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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XIII. Metrical Romances, 1200–1500: I

§ 2. Benoit de Ste. More and Chrétien de Troyes

The leaders of this school, Benoit de Ste. More and Chrètien de Troyes, with their followers, were courtly persons, authors of fashionable novels, bent on putting into their work the spirit and all the graces of gentle conversation as it was then understood, more particularly the refinements of amatory sentiment, such as was allegorised in the next century in The Romaunt of the Rose. This sort of thing could not be equally appreciated or appropriated in all countries. Some people understood it, others could not. The great houses of Germany were very quick to learn from French masters and to rival them in their own line. Hartmann von Aue translated Chrètien freely—the romance of Enid, the tale of Yvain. Wolfram von Eschenbach in his Parzival may borrow the substance, but the rendering, the spirit, is his own, removed far from any danger of comparison with the French school, because it has a different kind of nobility. In England things were otherwise, and it was not till the age of Chaucer and Gower that there was any English narrative work of the finer sort with the right courtly good manners and a proper interest in sentimental themes. The English of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were generally unable to make much of the “finer shades” in their French authors. They can dispose of romantic plots and adventures, they are never tired of stories; but they have difficulty in following the eloquent monologues of passionate damsels; the elegant French phrasing annoying them just as one of the later French successors of Chrètien, the heroic romance of Le Grand Cyrus, affected Major Bellenden. Even the more ambitious of the English romances generally fall far short of the French and cannot keep up with their elaborate play of rhetoric and emotion. There is only one English version of a romance by Chrètien, Ywain and Gawain. This is comparatively late; it belongs to the time of Chaucer; it is not rude; on the contrary, it is one of the most accomplished of all the riming tales outside the work of Chaucer and Gower. But it cuts short the long speeches of the original. Chrètien’s Yvain (Le Chevalier an Lion) has 6818 lines; the English version 4032. Hartmann, on the other hand, spins his story out to 8166 lines, being thoroughly possessed with admiration of the French ways of thinking. The English romances of I pomedon (there are two in rime, besides a prose version) show well the difficulties and discrepancies as will be explained later.