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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/223

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The same character of sensible reality is imparted to the frame and to the surroundings of the picture, to all the theater where these actors played their parts. Of this truth no one of our teachers, when I was a collegian, seemed to have a suspicion. There was not an illustration in the cold and dry compendiums which were placed in our hands. I can almost ask myself if, when I studied Greek and Roman history, I was really convinced that Sparta and Athens, Rome and Carthage had actually existed. I certainly did not know how or where to place them in space, what idea to have of their situation, or of the outlines made by the ridges of their walls, their houses, and their temples. All these cities were to me vague shadows, floating between heaven and earth. No one of them answered to a distinct and defined form.

"If this be the case with classical antiquity, in spite of the color and splendor of the narratives of its writers, how much more difficult is it to know and understand France of the middle ages when condemned to study it in its literary work alone! The literature of the period is partly in debased Latin, partly in early French. The French of the day was not the language of the thinkers. The deep thought of the age is not to be found in minstrelsy and ballads. It must be asked of the learned, of philosophers, of theologians, and of sacred writers. But to follow them in the subtle analyses and in the excessive complications of symbolism, in which they delight, requires mental efforts which are made all the more laborious by the artificial character of the church Latin, which no longer continued to renew itself at the source of popular speech. It is impossible to see how such works, in spite of their value to erudition, can be called to take part in the education of the young. It is for this reason that lately, by a judicious innovation, a discreet place has been made in the curriculum for histories and poems written in the common language, for the Chanson de Roland, and for the works of Villehardouin and Joinville. But the student can only read these in translations, or in those adaptations which so modernize the language as to leave but a little of its original flavor, and which therefore make but an imperfect contact between the original work and the mind of the reader. But supposing the scholar capable of mastering the original text: can its formless and superabundant prose, or the tiresome monotone of its flowing dissonances, give him emotions which have the vivacity of those which a page of Tacitus or a song of Virgil gives to those who know even a modicum of Latin? Can they have the power to excite the imagination in the same degree as any strong and concise sentence of the historian, any sonorous and glowing verse of the Roman poet?