragón) poems were written by French trouvères and troubadours in a mixed hybrid jargon; and the very greatest of Spanish scholars, D. Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, inclines to believe in their possible existence. There is, in L’Entrée en Espagne, a passage wherein the author declares that, besides the sham Chronicle of Turpin, his chief authorities are
John of Navarre and Walter of Aragón may be, as Señor Menéndez y Pelayo suggests, two “worthy clerks” who once existed in the flesh, or they may be imaginings of the author’s brain. More to the point is the fact that, unlike the typical chanson de geste, this Entrée en Espagne has two distinct types of rhythm (the Alexandrine and the twelve-syllable line), as in the Poema del Cid; and not less significant is the foreign savour of the language. All that can be safely said is that Señor Menéndez y Pelayo’s theory is probable enough in itself, that it is presented with great ingenuity, that it is backed by the best authority that opinion can have, and that it is incapable of proof or disproof in the absence of texts.
But if Spain, unlike Italy, has no authentic poems in an intermediate tongue, proofs of French influence are not lacking in her earliest movements. Two of the most ancient Castilian lyrics—Razón feita d’Amor and the Disputa del Alma—are mere liftings from the French; the Book of Apolonius teems with Provençalisms, and the poem called the History of St. Mary of Egypt is so gallicised in idiom that Milá y Fontanals, a ripe scholar and a true-blue Spaniard, was half inclined to think it one of those intermediary productions which are sought in vain. At every point proofs of French guidance confront us. Anxious to buffet and outrage his father’s old trovador, Pero da Ponte, Alfonso the Learned taunts him with illiteracy, seeing that he does not compose in the Provençal vein:—
And, for our purpose, we are justified in appealing to Portugal for testimony, remembering always that Portugal exaggerates the condition of things in Spain. King Diniz, Alfonso the Learned’s nephew, plainly indicates his model when in the Vatican Cancioneiro (No. 123) he declares that he “would fain make a love-song in the Provençal manner”:—
And Alfonso’s own Cantigas, honeycombed with Gallicisms, are frankly Provençal in their wonderful variety of metre. Nor should we suppose that the Provençaux fought the battle alone: the northern trouvères bore their part.
The French school, then, is strong in Spain, omnipotent in Portugal, and, were the Spanish Cancioneros as old as the Portuguese Song-book in the Vatican, we should probably find that the foreign influence was but a few degrees less marked in the one country than in the other. As it is, Alfonso the Learned ranks with any Portuguese of them all; and it is reasonable to think that he had fellows whose achievement and names have not reached us. For Spanish literature and ourselves the loss is grave; and yet we cannot conceive that there existed in early Castilian any examples comparable in elaborate lyrical beauty to the cantars d’amigowhich the Galician-Portuguese singers borrowed from the French ballettes. In the first place, if they had existed, it is next to incredible that no example and no tradition of them should survive. Next, the idea is intrinsically improbable, since the Castilian language was not yet sufficiently ductile for the purpose. Moreover, from the outset there is a counter-current in Castile. The early Spanish legends are mostly concerned with Spanish subjects. Apart from obvious foreign touches in the early recensions of the story of Bernaldo de Carpio (who figures as Charlemagne’s nephew), the tone of the ballads is hostile to the French, and, as is natural, the enmity grows more pronounced with time. That national hero, the Cid, is especially anti-French. He casts the King of France in gaol; he throws away the French King’s chair with insult in St. Peter’s. Still more significant is the fact that the character of French women becomes a jest. Thus, the balladist emphasises the fact that the faithless wife of Garci-Fernández is French; and, again, when Sancho García’s mother, likewise French, appears in a romance, the singer gives her a blackamoor—an Arab—as a lover. This is primitive man’s little way, the world over: he pays off old scores by deriding the virtue of his enemy’s wife, mother, daughter, sister; and in primitive Spain the Frenchwoman is the lightning-conductor of international scandals, tolerable by the camp-fire, but tedious in print.
In considering early Spanish verse it behoves us to denote facts and to be chary in drawing inferences. Thus, while we admit that the Poema del Cid and the Chanson de Roland belong to the same genre, we can go no further. It is not to be assumed that similarity of incident necessarily implies direct imitation. The introduction of the fighting bishop in the Cid poem is a case in point. His presence in the field may be—almost certainly is—an historic event, common enough in days when a militant bishop loved to head a charge; and the chronicler may well have seen the exploits which he records. It by no means follows, and it is extravagant to suppose, that the Spanish juglar merely filches from the Chanson de Roland. That he had heard the Chanson is not only probable, but likely; it is not, to say the least, a necessary consequence that he annexed an episode as familiar in Spain as elsewhere. Nothing, if you probe deep enough, is new, and originality is a vain dream. But some margin must be left for personal experience and the hazard of circumstance; and if we take account of the chances of coincidence, the debt of Castilian to French literature will appear in its due perspective. Nor must it be forgotten that from a very early date there are traces of the reflex action of Castilian upon French literature. They are not, indeed, many; but they are authentic beyond carping. In the ancient Fragment de la Vie de Saint Fidès d’Agen, which dates from the eleventh century, the Spanish origin is frankly admitted:—
“I heard a beauteous song that told of Spanish things.” Or, once more, in Adenet le Roi’s Cléomadès, and in its offshoot the Méliacin of Girard d’Amiens, we meet with the wooden horse (familiar to readers of Don Quixote) which bestrides the spheres and curvets among the planets. Borrowed from the East, the story is transmitted to the Greeks, is annexed by the Arabs, and is passed on through them to Spain, whence Adenet le Roi conveys it for presentation to the western world.
More directly and more characteristically Spanish in its origin is the royal epic entitled Anséis de Carthage. Here, after the manner of your epic poet, chronology is scattered to the winds, and we learn that Charlemagne left in Spain a king who dishonoured the daughter of one of his barons; hence the invasion by the Arabs, whom the baron lets loose upon his country as avengers. The basis of the story is purely Spanish, being a somewhat clumsy arrangement of the legend of Roderic, Cora, and Count Julian; the city of Carthage standing, it may be, for the Spanish Cartagena. Hence it is clear that the mutual literary debt of Spain and France is, at this early stage, unequally divided. Spain, like the rest of the world, borrows freely; but, with the course of time, the position is reversed. Molière, the two Corneilles, Rotrou, Sorel, Scarron, and Le Sage, to mention but a few eminent names at hazard, readjust the balance in favour of Spain; and the inexhaustible resources of the Spanish theatre, which supply the arrangements of scores of minor French dramatists, are but a small part of the literature whose details are our present concern.
 See Milá y Fontanals, Los Trovadores en España (Barcelona, 1889), and the same writer’s Resenya histórica y crítica dels antichs poetas catalans in the third volume of his Obras completas (Barcelona, 1890).
Categories: English Literature