1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Romance
ROMANCE, originally a composition written in “Romance” language: that is to say, in one of the phases on which the Latin tongue entered after or during the dark ages. For some centuries by far the larger number of these compositions were narrative fictions in prose or verse; and since the special “Romance” language of France—the earliest so-called—was the original vehicle of nearly all such fictions, the use of the term for them became more and more accepted in a limited sense. Yet for a long time there was no definite connotation of fiction attached to it, but only of narrative story: and the French version of William of Tyre's History of the Crusades, a very serious chronicle written towards the close of the 12th century, bears the name of Roman d'Éracle simply because the name of the emperor Heraclius occurs in the first line. But if the explanation of the name “Romance” is quite simple, certain and authentic, the same is by no means the case with its definition, or even with the origin of the thing to which that name came mostly to be applied. For some centuries an abstraction has been formed from the concrete examples. “Romance,” “romanticism,” “the romantic character,” “the romantic spirits,” have been used to express sometimes a quality regarded in itself, but much more frequently a difference from the supposed “classical” character and spirit. The following article will deal chiefly with the matter of Romance, excluding or merely referring to accounts of such individual romances as are noticed elsewhere. But it will not be possible to conclude without some reference to the vaguer and more contentious signification.
Speculations on the origin of the peculiar kind of story which we recognize rather than define under the name of romance have been numerous and sometimes confident; but a wary and well-informed criticism will be slow to accept most of them. It is certain that many of its characteristics are present in the Odyssey; and it is a most remarkable fact that these characteristics are singled out for reprehension—or at least for comparative disapproval—by the author of the Treatise on the Sublime. The absence of central plot, and the Romance in antiquity. prolongation rather than evolution of the story; the intermixture of the supernatural; the presence and indeed prominence of love-affairs; the juxtaposition of tragic and almost farcical incident; the variety of adventure arranged rather in the fashion of a panorama than otherwise: all these things are in the Odyssey, and they are all, in varying degrees and measures, characteristic of romance. Nor are they absent from the few specimens of ancient prose fiction which we possess. If the Satyricon was ever more than a mass of fragments, it was certainly a romance, though one much mixed with satire, criticism and other things; and the various Greek survivals from Longus to Eustathius always and rightly receive the name. But two things were still wanting which were to be all-powerful in the romances proper—Chivalry and Religion. They could not yet be included, for chivalry did not exist; and such religion as did exist lent itself but ill to the purpose except by providing myths for ornament and perhaps pattern.
A possible origin of the new romance into which these elements entered (though it was some time before that of chivalry definitely emerged) has been seen by one of the least hazardous of the speculations above referred to in the hagiology or “Saint's Life,” which arose at an early though uncertain period, developed itself pretty rapidly, and spreading over all Christendom (which by degrees meant all Europe and parts of Asia) provided The “Saint's Life.” centuries with their chief supply of what may be called interesting literature. If the author of On the Sublime was actually Longinus, the minister of Zenobia, there is no doubt that examples both sacred and profane of the kind of “fiction” (“imitation” or “representation”) which he deprecated were mustering and multiplying close to, perhaps in, his own time. The Alexander legend of the pseudo-Callisthenes is supposed to have seen the light in Egypt as early as A.D. 200, and the first Greek version of that “Vision of Saint Paul,” which is the ancestor of all the large family of legends of the life after death, is pretty certainly as old as the 4th century and may be as old as the 3rd. The development of the Alexandreid was to some extent checked or confined to narrow channels as long as something like traditional and continuous study of the classics was kept up. But hagiology was entirely free from criticism; its subjects were immensely numerous; and in the very nature of the case it allowed the tendencies and the folk-lore of three continents and of most of their countries to mingle with it. Especially the comparative sobriety of classical literature became affected with the Eastern appetite for marvel and unhesitating acceptation of it; and the extraordinary beauty of many of the central stories invited and necessitated embroidery, continuation, episode. Later, no doubt, the adult romance directly reacted on the original saint's life, as in the legends of St Mary Magdalene most of all, of St Eustace, and of many others. But there can be very little doubt that if the romance itself did not spring from the saint's life it was fostered thereby.
Proceeding a little further in the cautious quest—not for the definite origins which are usually delusive, but for the tendencies which avail themselves of opportunities and the opportunities which lend themselves to tendencies—we may notice two things very important to the subject. The one is that as Graeco-Roman civilization began to spread North and East it met, to appearance which approaches certainty, matter The gathering of matter. which lent itself gladly to “romantic” treatment. That such matter was abundant in the literature and folk-lore of the East we know: that it was even more abundant in the literatures and folk-lore of the North, if we cannot strictly be said to know, we may be reasonably sure. On the other hand, as the various barbarian nations (using the word in the wide Greek sense), at least those of the North, became educated to literature, to “grammar,” by classical examples, they found not a few passages in these examples which were either almost romances already or which lent themselves, with readiness that was almost insistence, to romantic treatment. Apollonius Rhodius had made almost a complete romance of the story of Jason and Medea. Virgil had imitated him by making almost a complete romance of the story of Aeneas and Dido: and Ovid, who for that very reason was to become the most popular author of the middle ages early and late, had gone some way towards romancing a great body of mythology. We do not know exactly who first applied to the legendary tale of Troy the methods which the pseudo-Callisthenes and “Julius Valerius” applied to the historical wars of Alexander, but there is every reason to believe that it was done fairly early. In short, during the late classical or semi-classical times and the whole of the dark ages, things were making for romance in almost every direction.
It would and did follow from this that the thing evolved itself in so many different places and in so many different forms that only a person of extraordinary temerity would put his finger on any given work and say, “This is the first romance,” even putting aside the extreme chronological uncertainty of most of the documents that could be selected for such a position. Except by the most meteoric flights of “higher” criticism we cannot attain to any opinion as to the age and first developed form of such a story as that of Weland and Beadohild (referred to in the Complaint of Deor), which has strong romantic Uncertainty of its order. possibilities and must be almost of the oldest. The much more complicated Volsung and Nibelung story, though we may explore to some extent the existence backwards of its Norse and German forms, baffles us beyond certain points in each case; yet this, with the exception of the religious element, is romance almost achieved. And the origin of the great type of the romance that is achieved—that has all elements present and brings them to absolute perfection—the Arthurian legend, despite the immense labours that have been spent upon it and the valuable additions to particular knowledge which have resulted from some of them, is, still more than its own Grail, a quest unachieved, probably a thing unachievable. The longest and the widest inquiries, provided only that they be conducted in any spirit save that which determines to attain certainty and therefore concludes that certainty has been attained, will probably acquiesce most resignedly in the dictum that romance “grew”—that its birthplace is as unknown as the grave of its greatest representative figure.
But when it has “grown” to a certain stage we can find it, and in a way localize it, and more definitely still analyse and comprehend its characteristics from their concrete expressions.
Approaching these concrete expressions, then, without at first too hard and fast requirements in regard to the validation Classes of source. of the claims, we find in Europe about the 11th century (the time is designedly left loose) divers classes of what we should now call imaginative or fictitious literature, nearly all (the exceptions are Scandinavian and Old English) in verse. These are: (i) The saints' lives; (ii) the Norse sagas, roughly so-called; (iii) the French chansons de geste; (iv) the Old English and Old German stories of various kinds; (v) perhaps the beginning of the Arthurian cycle; (vi) various stories more or less based on classical legend or history from the tales of Alexander and of Troy down to things like Apollonius of Tyre, which have no classical authority of either kind, but strongly resemble the Greek romances, and which were, as in the case named, pretty certainly derived from members of the class; (vii) certain fragments of Eastern story making their way first, it may be, through Spain by pilgrimages, latterly by the crusades.
Now, without attempting to fence off too rigidly the classical from the romantic, it may be laid down that these various classes possess that romantic character, to which we are, by a process of netting and tracking, slowly making our way, in rather different degrees, and a short examination of the difference will forward us not a little in the hunt.
With i. (the saints' lives) we have least to do: because by the time that romance in the full sense comes largely and clearly into view, it has for the most part separated itself off—the legend of St Eustace has become the romance of Sir Isumbras, and so forth. But the influence which it may, as has been said, have originally given must have been continually re-exerted; the romantic-dynamic suggestion of such stories as those of St Mary of Egypt, of St Margaret and the Dragon, of St Dorothea, and of scores of others, is quite unmistakable. Still, in actual result, it works rather more on drama than on narrative romance. and produces the miracle plays.
In ii. (the sagas), while a large part of their matter and even not a little of their form are strongly romantic, differences of handling and still more of temper have made some demur to their inclusion under romance, while their final ousting in their own literatures by versions of the all-conquering French romance itself is an argument on the same side. But the Volsung story, for instance, is full of what may be called “undistilled” romance—the wine is there, but it has to be passed through the still—and even in the most domestic sagas proper this characteristic is largely present.
It is somewhat less so in iii. (the chansons de geste), at least in the apparently older ones, though here again the comparative absence of romantic characteristics has been rather exaggerated, in consequence of the habit of paying disproportionate and even exclusive attention to the Chanson de Roland. There is more, that is, of romance in Aliscans and others of the older class, while Amis and Amiles, which must be of this class in time, is almost a complete romance, blending war, love and religion—salus, venus, virtus—in full degree.
The other four classes, the miscellaneous stories from classical, Eastern and European sources, having less corporate or national character, lend themselves with greater ease to the conditions of romantic development; but even so in different degrees. The classical stories have to drop most of their original character and allow something very different to be superinduced before they become thoroughly romantic. The greatest success of all in this way is the story of Troilus and Cressida. For before its development through the successive hands of Benoît de Sainte-More, Boccaccio (for we may drop Guido of the Columns as a mere middleman between Benoît and Boccaccio) and Chaucer, it has next to no classical authority of any kind except the mere names. In the various Alexandreids the element of the marvellous—the Eastern element, that is to say—similarly overpowers the classical. As for the Eastern stories themselves, they are particularly difficult of certain unravelment. The large moral division—such as Barlaam and Josaphat, the Seven Wise Masters in its various forms, &c., comes short of the strictly romantic. We do not know how much of East and how much of West there is in such things as Flore et Blanchefleur or even in Huon of Bordeaux itself. Contrariwise we ought to know, more certainly than apparently is known yet, what is the date and history of such a thing as that story of Zumurrud and Ali Shahr, which may be found partly in Lane and fully in the complete translations of the Arabian Nights, though not in the commoner editions, and which is evidently either copied from, or capable of serving as model to, a Western roman d'aventures itself.
We come, however, much closer to the actual norm itself—closer, in fact, than in any other place save one—in the various stories, English, French, and to a less extent German, which gradually received in a loose kind of way the technical French term just used, a term not to be translated without danger. Nearly all these stories were drawn, by the astonishing centripetal tendency which made France the home of all romance between the 11th and the 13th centuries, into French forms; and in most cases no older ones survive. But it is hardly possible to doubt that in such a case, for instance, as Havelok, an original story of English or Scandinavian origin got itself into existence before, and perhaps long before, the French version was retransferred to English, and so in other cases. If, once more, we take our existing English Havelok and its sister King Horn, we see that the latter is a more romanced form than the former. Havelok is more like a chanson de geste—the love interest in it is very slight; while in King Horn it is much stronger, and the increased strength is shown by the heroine being in some forms promoted into the title. If these two be studied side by side the process of transforming the mere story into the full romance is to no small extent seen in actual operation. But neither exhibits in any considerable degree the element of the marvellous, or the religious element, and the love interest itself is, even in Horn, simple and not very dramatically or passionately worked out. In the later roman d'aventures, of which the 13th century was so prolific (such as, to give one example out of many, Amadas and Idoine), these elements appear fully, and so they do in the great Auchinleck collection in English, which, though dating well within the 14th, evidently represents the meditation and adaptation of French examples for many years earlier.
The last of our divisions, however, exhibits the whole body of romantic elements as nothing else does. It is not our business in this place to deal with the Arthurian legend generally as regards origin, contents, &c., nor, in the present division of this actual article, to look at it except for a special purpose and in connexion with and contradistinction to the other groups just surveyed. Here, however, we at last find all the elements of romance, thoroughly mixed and thoroughly at home, with the result not merely that the actual story becomes immensely popular and widely spread; not only that it receives the greatest actual development of any romantic theme; but that, in a curious fashion, it attracts to itself great numbers of practically independent stories—in not a few cases probably quite independent at first—which seem afraid to present themselves without some tacking on (it may be of the loosest and most accidental description) to the great polycentric cycle, the stages of which gather round Merlin, the Round Table, the Grail and the Guinevere-Lancelot-Mordred catastrophe. All the elements, let it be repeated, are here present: war, love and religion; the characteristic extension of subject in desultory adventure-chronicles; the typical rather than individual character (though the strong individuality of some of the unknown or half-known contributors sometimes surmounts this); the admixture of the marvellous, not merely though mainly as part of the religious element; the presence of the chivalrous ideal. The strong dramatic interest of the central story is rather superadded to than definitely evolved from these elements; but they are still present, just as, though more powerfully than, in the weakest of miscellaneous romans d'aventures.
A further step in the logical and historical exploration of romance may be taken by regarding the character-and-story Types of story. classes round which it instinctively groups itself, and which from the intense community of medieval literature—the habit of medieval writers not so much to plagiarize from one another as to take up each after each the materials and the instruments which were not the property of any—is here especially observable. Prominent above everything is the world-old motive of the quest; which, world-old as it is, here acquires a predominance that it has never held before or since. The object takes pretty various, though not quite infinitely various, forms, from the rights of the disinherited heir and the hand or the favour of the heroine, to individual things which may themselves vary from the Holy Grail to so many hairs of a sultan's beard. It may be a friendly knight who is lost in adventure, or a felon knight who has to be punished for his trespasses; a spell of some kind to be laid; a monster to be exterminated; an injured virgin or lady, or an infirm potentate, to be succoured or avenged; an evil custom to be put an end to; or simply some definite adventure or exploit to be achieved. But quest of some sort there must almost certainly be if (as in Sir Launfal, for instance) it is but the recovery of a love forfeited by misbehaviour or mishap. It is almost a sine qua non—the present writer, thinking over scores, nay hundreds, of romances, cannot at the moment remember one where it is wanting in some form or another.
It will be observed that this at once provides the amplest opportunity for the desultory concatenation or congregation Of incident. of incident and episode which is of the very essence of romance. Often, nay generally, the conditions, localities and other circumstances of the quest are half known, or all but unknown, to the knight, and he is sometimes intentionally led astray, always liable to be incidentally called off by interim adventures. In many (perhaps most) cases the love interest is directly connected with the quest, though it may be in the way of hindrance as well as of furtherance or reward. The war interest always is so connected; and the religious interest commonly—almost universally in fact—is an inseparable accident. But everything leads up to, involves, eventuates in the fighting. The quest, if not always a directly warlike one, always involves war; and the endless battles have at all times, since they ceased to be the great attraction, continued to be the great obloquy of romance. It is possible no doubt that reports of tournaments and single combats with lance and sword, mace and battle-axe, may be as tedious to some people as reports of football matches certainly are to others. It is certain that the former were as satisfactory in former times to their own admirers as the latter are now. In fact the variety of incident is almost as remarkable as the sameness. And the same may be said, with even greater confidence, of the adventures between the fights in castle and church and monastery, in homestead or hermitage. The actual stories are not much more alike than those who have read large numbers of modern novels critically know to be the case with them. But the absence, save in rare cases, of the element of character, and the very small presence of that of conversation, show up the sameness that exists in the earlier case.
This same deficiency in individual character-drawing, and in the conversation which is one of its principal instruments, Of personages. brings out in somewhat unfair relief some other cases of apparent sameness—the “common forms” of story and of character itself. The disinherited heir, the unfaithful or wronged wife, the wicked stepmother, the jealous or wrongly suspected lover, are just as universal in modern fiction as they are in medieval—for the simple reason that they are common if not universal in nature. But the skeleton is more obvious because it is less clothed with flesh and garments over the flesh; the texture of the canvas shows more because it is less worked upon. Some of these common forms, however, are more peculiar to medieval times; and some, though not many, allow excursions into abnormalities which, until recently, were tabooed to the modern novelist. Among the former the wickedness of the steward is remarkable, and of course not difficult to account for. The steward or seneschal of romance, with some honourable exceptions, is as wicked as the baronet of a novel, but here the explanation is not metaphysical. He was constantly left in charge in the absence of his lord and so was exposed to temptation. The extreme and almost Ephesian consolableness of the romance widow can be equally rationalized—and in fact is so in the stories themselves—by the danger of the fief being resumed or usurped in the absence of a male tenant who can maintain authority and discharge duties. While such themes as the usually ignorant incest of son with mother or the more deliberate passion of father for daughter come mostly from very popular early examples—the legend of St Gregory of the Rock or the story of Apollonius of Tyre.
The last point brings us naturally to another of considerable importance—the singular purity of the romances as a whole, Characters of romance proper. if not entirely in atmosphere and situation, yet in language and in external treatment. It suited the purposes of the Protestant controversialists of the Renaissance, such as our own Ascham, to throw discredit upon work so intimately connected with Catholic ceremony and belief as the Morte d'Arthur; and it is certain that the knights of romance did not even take the benefit of that liberal doctrine of the Cursor Mundi which regards even illicit love as not mortal unless it be “with spouse or sib.” But if in the romances such love is portrayed freely, and with a certain sympathy, it is never spoken of lightly and is always punished; nor are the pictures of it ever coarsely drawn. In a very wide reading of romance the present writer does not remember more than two or three passages of romance proper (that is to say before the later part of the 15th century) which could be called obscene by any fair judge. And the term would have to be somewhat strained in reference even to these. The contrast with the companion divisions of fabliaux and farces is quite extraordinary; and nearly as sharp as that between Greek tragedy on the one hand and Greek comedy or satiric play on the other. It is brought out for the merely English reader in Chaucer of course, but in him it might have been studied. In the immense corpus of known or unknown French and English writers (the Germans are not quite so particular) it comes out with no possibility of deliberation and with unmistakable force.
The history of the forms in which romance presents itself follows a sufficiently normal and probable course. The oldest Development. are always—save in the single case of part of the Arthurian division, in which we probably possess none of the actually oldest, and in some of the division of Antiquity which had a long line of predecessors in the learned languages—the shortest. They become lengthened in a way continued and exemplified to the present moment by the tendency of writers to add sequels and episodes to their own stories, and made still more natural by the fact that these poems were in all or almost all cases recited. “Go on” is the most natural and not the least common as well as the most complimentary form of “Bravo!” and the reciter never seems to have said “no” to the compliment. In not a few cases—Huon of Bordeaux, Ogier the Dane, Guy of Warwick, are conspicuous examples—we possess the same story in various stages; and can see how poems, perhaps originally like King Horn of not more than a couple of thousand lines or even shorter in the 13th century, grew to thirty, forty, fifty thousand in the 15th. The transference of the story itself from verse to prose is also—save in some particular and still controverted instances—regularly traceable and part of a larger and natural literary movement. While, also naturally enough, the pieces become in time fuller of conversation (though not as yet often of conversation that advances the story or heightens its interest), of descriptive detail, &c. And in some groups (notably that of the remarkable Amadis division) a very great enlargement of the proportion and degradation of the character of the marvellous element appears—the wonders being no longer mystical, and magical only in the lower sense.
And so we come to the particular characteristics of the kind or kinds in individual examples. Of these the English reader Characteristic examples. has a matchless though late instance in the Morte d'Arthur of Malory, a book which is at once a corpus and a pattern of romance in gross and in detail. The fact that it is not, as has been too often hastily or ignorantly asserted, a mere compilation, but the last of a singular series of rehandlings and redactions—conducted with extraordinary though for the most part indistinctly traceable instinct of genius—makes it to some extent transcend any single example of older date and more isolated composition. But it displays all the best as well as some of the less good characteristics of most if not all. Of the commonest kind—the almost pure roman d'adventures itself-the Gareth-Beaumains episode (for which we have no direct original, French or English, though Lybius Disconus and Ipomedon come near to it in different ways) will give a fair example; while its presentation of the later chapters of the Grail story, and the intertwisted plot and continuing catastrophe of the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, altogether transcend the usual scope of romance pure and simple, and introduce almost the highest possibilities of the romantic novel. The way in which Malory or his immediate authorities have extruded the tedious wars round the “Rock of the Saxons,” have dropped the awkward episode of the false Guinevere, and have restrained the uninteresting exuberance of the continental wars and the preliminary struggles with the minor kings, keeps the reader from contact with the duller sides of romance only. Of the real variety which rewards a persistent reader of the class at large it would be impossible to present even a miniature hand-index here; but something may be done by sample, which will not be mere sample, but an integral part of the exposition. No arbitrary separation need be made between French and English; because of the intimate connexion between the two. As specially and symptomatically noteworthy the famous pair—perhaps the most famous of all—Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton, should not be taken. For, with the exception of the separation of Guy and Felise in the first, and some things in the character of Josiane in the second, both are somewhat spiritless concoctions of stock matter. Far more striking than anything in either, though not consummately supported by their context, are the bold opening of Blancandin et l'orgueilleuse d'amour, where the hero begins by kissing a specially proud and prudish lady; and the fine scenes of fight with a supernatural foe at a grave to be found in Amadas et Idoine. Reputation and value coincide more nearly in the charming fairy story of Parthenopex de Blois and the Christian-Saracen love romance of Flore (Florice and other forms) et Blanchefleur. Few romances in either language, or in German, exhibit the pure adventure story better than Chrestien de Troyes's Chevalier au Lyon, especially in its English form of Ywain and Gawain; while the above-mentioned Lybius Disconus (Le Beau Déconnu) makes a good pair with this. For originality of form and phrase as well as of spirit, if not exactly of incident, Gawain and the Green Knight stands alone; but another Gawain story (in French this time), Le Cheralieur aux deux épées, though of much less force and fire, exceeds it in length without sameness of adventure. Only the poorest romances—those ridiculed by Chaucer in Sir Thopas—which form a small minority, lack striking individual touches, such as the picture of the tree covered with torches and carrying on its summit a heavenly child, which illuminates the huge expanse of Durmart le Gallois. The various forms of the Seven Wise Masters in different European languages show the attitude of the Western to the Eastern fiction interestingly. The beautiful romance of Emarè is about the best of several treatments of one of the exceptional subjects classed above—the unnatural love of father for daughter, while if we turn to German stories we find not merely in the German variants of Arthurian themes, but in others a double portion of the mystical element. French themes are constantly worked up afresh—as indeed they are all over Europe—but the Germans have the advantage of drawing upon not merely Scandinavian traditions like those which they wrought into the Nibelungen Lied and Gudrun, but others of their own. And both in these and in their dealings with French they sometimes show an amount of story-telling power which is rare in French and English. No handling of the Tristan and Iseult story can compare with Gottfried's; while the famous Der arme Heinrich of Hartmann von Aue (the original of Longfellow's Golden Legend) is one of the greatest triumphs and most charming examples of romance, displaying in almost the highest degree possible for a story of little complexity all the best characteristics of the thing.
What, then, are these characteristics? The account has now been brought to a point where a reasoned résumé of it will give as definite an answer as can be given.
Even yet we may with advantage interpose a consideration of the answer that was given to this question universally (with Summary of opinion and fact. a few dissidents) from the Renaissance to nearly the end of the 18th century and not infrequently since; while it is not impossible that, in the well-attested revolutions of critical thought and taste, it may be given again. This is that romance on the whole, and with some flashes of better things at times, is a jumble of incoherent and mostly ill-told stories, combining sameness with extravagance, outraging probability and the laws of imitative form, childish as a rule in its appeal to adventure and to the supernatural, immoral in its ethics, barbarous in its aesthetics, destitute of any philosophy, representing at its very best (though the ages of its lowest appreciation were hardly able even to consider this) a necessary stage in the education of half-civilized peoples, and embodying some interesting legends, much curious folklore and a certain amount of distorted historical evidence. On the other hand, for the last hundred years and more, there have been some who have seen in romance almost the highest and certainly the most charming form of fictitious creation, the link between poetry and religion, the literary embodiment of men's dreams and desires, the appointed nepenthe of more sophisticated ages as it was the appointed pastime of the less sophisticated. Between these opposites there is of course room for many middle positions, but few of these will be occupied safely and inexpugnably by those who do not take heed of the following conclusions.
Romance, beyond all question, enmeshes and retains for us a vast amount of story-material to which we find little corresponding in ancient literature. It lays the foundation of modern prose fiction in such a fashion that the mere working out and building up of certain features leads to, and in fact involves, the whole structure of the modern novel (q.v.). It antiquates (by a sort of gradual “taking for granted”) the classical assumption that love is an inferior motive, and that women, though they “may be good sometimes” are scarcely fit for the position of principal personages. It helps to institute and ensure a new unity—the unity of interest. It admits of the most extensive variety. It gives a scope to the imagination which exceeds that of any known older literary form. At its best it embodies the new or Christian morality, if not in a Pharisaic yet in a Christian fashion, and it establishes a concordat between religion and art in more ways than this. Incapable of exacter definition, inclining (a danger doubtless as well as an advantage) towards the vague, it is nevertheless comprehensible for all its vagueness, and, informal as it is, possesses its own form of beauty—and that a precious one. These characteristics were, if perceived at all by its enemies in the period above referred to, taken at their worst; they were perceived by its champions at the turn of the tide and perhaps exaggerated. From both attitudes emerged that distinction between the “classic” and the “romantic” which was referred to at the beginning of this article as requiring notice before we conclude. The crudest, but it must be remembered the most intentionally crude (for Goethe knew the limitations of his saying), is that “Classicism is health; Romanticism is disease.” In a less question-begging proposition of single terms, classicism might be said to be method and romanticism energy. But in fact sharp distinctions of the kind do much more harm than good. It is true that the one tends to order, lucidity, proportion; the other to freedom, to fancy, to caprice. But the attempt to reimpose these qualities as absolutely distinguishing marks and labels on particular works is almost certain to lead to mistake and disaster, and there is more than mere irony in the person who defines romance as “Something which was written between an unknown period of the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, and which has been imitated since the later part of the 18th century.” What that something really is is not well to be known except by reading more or less considerable sections of it—by exploring it like one of its own forbidden countries. But something of a sketch-map of that country has been attempted here.
To illustrate and reinforce the above, see in the first place articles on the different national literature's, especially French and Icelandic; as also the following:—
Arthurian Romance.—Arthur; Gawain; Perceval; Lancelot; Merlin; Tristan; Round Table; Grail; and the articles on romance writers such as Malory, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Chrétien de Troyes, Gottfried of Strassburg, &c.
French Romance.—Charlemagne; Guillaume d'Orange; Doon de Mayence; Ogier the Dane; Roland; Renaud de Montauban (Quatre fils Aymon); Huon of Bordeaux; Girard de Roussillon; Amis et Amiles; Macaire; Partonopeus de Blois; Robert the Devil; Flore and Blanchefleur; Garin le Loherain; Raoul de Cambrai; Guillaume de Palerme; Adenès le Roi; Benoît de Sainte-More, &c.,
Spanish.—Amadis de Gaula.
Authorities.—The first modern composition of importance on romance (putting aside the dealings of Italian critics in the 16th century with the question of romantic v. classical unity) is the very remarkable dialogue De la Lecture des vieux romans written by Chapelain in mid-17th century (ed. Feillet, Paris, 1870), which is a surprising and thoroughgoing defence of its subjects. But for long afterwards there was little save unintelligent and mostly quite ignorant depreciation. The sequence of really important serious works almost begins with Hurd's Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762). In succession to this may be consulted on the general subject (which alone can be here regarded) the dissertations of Percy, Warton and Ritson; Sir Walter Scott, “Essay on Romance” in the supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1816-24); Dunlop, History of Fiction (1816, to be usefully supplemented and completed by its latest edition, 1888, with very large additions by H. Wilson); Wolff, Allgemeine Geschichte des Romans (Jena, 1841-50); Ward, Catalogue of Romances in the British Museum (vol. i. 1883, vol. ii. 1893) (the most valuable single contribution to the knowledge of the subject); G. Saintsbury, The Flourishing of Romance and the Rise of Allegory (Edinburgh, 1897), and its companion volumes in Periods of European Literature [W. P. Ker, The Dark Ages (1904); Snell, The Fourteenth Century (1899); Gregory Smith, The Transition Period (1900); Hannay, The Later Renaissance (1898)]; W. P. Ker, Epic and Romance (1897).
- (G. Sa.)
- Italian romance seems to have modelled itself early on French, and it is doubtful, rich as is the late crop of Spanish romances, whether we have any that deserve the name strictly and are really early.