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I4tt riflitt nurntcCl 

otw? jPnurrfedf in Great JBrit&irt by 
Butler & T*mer L*tdL* 


History has always been far more engrossed by problems 
of origins than by those of decline and fall. When studying 
any period, we are always looking for the promise of what the 
next is to bring. Ever since Herodotus, and earlier still, the 
questions imposing themselves upon the mind have been 
concerned with the rise of families, nations, kingdoms, social 
forms or ideas. So, in medieval history, we have been search- 
ing so diligently for the origins of modern culture, that at 
times it would seem as though what we call the Middle Ages 
had been little more than the prelude to the Renaissance. 

But in history, as in nature, birth and death are equally 
balanced. The decay of overripe forms of civilization is as 
suggestive a spectacle as the growth of new ones. And it 
occasionally happens that a period in which one had, hitherto, 
been mainly looking for the coming to birth of new things, 
suddenly reveals itself as an epoch of fading and decay. 

The present work deals with the history of the fourteenth 
and fifteenth centuries regarded as a period of termination, 
as the close of the Middle Ages. Such a view of them pre- 
sented itself to the author of this volume, whilst endeavouring 
to arrive at a genuine understanding of the art of the brothers 
Van Eyck and their contemporaries, that is to say, to grasp 
its meaning by seeing it in connection with the entire life of 
their times. Now the common feature of the various mani- 
festations of civilization of that epoch proved to be inherent 
rather in that which links them to the past than in the germs 
which they contain of the future. The significance, not of 
the artists alone, but also of theologians, poets, chroniclers, 
princes and statesmen, could be best appreciated by con- 
sidering them, not as the harbingers of a coming culture, but 
as perfecting and concluding the old. 

This English edition is not a simple translation of the original 

vi Preface 

Dutch, (second edition 1921, first 1919), but the result of a 
work of adaptation, reduction and consolidation under the 
author's directions. The references, here left out, may be 
found in full in the original. 

Verse quotations are given in the original French throughout 
the work. In order to avoid an undue increase in length, 
quotations in prose are, as a rule, given in translations only, 
except in the concluding chapters where the literary expression 
as such is discussed, and the actual language becomes important. 
Here the old French prose also is set out in full. 

The author wishes to express his sincere thanks to Sir J. 
Bennell Rodd, whose kind interest in the book gave ric to 
this edition, and to the translator, Mr. F. Hopman, of Leiden, 
whose clear insight into the exigencies of translation rendered 
the recasting possible, and whose endless patience with the 
wishes of an exacting author made the difficult task a work of 
friendly co-operation. 

LEIDEN, j\ jj 

April, 1924. 



















TION 201 








INDK2C 319 




By Roams VAN DEB WEYDEN . . .. Frontispiece 

Antwerp, The Museum. 

From a MS. in the British Museum (after P. Dwricv> " La Miniature 
Flamande "). 

From a MS. at Munich (Library of the University). 


From the Death-dance printed by Cfuyot Merchant, Paris, 1485. 

Antwerp, The Museum. 


From foe Calendar of foe " Tree riches heures du Due dc Itorry, 11 in the, ,1/Wfl 
Conde at ChantiUy. (from the edition of P. Durrieu, Librairic l*l**n, 


DEE WBYDEN ......... 242 

Beaume, The Hospital. 

Berlin, State Museum. 

London, The National QaUery. 


ETOK ........... 25$ 

Paris, The Louvre. 


Pefrograd, The Hermitage. 


By an Unknown Master in a M8. in the State Library, Vienna. 
From* the Calendar ojihe " Tr is riches heurea du Dw de Berry/' in the Mwf* 
Condea* OhontiKy. (From the edition of P. Durrieu, Itfrratne Pton, 

Collection Tewrira de Mattoe, Vogetemang, Holland. 




To the world when it was half a thousand years younger, 
the outlines of all things seemed more clearly marked than 
to us. The contrast between suffering and joy, between 
adversity and happiness, appeared more striking. All expe- 
rience had yet to the minds of men the directness and absolute- 
ness of the pleasure and pain of child-life. Every event, every 
action, was still embodied in expressive and solemn forms, 
which raised them to the dignity of a ritual. For it was not 
merely the great facts of birth, marriage and death which, 
by the sacredness of the sacrament, were raised to the rank 
of mysteries ; incidents of less importance, like a journey, a 
task, a visit, were equally attended by a thousand formalities : 
benedictions, ceremonies, formulae. 

Calamities and indigence were more afflicting than at present ; 
it was more difficult to guard against them, and to find solace. 
Illness and health presented a more striking contrast ; the 
cold and darkness of winter were more real evils. Honours 
and riches were relished with greater avidity and contrasted 
more vividly with surrounding misery. We, at the present 
day, can hardly understand the keenness with which a fur 
coat, a good fire on the hearth, a soft bed, a glass of wine, 
were formerly enjoyed. 

Then, again, all things in life were of a proud or cruel pub- 
licity. Lepers sounded their rattles and went about in pro- 
cessions, beggars exhibited their deformity and their misery 
in churches. Every order and estate, every rank and pro- 
fession, was distinguished by its costume. The great lords 

I B 

The Waning of the Middle Ages 

never moved about without a glorious display of arms and 
liveries, exciting fear and envy. Executions and other 
public acts of justice, hawking, marriages and funerals, were 
all announced by cries and processions, songs and muic. 
The lover wore the colours of his lady ; companions the emblem 
of their confraternity; parties and servants the badges or 
blazon of their lords. Between town and country, too, the 
contrast was very marked. A medieval town did not lose 
itself in extensive suburbs of factories and villas ; girded by 
its walls, it stood forth as a compact whole, bristling with 
innumerable turrets. However tall and threatening the 
houses of noblemen or merchants might be, in the aspect of 
the town the lofty mass of the churches always remained 

The contrast between silence and sound, darkness and light, 
like that between summer and winter, was more strongly 
marked than it is in our lives. The modern town hardly 
knows silence or darkness in their purity, nor tho effect of a 
solitary light or a single distant cry. 

All things presenting themselves to the mind in violent 
contrasts and impressive forms, lent a tone of excitement and 
of passion to everyday life and tended to produce that per- 
petual oscillation between despair and distracted joy, between 
cruelty and pious tenderness which characterize life in the 
Middle Ages. 

One sound rose ceaselessly above the noises of buy life 
and lifted all things unto a sphere of order and serenity : tho 
sound of bells. The bells were in daily life like good ftpirits, 
which by their famUiar voices, now called upon tho citizens 
to mourn and now to rejoice, now warned them o danger, 
now exhorted them to piety. They were known by thoir 
names : big Jacqueline, or the bell Roland. Every one knew 
the difference in meaning of the various ways of ringing* 
However continuous the ringing of the bells, people would 
seem not to have become blunted to the effect of thoir 

Throughout the famous judicial duel between two citizens 
of Valenciennes, in 1455, the big bell, " which is MdeouB to 
hear," says Chastellain, never stopped ringing. What in- 
toxication the pealing of the bells of all the churches, and of 

The Violent Tenor of Life 

all the monasteries of Paris, must have produced, sounding 
from morning till evening, and even during the night, when a 
peace was concluded or a pope elected. 

The frequent processions, too, were a continual source of 
pious agitation. When the times were evil, as they often were, 
processions were seen winding along, day after day, for weeks 
on end. In 1412 daily processions were ordered in Paris, to 
implore victory for the king, who had taken up the oriflamme 
against the Armagnacs. They lasted from May to July, and 
were formed by ever-varying orders and corporations, going 
always by new roads, and always carrying different relics. 
The Burgher of Paris calls them " the most touching proces- 
sions in the memory of men." People looked on or followed, 
"weeping piteously, with many tears, in great devotion." 
All went barefooted and fasting, councillors of the Parlement 
as well as the poorer citizens. Those who could afford it, 
carried a torch or a taper* A great many small children were 
always among them. Poor country-people of the environfl 
of Paris came barefooted from afar to join the procession. 
And nearly every day the rain came down in torrents. 

Then there were the entries of princes, arranged with all the 
resources of art and luxury belonging to the age. And, lastly, 
most frequent of all, one might almost say, uninterrupted, 
the executions. The cruel excitement and coarse compassion 
raised by an execution formed an important item in the spiritual 
food of the common people. They were spectacular plays 
with a moral. For horrible crimes the law invented atrocious 
punishments. At Brussels a young incendiary and murderer 
is placed in the centre of a circle of burning fagots and straw, 
and made fast to a stake by means of a chain running round 
an iron ring. He addresses touching words to the spectators, 
" and he so softened their hearts that every one burst into 
tears and his death was commended as the finest that was ever 
seen." During the Burgundian terror in Paris in 1411, one 
of the victims, Messire Mansart du Bois, being requested by 
the hangman, according to custom, to forgive him, is not only 
ready to do so with all his heart, but begs the executioner to 
embrace him. " There was a great multitude of people, who 
nearly all wept hot tears." 

When the criminals were great lords, the common people 

The Waning of the Middle Ages 

had the satisfaction of seeing rigid justice done, and at the 

same time finding the inconstancy of fortune exemplified 

more strikingly than in any sermon or picture. The magis- 

trate took care that nothing should be wanting to the effect 

of the spectacle : the condemned were conducted to the scaf- 

fold, dressed in the garb of their high estate. Jean de Mon- 

taigu, grand maitre d'hotel to the king, the victim of Jean 

sans Peur, is placed high on a cart, preceded by two trumpeters. 

He wears his robe of state, hood, cloak, and hose half red 

and half white, and his gold spurs, which are left on the feet 

of the beheaded and suspended corpse. By special order of 

Louis XI, the head of maitre Oudart de Bussy, who had 

refused a seat in the Parlement, was dug up and exhibited 

in the market-place of Hesdin, covered with a scarlet hood 

lined with fur " selon la mode des conseillers de Parlement," 

with explanatory verses. 

Barer than processions and executions were the sermons 
of itinerant preachers, coming to shake people by their elo- 
quence. The modern reader of newspapers can no longer 
conceive the violence of impression caused by the spoken 
word on an ignorant mind lacking mental food. The Fran- 
ciscan friar Richard preached in Paris in 1429 during ten 
consecutive days. He began at five in the morning and spoke 
without a break till ten or eleven, for the most part in the 
cemetery of the Innocents. When, at the close of his tenth 
sermon, he announced that it was to be his last, because he 
had no permission to preach more, " great and small wept as 
touchingly and as bitterly as if they were watching their 
best friends being buried ; and so did he." Thinking that he 
would preach once more at Saint Denis on the Sunday the 
people flocked thither on Saturday evening, and passed the 
night in the open, to secure good seats. 

AnothOT Minorite friar, Antoine Fradin, whom the magis- 
trate of RMS had forbidden to preach, because he inveighed 
aamst the bad government, is guided night and day in the 
Cordeliers monastery, by women posted axound the building 
armed with ashes and stones. In all the towns where the 
famous Dominican preacher Vincent Ferrer is expected, the 

an b ' and Pes 

and bishops, set out to greet him with, joyous songs. He 

The Violent Tenor o/ Life 

journeys with a numerous and ever-increasing following of 
adherents, who every night make a circuit of the town in 
procession, with chants and flagellations. Officials are 
appointed to take charge of lodging and feeding these multi- 
tudes. A large number of priests of various religious orders 
accompany him everywhere, to assist him in celebrating mass 
and in confessing the faithful. Also several notaries, to 
draw up, on the spot, deeds embodying the reconciliations 
which this holy preacher everywhere brings about. His 
pulpit has to be protected by a fence against the pressure of 
the congregation which wants to kiss his hand or habit. Work 
is at a stand-still all the time he preaches. He rarely fails 
to move his auditors to teats. When he spoke of the Last 
Judgment, of Hell, or of the Passion, both he and his hearers 
wept so copiously that he had to suspend his sermon till the 
sobbing had ceased. Malefactors threw themselves at his 
feet, before every one, confessing their great sins. One day, 
while he was preaching, he saw two persons, who had been 
condemned to death a man and a woman being led to 
execution. He begged to have the execution delayed, had 
them both placed under the pulpit, and went on with his 
sermon, preaching about their sins. After the sermon, only 
some bones were found in the place they had occupied, and 
the people were convinced that the word of the saint had 
consumed and saved them at the same time. 

After Olivier Maillard had been preaching Lenten sermons 
at Orleans, the roofs of the houses surrounding the place 
whence he had addressed the people had been so damaged by 
the spectators who had climbed on to them, that the roofer 
sent in a bill for repairs extending over sixty-four days. 

The diatribes of the preachers against dissoluteness and 
luxury produced violent excitement which was translated 
into action. Long before Savonarola, started bonfires of 
" vanities " at Florence, to the irreparable loss of art, the 
custom of these holocausts of articles of luxury and amuse- 
ment was prevalent both in France and in Italy. At the sum- 
mons of a famous preacher, men and women would hasten 
to bring cards, dice, finery, ornaments, and burn them with 
great pomp. Renunciation of the sin of vanity in this way 
had taken a fixed and solemn form of public manifestation, 

6 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

in accordance with the tendency of the age to invent a style 
for everything. 

All this general facility of emotions, of tears and spiritual 
upheavals, must be borne in mind in order to conceive fully 
how violent and high-strung was life at that period. 

Public mourning still presented the outward appearance 
of a general calamity. At the funeral of Charles VII, the 
people are quite appalled on seeing the cortege of all the court 
dignitaries, "dressed in the deepest mourning, which was 
most pitiful to see ; and because of the great sorrow and grief 
they exhibited for the death of their master, many tears were 
shed and lamentations uttered throughout the town." People 
were especially touched at the sight of six pages of the king 
mounted on horses quite covered with black velvet. One of 
the pages, according to a rumour, had neither eaten nor drunk 
for four days. " And God knows what doleful and piteous 
plaints they made, mourning for their master." 

Solemnities of a political character also led to abundant 
weeping. An ambassador of the king of France repeatedly 
bursts into tears while addressing a courteous harangue to 
Philip the Good. At the meeting of the kings of France and 
of England at Ardres, at the reception of the dauphin at 
Brussels, at the 1 departure of John of Counbre from the court 
of Burgundy, all the spectators weep hot tears. Chastellain 
describes the dauphin, the future Louis XI, during his volun- 
tary exile in Brabant, as subject to frequent fits of weeping. 
Unquestionably there is some exaggeration in these descrip- 
tions of the chroniclers. In describing the emotion caused 
by the addresses of the ambassadors at the peace congress at 
Arras, in 1435, Jean Germain, bishop of Chalons, makes the 
auditors throw themselves on the ground, sobbing and groan- 
ing. Things, of course, did not happen thus, but thus the 
bishop thought fit to represent them, and the palpable exag- 
geration reveals a foundation of truth. As with the senti- 
mentalists of the eighteenth century, tears were considered 
fine and honourable. Even nowadays an indifferent spectator 
of a public procession sometimes feels himself suddenly moved 
to inexplicable teaxs. In an age filled with religious rever- 
ence for all pomp and grandeur, this propensity will appear 
altogether natural 

The Violent Tenor of Life 

A simple instance will suffice to show the high degree of 
irritability which distinguishes the Middle Ages from our own 
time. One can hardly imagine a more peaceful game than 
that of chess. Still like the chansons de gestes of some centuries 
back, Olivier de la Marche mentions frequent quarrels arising 
over it : " le plus saige y pert patience." 

A scientific historian of the Middle Ages, relying first and 
foremost on official documents, which rarely refer to the 
passions, except violence and cupidity, occasionally runs the 
risk of neglecting the difference of tone between the life of the 
expiring Middle Ages and that of our own days. Such docu- 
ments would sometimes make us forget the vehement pathos 
of medieval life, of which the chroniclers, however defective 
as to material facts, always keep us in mind. 

In more than one respect life had still the colours of a fairy- 
story ; that is to say, it assumed those colours in the eyes of 
contemporaries. The court chroniclers were men of culture, 
and they observed the princes, whose deeds they recorded, at 
close quarters, yet even they give these records a somewhat 
archaic, hieratic air. The following story, told by Chastellain, 
serves to prove this. The young count of Gharolais, the later 
Charles the Bold, on arriving at Gorcum, in Holland, on his 
way from Sluys, learns that his father, the duke, has taken all 
his pensions and benefices from him. Thereupon he calls his 
whole court into his presence, down to the scullions, and in a 
touching speech imparts his misfortune to them, dwelling on 
his respect for his ill-informed father, and on his anxiety about 
the welfare of all his retinue. Let those who have the means 
to live, remain with him awaiting the return of good fortune ; 
let the poor go away freely, and let them come back when they 
hear that the count's fortune has been re-established : they 
will all return to their old places, and the count will reward 
them for their patience. " Then were heard cries and sobs, 
and with one accord they shouted : ' We all, we all, my lord, 
will live and die with thee.' " Profoundly touched, Charles 
accepts their devotion : " Well, then, stay and suffer, and I 
will suffer for you, rather than that you should be in want." 
The nobles then come and offer him what they possess, " one 
saying, I have a thousand, another, ten thousand ; I have this, 

8 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

I have that to place at thy service, and I am ready to share all 
that may befall thee." And in this way everything went on 
as usual, and there was never a hen the less in the kitchen. 
Clearly this story has been more or less touched up. What 
interests us is that Chastellain sees the prince and his court 
in the epic guise of a popular ballad. If this is a literary man's 
conception, how brilliant must royal life have appeared, when 
displayed in almost magic splendour, to the naive imagination 
of the uneducated ! 

Although in reality the mechanism of government had 
already assumed rather complicated forms, the popular mind 
pictures it in simple and fixed figures. The current political 
ideas are those of the Old Testament, of the romaunt and the 
ballad. The kings of the time are reduced to a certain number 
of types, every one of which corresponds, more or less, to a 
literary motif. There is the wise and just prince, the prince 
deceived by evil counsellors, the prince who avenges the 
honour of his family, the unfortunate prince to whom his 
servants remain faithful. In the mind of the people political 
questions are reduced to stories of adventure. Philip the 
Good knew the political language which the people under- 
stands. To convince the Hollanders and Frisians that he was 
perfectly able to conquer the bishopric of Utrecht, he exhibits, 
during the festivities of the Hague, in 1456, precious plate to 
the value of thirty thousand silver marks. Everybody may 
come and look at it. Amongst other things, two hundred 
thousand gold lions have been brought from Lille contained 
in two chests which every one may try to lift up. The demon- 
stration of the solvency of the state took the form of an enter- 
tainment at a fair. 

Often we find a fantastic element in the life of princes which 
reminds us of the caliph of the Arabian Nights. Charles VI 
disguised and mounted with a friend on a single horse wit-' 
nesses the entrance of his betrothed and is knocked about in 
the crowd by petty constables. Philip the Good, whom the 
physicians ordered to have his head shaved, issues a command 
to all the nobles to do likewise, and charges Pierre de Hagen^ 

bach with the cropping of any whom he finds recalcitrant. In 
the midst of coolly calculated enterprises princes sometimes 
act with an impetuous temerity, which endangers their lives 

The Violent Tenor of Life 9 

and their policy. Edward III does not hesitate to expose his 
life and that of the prince of Wales in order to capture some 
Spanish merchantmen, in revenge for deeds of piracy. Philip 
the Good interrupts the most serious political business to 
make the dangerous crossing from Rotterdam to Sluys for the 
sake of a mere whim. On another occasion, mad with rage 
in consequence of a quarrel with his son, he leaves Brussels 
in the night alone, and loses his way in the woods. The knight 
Philippe Pot, to whom fell the delicate task of pacifying him 
on his return, lights upon the happy phrase : " Good day, my 
liege, good day, what is this ? Art thou playing King Arthur, 
now, or Sir Lancelot ? " 

The custom of princes, in the fifteenth century, frequently 
to seek counsel in political matters from ecstatic preachers 
and great visionaries, maintained a kind of religious tension 
in state affairs which at any moment might manifest itself in 
decisions of a totally unexpected character. 

At the end of the fourteenth century and at the beginning 
of the fifteenth, the political stage of the kingdoms of Europe 
was so crowded with fierce and tragic conflicts that the peoples 
could not help seeing all that regards royalty as a succession 
of sanguinary and romantic events : in England, King Richard 
II dethroned and next secretly murdered, while nearly at the 
same time the highest monarch in Christendom, his brother- 
in-law Wenzel, king of the Romans, is deposed by the electors ; 
in France, a mad king and soon afterwards fierce party strife, 
openly breaking out with the appalling murder of Louis of 
Orleans in 1407, and indefinitely prolonged by the retaliation 
of 1419 when Jean sans Peur is murdered at Montereau. With 
their endless train of hostility and vengeance, these two 
murders have given to the history of Prance, during a whole 
century, a sombre tone of hatred. For the contemporary 
mind cannot help seeing all the national misfortunes which 
the struggle of the houses of Orleans and of Burgundy was to 
unchain, in the light of that sole dramatic motive of princely 
vengeance. It finds no explanation for historic events save 
in personal quarrels and motives of passion. 

In addition to all these evils came the increasing obsession 
of the Turkish peril, and the still vivid recollection of the 
catastrophe of Nicopolis in 1396, where a reckless attempt 

10 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

to save Christendom had ended in the wholesale slaughter 
of French chivalry. Lastly, the great schism of the West 
had lasted already for a quarter of a century, unsettling all 
notions about the stability of the Church, dividing every land 
and community. Two, soon three, claimants contending for 
the papacy ! One of them, the obstinate Aragonese Peter 
of Luna, or Benedict XIII, was commonly called in France " le 
Pappe. de la Lune." What can an ignorant populace have 
imagined when hearing such a name ? 

The familiar image of Fortune's wheel from which kings 
are falling with their crowns and their sceptres took a living 
shape in the person of many an expelled prince, roaming from 
court to court, without means, but full of projects and still 
decked with the splendour of the marvellous East whence he 
had fled the king of Armenia, the king of Cyprus, before 
long the emperor of Constantinople. It is not surprising that 
the people of Paris should have believed in the tale of the 
Gipsies, who presented themselves in 1427, "a duke and a 
count and ten men, all on horseback," while others, to the 
number of 120, had to stay outside the town. They came 
from Egypt, they said ; the pope had ordered them, by way 
of penance for their apostasy, to wander about for seven years, 
without sleeping in a bed ; there had been 1,200 of them, but 
their king, their queen and all the others had died on the way ; 
as a mitigation the pope had ordered that every bishop and 
abbot was to give them ten pounds tournois. The p6ople of 
Paris came in great numbers to see them, and have their 
fortunes told by women who eased thenf of their money " by 
magic art or in other ways." 

The inconstancy oithe fortune of princes was strikingly 
embodied in the person of King Ben6. Having aspired to the 
crowns of Hungaiy, of Sicily, and of Jerusalem, he had lost all 
his opportunities, and reaped nothing but a series of defeats, 
and imprisonments, chequered by perilous escapes. The royal 
poet, a lover of the arts, consoled himself for all his dis- 
appointments on his estates in Anjou and in Ptovence his 
cruel fate had not cured him of his predilection for pastoral 
enjoyment. He had seen all his children* die but one a 
daughter for whom was reserved a fate even harder than his 
own. Mamed at sixteen to an imbecile bigot, Bfexury VI of 

The Vioknt Tenor of Life 11 

England, Margaret of Anjou, full of wit, ambition and passion, 
after living for many years in that hell of hatred and of perse- 
cution, the English court, lost her crown when the quarrel 
between York and Lancaster at last broke out into civil war. 
Having found refuge, after many dangers and suffering, at 
the court of Burgundy, she told Chastellain the story of her 
adventures : how she had been forced to commit herself and 
her young son to the mercy of a robber, how at mass she had 
had to ask a Scotch archer a penny for her offering, " who 
reluctantly and with regret took a groat scots for her out of 
his purse and lent it her." The good historiographer, moved 
by so much misfortune, dedicated to her "a certain little 
treatise on fortune, based on its inconstancy and deceptive 
nature," which he entitled Le Temple de Bocace. He could 
not guess that still graver calamities were in store for the 
unfortunate queen. At the battle of Tewkesbury, in 1471, 
the fortunes of Lancaster went down for ever. Her only son 
perished there, probably slaughtered after the battle. Her 
husband was secretly murdered ; she herself was imprisoned 
in the Tower of London, where she remained for five years, 
to be at last given up by Edward IV to Louis XI, who made 
her renounce her father's inheritance as the price of her 

An atmosphere of passion and adventure enveloped the 
lives of princes. It was not popular fancy alone which lent 
it that colour. 

A present-day reader, studying the history of the Middle 
Ages based on official documents, will never sufficiently realize 
the extreme excitability of the medieval soul. The picture 
drawn mainly from official records, though they may be the 
most reliable sources, will lack one element : that of the 
vehement passion possessing princes and peoples alike. To 
be sure, the passionate element is not absent from modern 
politics, but it is now restrained and diverted for the most 
part by the complicated mechanism of social life. Five 
centuries ago it still made frequent and violent irruptions into 
practical politics, upsetting rational schemes. In princes this 
violence of sentiment is doubled by pride and the conscious- 
ness of power, and therefore operates with a twofold impetus. 
It is not surprising, says Ghastellain, that princes often live 

12 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

in hostility, " for princes are men, and their affairs are high 
and perilous, and their natures are subject to many passions, 
such as hatred and envy ; their hearts are veritable dwelling- 
places of these, because of their pride in reigning." 

In writing the history of the house of Burgundy, the leit- 
motiv should constantly keep before our minds the spirit of 
revenge. Nobody, of course, will now seek the explanation 
of the whole conflict of power and interests, whence proceeded 
the secular struggle between Prance and the house of Austria, 
in the family feud between Orleans and Burgundy. All 
sorts of causes of a general nature political, economic, 
ethnographic have contributed to the genesis of that great 
conflict. But we should never forget that the apparent 
origin of it, and the central motive dominating it, was, to the 
men of the fifteenth century and even later, the thirst for 
revenge. To them Philip the Good is always, in the first 
place, the avenger, " he who, to avenge the outrage done to 
the person of Duke John, sustained the war for sixteen years." 
He had undertaken it as a sacred duty: "with the most 
violent and deadly hatred he would give himself up to revenge 
the dead, as far as ever God would permit him, and he would 
devote to it body and soul, substance and lands, submitting 
everything to Fortune, considering it more a salutary task and 
agreeable to God to undertake it, than to leave it." 

Bead the long list of expiatory deeds which the treaty of 
Arras demanded in 1436 chapels, monasteries, churches, 
chapters to be founded, crosses to be erected, masses to be 
chanted then one realizes the immensely high rate at which 
men valued the need of vengeance and of reparations to out- 
raged honour. The Burgundians were not alone in thinking 
after this fashion ; the most enlightened man of his century, 
Aeneas Sylvius, in one of his letters praises Philip above all 
the other princes of his time, for his ajoxiety to avenge his 

According to La Maxche, this duty of honour and revenge 
was to the duke's subjects also the cardinal point of poli cy 
All the dominions of the duke, he says, were clamouring for 
vengeance along with him. We shall find it difficult to believe 
tbos, wten we remember, for instance, the commercial relations 
between Flaaders and England, a more important political 

The Violent Tenor of Life 13 

factor, it would seem, than the honour of the ducal family. 
But to understand the sentiment of the age itself, one should 
look for the avowed and conscious political ideas. There can be 
no doubt that no other political motive could be better under- 
stood by the people than the primitive motives of hatred and 
of vengeance. Attachment to princes had still an emotional 
character ; it was based on the innate and immediate senti- 
ments of fidelity and fellowship, it was still feudal sentiment 
at bottom. It was rather party feeling than political. The 
last three centuries of the Middle Ages are the time of the 
great party struggles. From the thirteenth century onward 
inveterate party quarrels arise in nearly all countries : first 
in Italy, then in France, the Netherlands, Germany and 
England. Though economic interests may sometimes have 
been at the bottom of these quarrels, the attempts which 
have been made to disengage them often smack somewhat 
of arbitrary construction. The desire to discover economic 
causes is to some degree a craze with us, and sometimes 
leads us to forget a much simpler psychological explanation 
of the facts. 

In the feudal age the private wars between two families 
have no othey discernible reason than rivalry of rank and 
covetousness of possessions. Racial pride, thirst of ven-? 
geance, fidelity, are their primary and direct motives. There 
are no grounds to ascribe another economic basis to them than 
mere greed of one's neighbour's riches. Accordingly as the 
central power consolidates and extends, these isolated quarrels 
unite, agglomerate to groups ; large parties are formed, are 
polarized, so to say ; while their members know of no other 
grounds for their concord or enmity than those of honour, 
tradition and fidelity. Their economic differences are often 
only a consequence of their relation towards their rulers. 

Every page of medieval history proves the spontaneous and 
passionate character of the sentiments of loyalty and devotion 
to the prince. At Abbeville, in 1462, a messenger comes at 
night, bringing the news of a dangerous illness of the duke of 
Burgundy. His son requests the good towns to pray for him. 
At once the aldermen order the bells of the church of Saint 
Vulfran to be rung ; the whole population wakes up and goes 
to church, where it remains all night in prayer, kneeling or 

14 The Waning of (he Middle Ages 

prostrate on the ground, with "grandes allumeries merveil- 
leuses," while the bells keep tolling. 

It might be thought that the schism, which had no dogmatic 
cause, could hardly awaken religious passions in countries 
distant from Avignon and of Rome, in which the two popes 
were only known by name. Yet in fact it immediately 
engendered a fanatical hatred, such as exists between the 
faithful and infidels. When the town of Bruges went over to 
the " obedience " of Avignon, a great number of people left 
their house, trade or prebend, to go and live according to their 
party views in some diocese of the Urbanist obedience : Lidge, 
Utrecht, or elsewhere. In 1382 the oriflamme, which might 
only be unfurled in a holy cause, was taken up against the 
Flemings, because they were Urbanists, that is, infidels. 
Pierre Salmon, a ^French political agent, arriving at Utrecht 
about Easter, could not find a priest there willing to admit 
him to the communion service, " because they said I was a 
schismatic and believed in Benedict the anti-pope." 

The emotional character of party sentiments and of fidelity 
was further heightened by the powerfully suggestive effect of 
all the outward signs of these divergences : liveries, colours, 
badges, party cries. During the first years of the war between 
the Armagnacs and the Burgundians, these signs succeeded 
eacli other in Paris with a dangerous alternation : a purple 
hood with the cross of Saint Andrew, white hoods, then violet 
ones. Even priests, women and children wore distinctive 
signs. The images of saints were decorated with them; it 
was asserted that certain priests, during mass and in baptizing, 
refused to make the sign of the cross in the orthodox way, but 
made it in the form of a Saint Andrew cross. 

In the blind passion with which people followed their lord 
or their party, the unshakable sentiment of right, character- 
istic of the Middle Ages, is trying to find expression. Man at' 
that time is convinced that right is absolutely fixed and 
certain. Justice should prosecute the unjust everywhere and 
to the end. Reparation and retribution have to be extreme, 
and assume the character of revenge. la this exaggerated 
need of justice, primitive barbarism, pagan at bottom, blends 
with the Christian conception of society. The Church, on 
the one hand, had inculcated gentleness and clemency, and 

The Violent Tenor of Life 15 

tried, in tliat way, to soften judicial morals. On the other 
hand, in adding to the primitive need of retribution the horror 
of sin, it had, to a certain extent, stimulated the sentiment of 
justice. And sin, to violent and impulsive spirits, was only 
too frequently another name for what their enemies did. The 
barbarous idea of retaliation was reinforced by fanaticism. 
The chronic insecurity made the greatest possible severity 
on the part of the public authorities desirable ; crime came to 
be regarded as a menace to order and society, as well as an 
insult to divine majesty. Thus it was natural that the late 
Middle Ages should become the special period of judicial 
cruelty. That the criminal deserved his punishment was not 
doubted for a moment. The popular sense of justice always 
sanctioned the most rigorous penalties. At intervals the 
magistrate undertook regular campaigns of severe justice, 
now against brigandage, now against sorcery or sodomy. 

What strikes us in this judicial cruelty and in the joy the 
people felt at it, is rather brutality than perversity. Torture 
and executions are enjoyed by the spectators like an enter- 
tainment at a fair. The citizens of Mons bought a brigand, 
at far too high a price, for the pleasure of seeing him quartered, 
" at which the people rejoiced more than if a new holy body 
had risen from the dead." The people of Bruges, in 1488, 
during the captivity of Maximilian, king of the Romans, 
cannot get their fill of seeing the tortures inflicted, on a high 
platform in the middle of the market-place, on the magistrates 
suspected of treason. The unfortunates are refused the death- 
blow which they implore, that the people may feast again 
upon their torments. 

Both in France and in England, the custom existed of 
refusing confession and the extreme unction to a criminal 
condemned to death. Sufferings and fear of death were to 
be aggravated by the certainty of eternal damnation. In 
vain had the council of Vienne in 1311 ordered to grant them 
at least the sacrament of penitence. Towards the end of the 
fourteenth century the same custom still existed. Charles V 
himself, moderate though he was, had declared that no change 
would be made in his lifetime. The chancellor Pierre d'Orge- 
mont, whose " forte cervelle," says Philippe de M&zi&res, was 
more difficult to turn than a mill-stone, remained deaf to 

16 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the humane remonstrances of the latter. It was only after 
Gerson had joined his voice to that of M6zi&res that a royal 
decree of the 12th of February, 1397, ordered that confession 
should be accorded to the condemned. A stone cross erected 
by the care of Pierre de Craon, who had interested himself in 
the decree, marked the place where the Minorite friars might 
assist penitents going to execution. And even then the bar- 
barous custom did not disappear. Etienne Ponchier, bishop 
of Paris, had to renew the decree of 1311 in 1500. 

In 1427 a noble brigand is hanged in Paris. At the moment 
when he is going to be executed, the great treasurer of the 
regent appears on the scene and vents his hatred against him ; 
he prevents his confession, in spite of his prayers ; he climbs 
the ladder behind him, shouting insults, beats him with a 
stick, and gives the hangman a thrashing for exhorting the 
victim to think of his salvation. The hangman grows nervous 
and bungles his work ; the cord snaps, the wretched criminal 
falls on the ground, breaks a leg and some ribs, and in this 
condition has to climb the ladder again. 

The Middle Ages knew nothing of all those ideas which have 
rendered our sentiment of justice timid and hesitating: doubts 
as to the criminal's responsibility ; the conviction that society 
is, to a certain extent, the accomplice of the individual ; the 
desire to reform instead of inflicting pain ; and, we may even 
add, the fear of judicial errors. Or rather these ideas were 
implied, unconsciously, in the very strong and direct feeling 
of pity and of forgiveness which alternated with extreme 
severity. Instead of lenient penalties, inflicted with hesita- 
tion, the Middle Ages knew but the two extremes : the ful- 
ness of cruel punishment, and mercy. When the condemned 
criminal is pardoned, the question whether he deserves it for 
any special reasons is hardly asked ; for mercy has to be gratui- 
tous, like the mercy of God. In practice, it was not always 
pure pity which determined the question of pardon. The 
princes of the fifteenth century were very liberal of " lettres 
de remission " for misdeeds of all sorts, and contemporaries 
thought it quite natural, that they were obtained by the inter- 
cession of noble relatives. The majority of these documents, 
however, concern poor common people. 

The contrast of cruelty and of pity recurs at every turn in 

The Violent Tenor of Life 17 

the manners and customs of the Middle Ages. On the one 
hand, the sick, the poor, the insane, are objects of that deeply 
moved pity, born of a feeling of fraternity akin to that which 
is so strikingly expressed in modern Russian literature ; on 
the other hand, they are treated with incredible hardness or 
cruelly mocked. The chronicler Pierre de Fenin, having 
described the death of a gang of brigands, winds up naively : 
" and people laughed a good deal, because they were all poor 
men." In 1425, an " esbatement " takes place in Paris, of 
four blind beggars, armed with sticks, with which they hit 
each other in trying to kill a pig, which is the prize of the 
combat. On the evening before they are led through 
the town, " all armed, with a great banner in front, on which 
was pictured a pig, and preceded by a man beating a drum." 
In the fifteenth century, female dwarfs were objects of 
amusement, as they still were at the court of Spain when 
Velazquez painted their infinitely sad faces. Madame d'Or, 
the blond dwarf of Philip the Good, was. famous. She was 
made to wrestle, at a court festival, with the acrobat Hans. 
At the wedding-feasts of Charles the Bold, in 1468, Madame 
de Beaugrant, the female dwarf of Mademoiselle of Burgundy, 
enters dressed like a shepherdess, mounted on a golden Eon, 
larger than a horse ; she is presented to the young duchess 
and placed on the table. As to the fate of these small creatures, 
the account-books are more eloquent for us than any senti- 
mental complaint could be. They tell us of a dwarf-girl 
whom a duchess caused to be fetched from her home, and how 
her parents came to visit her from time to time and receive a 
gratuity. " Au p&re de Belon la folle, qui estoit venu veoir 
ea fille. . . . 27s. 6eZ." The poor fellow perhaps went home 
well pleased and much elated about the court function of his 
daughter. That same year a locksmith of Blois furnished two 
iron collars, the one " to make fast Belon, the fool, and the 
other to put round the neck of the monkey of her grace the 

In the harshness of those times there is something ingenuous 
which almost forbids us to condemn it. When the massacre of 
the Armagnacs was in full swing in 1418, the Parisians founded 
a brotherhood of Saint Andrew in the church of Saint Eustache : 
everyone, priest or layman, wore a wreath of red roses, so that 


18 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the church was perfumed by them, " as if it had been washed 
with rose-water." The people of Arras celebrate the annul- 
ment of the sentences for witchcraft, which during the whole 
year 1461 had infested the town like an epidemic, by joyous 
festivals and a competition in acting "folies moralisees," of 
which the prizes were a gold fleur-de-lis, a brace of capons, 
etc. ; nobody, it seems, thought any more of the tortured 
and executed victims. 

So violent and motley was life, that it bore the mixed smell 
of blood and of roses. The men of that time always oscillate 
between the fear of hell and the most naive joy, between 
cruelty and tenderness, between harsh asceticism and insane 
attachment to the delights of this world, between hatred and 
goodness, always miming to extremes. 

After the close of the Middle Ages the mortal sins of pride, 
anger and covetousness have never again shown the unabashed 
insolence with which they manifested themselves in the life 
of preceding centuries. The whole history of the house of 
Burgundy is like an epic of overweening and heroic pride, 
which takes the form of bravura and ambition with Philippe 
le Hardi, of hatred and envy with Jean sans Peur, of the lust 
of vengeance and fondness for display with Philip the Good, 
of foolhardy temerity and obstinacy with Charles the Bold. 

Medieval doctrine found the root of all evil either in the 
sin of pride or in cupidity. Both opinions were based on 
Scripture texts : A superbia initium sum/psit omnis perditio. 
Radix omnium malorum est cupiditas. It seems, nevertheless, 
that from the twelfth century downward people begin to find the 
principle of evil rather in cupidity than in pride. The voices 
which condemn blind cupidity, " la cieca cupidigia " of Dante, 
become louder and louder. Pride might perhaps be called the 
sin of the feudal and hierarchic age. Very little property is, 
in the modern sense, liquid, while power is not yet associated, 
predominantly, with money ; it is still rather inherent in the 
person and depends on a sort of religious awe which he inspires ; 
it makes itself felt by pomp and magnificence, or a numerous 
train of faithful followers. Feudal or hierarchic thought ex- 
presses the idea of grandeur by visible signs, lending to it 
a symbolic shape, of homage paid kneeling, of ceremonial 
reverence. Pride, therefore, is a symbolic sin, and from the 

The Violent Tenor of Life 19 

fact that, in the last resort, it derives from the pride of Lucifer, 
the author of all evil, it assumes a metaphysical character. 

Cupidity, on the other hand, has neither this symbolic 
character nor these relations with theology. It is a purely 
worldly sin, the impulse of nature and of the flesh. In the 
later Middle Ages the conditions of power had been changed 
by the increased circulation of money, and an illimitable field 
opened to whosoever was desirous of satisfying his ambitions 
by heaping up wealth. To this epoch cupidity becomes the 
predominant sin. Riches have not acquired the spectral 
impalpability which capitalism, founded on credit, will give 
them later ; what haunts the imagination is still the tangible 
yellow gold. The enjoyment of riches is direct and primitive ; 
it is not yet weakened by the mechanism of an automatic 
and invisible accumulation by investment ; the satisfaction 
of being rich is found either in luxury and dissipation, or in 
gross avarice. 

Towards the end of the Middle Ages feudal and hierarchic 
pride had lost nothing, as yet, of its vigour ; the relish for 
pomp and display is as strong as ever. This primitive pride 
has now united itself with the growing sin of cupidity, and it 
is this mixture of the two which gives the expiring Middle 
Ages a tone of extravagant passion that never appears again. 

A furious chorus of invectives against cupidity and avarice 
rises up everywhere from the literature of that period. 
Preachers, moralists, satirical writers, chroniclers and poets 
speak with one voice. Hatred of rich people, especially of the 
new rich, who were then very numerous, is general. Official 
records confirm the most incredible cases of unbridled avidity 
told by the chronicles. In 1436 a quarrel between two beggars, 
in which a few drops of blood had been shed, had soiled the 
church of the Innocents at Paris. The bishop, Jacques du 
Chfitelier, "a very ostentatious, grasping man, of a more 
worldly disposition than his station required/' refused to 
consecrate the church anew, unless he received a certain sum 
of money from the two poor men, which they did not possess, so 
that the service was interrupted for twenty-two days. Even 
worse happened under his successor, Denys de Moulins. 
During four months of the year 1441, he prohibited both 
burials and processions in the cemetery of the Innocents, the 

20 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

most favoured of all, because the church could not pay the 
tax he demanded. This Denys de Moulins was reputed " a 
man who showed very little pity to people, if he did not receive 
money or some equivalent ; and it was told for truth that he 
had more than fifty lawsuits before the Parlement, for nothing 
could be got out of him without going to law." 

A general feeling of impending calamity hangs over all. 
Perpetual danger prevails everywhere. To realize the continu- 
ous insecurity in which the lives of great and small alike were 
passed, it suffices to read the details which Monsieur Pierre 
Champion has collected regarding the persons mentioned by 
Villon in his Testament, or the notes of Monsieur A. Tuetey 
to the diary of a Burgher of Paris. They present to us an 
interminable string of lawsuits, crimes, assaults and perse- 
cutions. A chronicle like that of Jacques du Clercq, or a diary 
such as that of the citizen of Metz, Philippe de Vigneulles, 
perhaps lay too much stress on the darker side of contemporary 
lif e, but every investigation of the careers of individual persons 
seems to confirm them, by revealing to us strangely troubled 

In reading the chronicle of Mathieu d'Escouchy, simple, 
exact, impartial, moralizing, one would think that the author 
was a studious, quiet and honest man. His character was 
unknown before Monsieur du Fresne de Beaucourt had elicited 
the history of his life from the archives. But what a life 
it was, that of this representative of " col&rique Picardie." 
Alderman, then, towards 1445 provost, of P6ronne, we find 
him from the outset engaged in a family quarrel with Jean 
Froment, the city syndic. They harass each other recipro- 
cally with lawsuits, for forgery and murder, for " exces et 
attemptaz." The attempt of the provost to get the widow 
of his enemy condemned for witchcraft costs him dear. 
Summoned before the Parlement of Paris himself, d'Escouchy 
is imprisoned. We find him again in prison as an accused 
on five more occasions, always in grave criminal causes, and 
more than once in heavy chains, A son of Froment wounds 
him in an encounter. Each of the parties hires brigands to 
assail the other. After this long feud ceases to be mentioned 
in the records, others arise of similar violence. All this does 
not check the career of d'Escouchy : he becomes bailiff, provost 

The Violent Tenor of Life 21 

of Eibemont, "procureur du roi" at Saint Quentin; he is 
ennobled. He is taken prisoner at Montlhery, then comes 
back maimed from a later campaign. Next he marries, but 
not to settle down to a quiet life. Once more, he appears 
accused of counterfeiting seals, conducted to Paris " comme 
larron et murdrier," forced into confessions by torture, pre- 
vented from appealing, condemned; then rehabilitated and 
again condemned, till the traces of this career of hatred and 
persecutions disappear from the records. 

Is it surprising that the people could see their fate and that 
of the world only as an endless succession of evils ? Bad 
government, exactions, the cupidity and violence of the great, 
wars and brigandage, scarcity, misery and pestilence to this 
is contemporary history nearly reduced in the eyes of the 
people. The feeling of general insecurity which was caused 
by the chronic form wars were apt to take, by the constant 
menace of the dangerous classes, by the mistrust of justice, 
was further aggravated by the obsession of the coming end of 
the world, and by the fear of hell, of sorcerers and of devils. 
The background of all life in the world seems black. Every- 
where the flames of hatred arise and injustice reigns. Satan 
covers a gloomy earth with his sombre wings. In vain the 
militant Church battles, preachers deliver their sermons ; the 
world remains unconverted. According to a popular belief, 
current towards the end of the fourteenth century, no one, 
since the beginning of the great Western schism, had entered 




At the close of the Middle Ages, a sombre melancholy weighs 
on people's souls. Whether we read a chronicle, a poem, a 
sermon, a legal document even, the same impression of im- 
mense sadness is produced by them all. It would sometimes 
seem as if this period had been particularly unhappy, as if it 
had left behind only the memory of violence, of covetousness 
and mortal hatred, as if it had known no other enjoyment but 
that of intemperance, of pride and of cruelty. 

Now in the records of all periods misfortune has left more 
traces than happiness. Great evils form the groundwork of 
history. We are perhaps inclined to assume without much 
evidence that, roughly speaking, and notwithstanding all 
calamities, the sum of happiness can have hardly changed 
from one period to another. But in the fifteenth century, as 
in the epoch of romanticism, it was, so to say, bad form to 
praise the world and life openly. It was fashionable to see 
only its suffering and misery, to discover everywhere signs 
of decadence and of the near end in short, to condemn the 
times or to despise them. 

We look in vain in the French literature of the beginning 
of the fifteenth century for the vigorous optimism which will 
spring up at the Eenaissance though, by the way, the optimist 
tendency of the Renaissance is sometimes exaggerated. The 
exulting exclamation of TJlrich von Hutten, which has become 
trite from much quoting, " saeculum, literae ! juvat 
vivere ! " l expresses the enthusiasm of the scholar rather 
than that of the man. With the humanists optimism is 
still tempered by the ancient contempt, both Christian and 

1 " O world, letters, it is a delight to live ! " 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 23 

Stoic, for the world. A passage extracted from a letter written 
by Erasmus in 1518, may serve better than Hutten's exclama- 
tion to show the average valuation put upon life by a humanist. 
" I am not so greatly attached to life ; having entered upon 
my fifty-first year, I judge I have lived long enough ; and on 
the other hand, I see in this life nothing so excellent or agree- 
able that a man might wish for it, on whom the Christian 
creed has conferred the hope of a much happier life, in store 
for those who have attached themselves closely to piety. 
Nevertheless, at present, I could almost wish to be rejuvenated 
for a few years, for this only reason that I believe I see a golden 
age dawning in the near future." He then describes the 
concord reigning among the princes of Christendom and their 
inclination to peace which was so dear to him personally 
then he continues : " Everything confirms my hope that not 
only good morals and Christian piety will be reborn and flourish, 
but also pure and true literature and good learning." Thanks 
to the protection of princes, be it understood. " It is to their 
pious feelings that we are indebted for seeing everywhere, as 
at a given signal, illustrious spirits awakening and conspiring 
to restore good learning." 

In short, the appreciation of the joys of life, which Erasmus 
manifests, is fairly cool ; moreover, he soon changed his mood 
of hopeful expectation, never to find it again. However, 
compared with current feeling in the preceding century, 
except in Italy, Erasmus's appreciation might rather be called 
warm. The men of letters at the court of Charles VII, or at 
that of Philip the Good, never tire of inveighing against life 
and the age. The note of despair and profound dejection is 
predominantly sounded not by ascetic monks, but by the 
court poets and the chroniclers laymen, living in aristocratic 
circles and amid aristocratic ideas. Possessing only a slight 
intellectual and moral culture, being for the most part strangers 
to study and learning, and of only a feebly religious temper, 
they were incapable of finding consolation or hope in the 
spectacle of universal misery and decay, and could only 
bewail the decline of the world and despair of justice and of 

No one has been so lavish of complaints of this nature as 
Eustache Deschamps : 

24 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

" Temps de doleur et do temptacion, 
Aages de plour, d'envie et de tourment, 
Temps de langour et de dampnacion, 
Aages meneur pres du definement, 
Temps plains d'orreur qui tout fait faussement, 
Aage menteur, plain d'orgueil et d'envie, 
Temps sanz honeur et sanz vray jugement, 
Aage en tristesse qui abrege la vie," * 

The ballads he has composed in this spirit may be counted 
by the dozen : monotonous and gloomy variations of the same 
dismal theme. There must have prevailed among the nobility 
a general disposition to melancholy ; otherwise we could not 
account for the manifest popularity of these poems. 

" Toute teesse deffaut, 
Tous cueurs ont prins par assaut 
Tristesse et merencolie." 2 

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the tone is still 
unchanged ; Jean Meschinot sighs as did Deschamps. 

" O miserable et trds dolente vie ! ... 
La guerre avons, mortality, famine ; 
Le froid, le chaud, le jour, la nuit nous mine ; 
Puces, cirons et tant d'autre vermine 
Nous guerroyent. Bref, miserere domine 
Noz meschans corps, dont le vivre est tres court." 8 

He too is convinced that all goes wrong in the world ; there 
is no justice any more ; the great exploit the small, and the 
small exploit each other. He pretends to have been led by 
his hypochondria within an ace of suicide. He depicts him- 
self in the following terms : 

1 Time of mourning and of temptation, Age of tears, of envy and of tor- 
ment, Tune of languor and of damnation, Age of decline nigh to the end, 
T*ne Ml of horror which does all things falsely, Lying age, full of pride and 
of envy, Time without honour and without true judgment, Age of sadness 
which shortens life. 

1 All mirth is lost, All hearts have been taken by storm By sadness and 

miserable and very sad life 1 ... We suffer from warfare, death 
and famtae ; Cold and heat, day and night, sap oar strength ; Fleai 
antes aad so much otter vermin Make war upon us. In short, have 
.uwd, upon owe wicked persons, whose life is very short. 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 25 

"Et je, le pouvre escrivain, 
An cueur triste, faible et vain, 
Voyant de chascun le deuil, 
Soucy me tient en sa main ; 
Toujours les larmes a 1'ceil, 
Rien fors mourir je ne vueil." * 

All that we get to know of the moral state of the nobles 
points to a sentimental need of enrobing their souls with the 
garb of woe. There is hardly one who does not come forward 
to affirm that he has seen nothing but misery during his life 
and expects only worse things from the future. Georges 
Chastellain, the historiographer of the dukes of Burgundy and 
chief of the Burgundian rhetorical school, speaks thus of him- 
self in the prologue to his chronicle : " I, man of sadness, born 
in an eclipse of darkness, and thick fogs of lamentation." His 
successor, Olivier de la Marche, chooses for his device the lament, 
" tant a souffert La Marche." 2 It would be interesting to 
study from the point of view of physiognomy the portraits 
of that time, which for the most part strike us by their sad 

It is curious to notice the variation of meaning which 
the word melancholy shows in the fourteenth century. The 
ideas of sadness, of reflection, and of fancy, are blended in the 
term. For example, in speaking of Philip of Artevelde, lost 
in thought, in consequence of a message he had just received, 
Froissart expresses himself thus : " Quant il eut merancoliet 
une espasse, il s'avisa que il rescriproit aus commissaires dou roi 
de France." 8 Deschamps says of something that is uglier 
than could be imagined : no artist is " merencolieux " enough 
to be able to paint it. The change of meaning evidently 
shows a tendency to identify all serious occupation of the 
mind with sadness. 

The poetry of Bustache Deschamps is full of petty reviling 
of life and its inevitable troubles. Happy is he who has no 
children, for babies mean nothing but crying and stench ; 

1 And I, poor writer, With the sad, feeble and vain heart, When I see 
every one mourning, Then Affliction holds me in her hand ; I have always 
tears in my eye, I wish for nothing but to die. 

8 So much has La Marche suffered. 

8 When he had reflected for a space, he resolved to answer the emissaries 
of the king of France, 

26 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

they give only trouble and anxiety ; they have to be clothed 
shod, fed ; they are always in danger of falling and hurting 
themselves ; they contract some illness and die. When they 
grow up, they may go to the bad and be put in prison. Nothing 
but cares and sorrows ; no happiness compensates us for our 
anxiety, for the trouble and expenses of their education. Is 
there a greater evil than to have deformed children ? The 
poet has no word of pity for their misfortune ; he holds 

" Quo horns de membre contrefais 
Est en sa pens6e meffais, 
Plains de pechiez et plains de vices." * 

Happy are bachelors, for a man who has an evil wife has a 
bad time of it, and he who has a good one always fears to lose 
her. In other words, happiness is feared together with mis- 
fortune. In old age the poet sees only evil and disgust, a 
lamentable decline of the body and the mind, ridicule and 
insipidity. It comes soon, at thirty for a woman, at fifty for 
a man, and neither lives beyond sixty, for the most part. It 
is a far cry to the serene ideality of Dante's conception of noble 
old age in the Convivio ! 

The world, says Deschamps, is like an old man fallen into 
dotage. He has begun by being innocent, then he has been 
wise for a long time, just, virtuous and strong : 

** Or est laches, chetis et molz, 
Vieulx, convoiteux et mal parlant : 
Je ne voy que foles et f olz. . . . 
La fin s'approche, en v&ite 1 . . . . 
Tout va mal." 2 

In another place he laments : 

"Pour quoy est si obscurs le temps, 
Que li uns 1'autre ne cognoist, 
Mais znuent les gouvernements 
De mal en pis, si corome on voit t 

1 That a man with deformed limbs is misshapen of mind, Full of sins 
and full of vices. 

* Now the world is cowardly, decayed and weak, Old, covetous, confused 
of speech : I see only female and male fools. . . The end approaches, in 
sooth. . . . AH goes badly. 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 27 

Le temps passe* trop mieulx valoit. 
Qui regne ? Tristesse et Emmy ; 
n ne court justice ne droit ; 
Je ne see* mais desquelz je stty." l 

And again : 

" Se ce temps tient, je deviendray hennite, 
Car je n'i voys fors que dueil et tourment." * 

Pessimism of this kind has hardly anything to do with 
religion. Deschamps only gives an off-hand pious purport 
to his reflections. Despondency and spleen are at the bottom 
of them, not piety. A contempt of the world, which is domi- 
nated by fear of weariness and of sorrow, of disease and of old 
age, is but an asceticism of the blase, born of disillusion and 
of satiety. It has nothing in common with religion but its 

Even in ascetic utterances of a purer and loftier kind such 
fear of life, such recoiling before its inevitable sorrows, is not 
seldom mingled. The series of arguments which Jean Gerson 
propounds in his Discours de V excellence de Virginite, written 
for his sisters, with a view to keep them from marrying, 
does not essentially differ from Deschamps* gloomy lamenta- 
tions. All the evils attaching to wedlock are found there. 
The husband may be a drunkard, a spendthrift, a miser. If 
he be honest and good, bad harvests, death of cattle, a ship- 
wreck may occur, robbing him of all he possesses. What 
misery it is to be pregnant ! How many women die in child- 
bed. The woman who suckles her baby knows neither rest 
nor pleasure. Children may be deformed or disobedient ; the 
husband may die, and leave his widow behind in care and 

Thus, always and everywhere in the literature of the age, 
we find a confessed pessimism. As soon as the soul of these 
men has passed from childlike mirth and unreasoning enjoy- 

1 Why are the times BO dark That men do not know each other, But govern- 
ments move From bad to worse, as we see ? The past was much better. 
Who reigns ? Affliction and annoyance ; Justice nor law are current ; I 
know no more where I belong. 

* If the times remain so, I shall become a hermit, For I see nothing but 
grief and torment. 

28 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

ment to reflection, deep dejection about all earthly misery 
takes their place and they see only the woe of life. Still this 
very pessimism is the ground whence their soul will soar up 
to the aspiration of a life of beauty and serenity. For at 
all times the vision of a sublime life has haunted the souls of 
men, and the gloomier the present is, the more strongly this 
aspiration will make itself felt. 

Three different paths, at all times, have seemed to lead to 
the ideal life. Firstly, that of forsaking the world. The 
perfection of life here seems only to be reached beyond the 
domain of earthly labour and delight, by a loosening of all 
ties. The second path conducts to amelioration of the world 
itself, by consciously improving political, social and moral in- 
stitutions and conditions. Now, in the Middle Ages, Christian 
faith had so strongly implanted in all minds the ideal of 
renunciation as the base of all personal and social perfection, 
that there was scarcely any room left for entering upon this 
path of material and political progress. The idea of a pur- 
posed and continual reform and improvement of society did 
not exist. Institutions in general are considered as good or 
as bad as they can be ; having been ordained by God, they are 
intrinsically good, only the sins of men pervert them. What 
therefore is in need of remedy is the individual soul. Legisla- 
tion in the Middle Ages never aims consciously and avowedly 
at creating a new organism ; professedly it is always oppor- 
tunistic, it only restores good old law (or at least thinks it 
does no more) or mends special abuses. It looks more towards 
an ideal past than towards an earthly future. For the true 
future is the Last Judgment, and that is near at hand. 

It goes without saying that this mental disposition must 
have greatly contributed to the general pessimism. If in all 
that regards the things of this world there is no hope of improve- 
ment and of progress, however slow, those who love the world 
too much to give up its delights, and who nevertheless cannot 
help aspiring to a better order of things, see nothing before 
them but a gulf. We will have to wait till the eighteenth 
century for even the Renaissance does not truly bring the 
idea of progressbefore men resolutely enter the path of 
social optimism ; only then the perfectibility of man and 
society is raised to the rank of a central dogma, and the next 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 29 

century will only lose the naivet6 of this belief, but not the 
courage and optimism which it inspired. 

It would be a mistake to think that the medieval mind, 
lacking the ideas of progress and conscious reform, had only 
known the religious form of the aspiration to ideal life. For 
there is a third path to a world more beautiful, trodden in all 
ages and civilizations, the easiest and also the most fallacious 
of all, that of the dream. A promise of escape from the 
gloomy actual is held out to all ; we have only to colour life 
with fancy, to enter upon the quest of oblivion, sought in the 
delusion of ideal harmony. After the religious and the social 
solution we here have the poetical. 

A simple tune suffices for the enrapturing fugue to develop 
itself ; an outlook on the heroism, the virtue or the happiness 
of an ideal past is all that is wanted. The themes are few in 
number, and have hardly changed since antiquity ; we may 
call them the heroic and the bucolic theme. Nearly all the 
literary culture of later ages has been built upon them. 

But was it only a question of literature, this third path to 
the sublime life, this flight from harsh reality into illusion ? 
Surely it has been more. History pays too little attention to 
the influence of these dreams of a sublime life on civilization 
itself and on the forms of social life. The content of the ideal 
is a desire to return to the perfection of an imaginary past. 
All aspiration to raise life to that level, be it in poetry only or 
in fact, is an imitation. The essence of chivalry is the imita- 
tion of the ideal hero, just as the imitation of the ancient sage 
is the essence of humanism. Strongest and most lasting of 
all is the illusion of a return to nature and its innocent charms 
by an imitation of the shepherd's life. Since Theocritus it 
has never lost its hold upon civilized society. 

Now, the more primitive a society is, the more the need of 
conforming real life to an ideal standard overflows beyond 
literature into the sphere of the actual. Modern man is a 
worker. To work is his ideal. The modern male costume 
since the end of the eighteenth century is essentially a work- 
man's dress. Since political progress and social perfection 
have stood foremost in general appreciation, and the ideal 
itself is sought in the highest production and most equitable 
distribution of goods, there is no longer any need for playing 

30 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the hero or the sage. The ideal itself has become democratic. 
In aristocratic periods, on the other hand, to be representative 
of true culture means to produce by conduct, by customs, by 
manners, by costume, by deportment, the illusion of a heroic 
being, full of dignity and honour, of wisdom and, at all events, 
of courtesy. This seems possible by the aforesaid imitation 
of an ideal past. The dream of past perfection ennobles life 
and its forms, fills them with beauty and fashions them anew 
as forms of art. Life is regulated like a noble game. Only a 
small aristocratic group can come up to the standard of this 
artistic game. To imitate the hero and the sage is not every- 
body's business. Without leisure or wealth one does not 
succeed in giving life an epic or idyllic colour. The aspiration 
to realize a dream of beauty in the forms of social life bears 
as a vitium originis the stamp of aristocratic exclusiveness. 

Here, then, we have attained a point of view from which 
we can consider the lay culture of the waning Middle Ages : 
aristocratic life decorated by ideal forms, gilded by chival- 
rous romanticism, a world disguised in the fantastic gear of 
the Round Table. 

The quest of the life beautiful is much older than the Italian 
quattrocento. Here, as elsewhere, the line of demarcation 
between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance has been too 
much insisted upon. Florence had but to adopt and develop 
ancient motifs which the Middle Ages had known. In spite 
of the aesthetic distance separating the Giostre of the Medici 
from the barbarous pageantry of the dukes of Burgundy, the 
inspiration is the same. Italy, indeed, discovered new worlds 
of beauty, and tuned life to a new tone ; but the impulse itself 
to force it up to a thing of art, generally taken as typical of 
the Renaissance, was not its invention. 

In the Middle Ages the choice lay, in principle, only between 
God and the world, between contempt or eager acceptance, 
at the peril of one's soul, of all that makes up the beauty 
and the charm of earthly life. All terrestrial beauty bore the 
stain of sin. Even where art and piety succeeded in hallowing 
it by placing it in the service of religion, the artist or the lover 
of art had to take care not to surrender to the charms of colour 
and line. Now, all noble life was in its essential manifestations 
full of such beauty tainted by sin. Knightly exercises and 

From a MS. in the British Museum. 

[See page 32. 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 31 

courteous fashions with their worship of bodily strength ; 
honours and dignities with their vanity and their pomp, and 
especially love ; what were they but pride, envy, avarice and 
lust, all condemned by religion ! To be admitted as elements 
of higher culture all these things had to be ennobled and raised 
to the rank of virtue. 

It was here that the path of fancy proved its civilizing value* 
All aristocratic life in the later Middle Ages is a wholesale 
attempt to act the vision of a dream. In cloaking itself in 
the fanciful brilliance of the heroism and probity of a past age, 
the life of the nobles elevated itself towards the sublime. By 
this trait the Renaissance is linked to the times of feudalism. 

The need of high culture found its most direct expression 
in all that constitutes ceremonial and etiquette. The actions 
of princes, even daily and common actions, all assume a quasi- 
symbolic form and tend to raise themselves to the rank of 
mysteries. Births, marriages, deaths, are framed in an appara- 
tus of solemn and sublime formalities. The emotions which 
accompany them are dramatized and amplified. Byzantinism 
is nothing but the expression of the same tendency, and to 
realize that it survived the Middle Ages, it is sufficient to 
remember the Roi-Soleil. 

The court was pre-eminently the field where this sestheticism 
flourished. Nowhere did it attain to greater development 
than at the court of the dukes of Burgundy, which was more 
pompous and better arranged than that of the kings of 3?rance. 
It is well known how much importance the dukes attached to 
the magnificence of their household. A splendid court could, 
better than anything else, convince rivals of the high rank 
the dukes claimed to occupy among the princes of Europe. 
"After the deeds and exploits of war, which are. claims to 
glory," says Ghastellain, " the household is the first thing that 
strikes the eye, and which it is, therefore, most necessary to 
conduct and arrange well/' It was boasted that the Burgun- 
dian court was the richest and best regulated of all. Charles 
the Bold, especially, had the passion of magnificence. The 
archaic and idyllic function of justice administered by the 
prince in person, even to the humblest of his subjects, was 
practised by the duke, who was in the habit of sitting in 
audience with great solemnity two or three times a week, 

32 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

when every one might tender his petition. He would deliver 
judgment in the presence of all the noblemen of his household, 
seated on a " hautdos " covered with gold-cloth, and assisted 
by two " maltres des requetes," the warrant-officer and the 
clerk kneeling before him. The noblemen were a good deal 
bored, but there was no help for it, says Chastellain, who 
expresses some doubt as to the use of these audiences. " It 
seemed to be a magnificent and very praiseworthy thing, what- 
ever fruit it might bear. But I have neither heard nor seen 
such a thing done in my time by a prince or a king." 

For amusements, too, Charles felt the need of solemn and 
sliowy forms. " He was in the habit of devoting part of his 
day to serious occupations, and, with games and laughter 
mixed, pleased himself with fine speeches and with exhorting 
his nobles, like an orator, to practise virtue. And in this 
regard he was often seen sitting in a chair of state, with his 
nobles before him, remonstrating with them according to time 
and circumstances. And always, as the prince and chief of 
all, he was richly and magnificently dressed, more so than all 
the others." 

This " haute magnificence de cceur pour estre vu et regard^ 
en singulieres choses," 1 is it not altogether according to the 
spirit of the Renaissance, in spite of its naive and somewhat 
stiff outward appearance ? 

The meals of the duke were ceremonies of a dignity that 
was almost liturgic. The descriptions by the master of cere- 
monies, Olivier de la Marche, are well worth reading. His 
treatise, L'Etat de la Maison du due Charles de Bourgogne, 
composed at the request of the king of England, Edward IV, 
to serve him for a model, expounds the complicated service 
of breadmasters, carvers, cup-bearers, cooks, and the ordered 
course of the banquet, which was crowned by all the noblemen 
filing past the duke, who was still seated at table, " pour lui 
donner gloire." 

The kitchen regulations are truly Pantagruelistic. We may 
picture them in operation in the kitchen of heroic dimen- 
sions, with its seven gigantic chimneys, which can still be seen 
in the ducal palace of Dijon. The chief cook is seated on a 

1 High magnificence of heart to be seen and regarded in extraordinary 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 33 

raised chair, overlooking the whole apartment ; " and he must 
hold in his hand a big wooden ladle which serves him for a 
double purpose : on the one hand to taste soup and broth, 
on the other to chase the scullions from the kitchen to their 
work, and to strike them, if need be." 

La Marche speaks of the ceremonies which he describes, in 
as respectful and quasi-scholastic a tone as if he were treating 
of sacred mysteries. He submits to his readers grave questions 
of precedence and of service, and answers them most knpwingly. 
Why is the chief-cook present at the meals of his lord and 
not the " 6cuye^ de la cuisine " ? How, does one proceed to 
nominate the chief-cook ? To which he replies in his wisdom : 
When the office of chief-cook falls vacant at the court of the 
prince, the " riialtres d'hotel " call the " 6cuyers " and all the 
kitchen servants to them one by one. Each one solemnly 
gives his vote, attested by an oath, and in this way the chief- 
cook is elected. Who is to take the chief-cook's place in case 
he is absent : the " spit-master," or the " soup-master " ? 
Answer : Neither ; the substitute will be designated by elec- 
tion. Why do the " panetiers " and cup-bearers form the first 
and second ranks, above the carvers and cooks ? Because they 
are in charge of bread and wine, to which the sanctity of 
the sacrament gives a holy character. 

The extreme importance which attaches to questions of 
precedence and etiquette can only be explained by the almost 
religious significance ascribed to them wherever tradition is 
strong, and where a primitive spirit still prevails. They con- 
tain, so to say, a ritualistic element. All forms of etiquette are 
elaborated so as to constitute a noble game, which, although 
artificial, has not yet degenerated altogether into a vain 
parade. Sometimes the polite form takes such an importance 
that the gravity of the matter in hand is lost sight of. 

Before the battle of Cr6cy, four French knights returned 
from reconnoitring the English lines. The incident is told by 
Proissart. Impatient to hear the news they bring, the king 
rides forward to meet them and stops as soon as he sees them. 
They force their way through the ranks of the men-at-arms 
and reach the king. " What news, my lords ? " asks the king f 
Then they look at each other without speaking a word, for not 
one is willing to speak before his companions. And one said 


34 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

to the other : " Lord, do you say it, speak to the king. I shall 
not speak before you." So, for a time they were debating, 
as none would begin to speak " par honneur." Till at last the 
king ordered Sir Monne de Basele to tell what he knew. 

Messire Gaultier Rallart, " chevalier du guet " at Paris, 
in 1418, was in the habit of never going his rounds without 
being preceded "by three or four musicians playing brass 
instruments, which appeared a strange thing to the people, for 
they said that it seemed that he said to malefactors : ' Get 
away, for I am coming.' " This case, reported by the Burgher 
of Paris, of a chief of police warning malefactors of his approach, 
is not an isolated one. Jean de Boye tells the same thing of 
Jean Balue, bishop of Evreux in 1465. At night he went his 
rounds, "with clarions, trumpets and other instruments of 
music, through the streets and on the walls, which was not a 
customary thing to do for men of the watch." 

Even on the scaffold the honours due to rank are strictly 
observed. Thus the scaffold mounted by the Constable of 
Saint Pol is richly shrouded with black velvet strewn with 
fleurs-de-lis ; the cloth with which his eyes are bandaged, the 
cushion on which he kneels, are of crimson velvet, and the 
hangman is a fellow who has never yet executed a single 
criminal rather a doubtful privilege for the noble victim. 

The struggles of politeness, which some forty years ago 
were still characteristic of lower-middle-class etiquette, were 
extraordinarily developed in the court life of the fifteenth 
century. A person of fashion would have considered himself 
dishonoured by not according to a superior the place which 
belonged to him. The dukes of Burgundy give precedence 
scrupulously to their royal relations of France. Jean sans 
Peur never fails to show exaggerated respect to his daughter- 
in-law, the young princess Michelle of France ; he calls her 
Madame ; he bends his knee to the earth before her and at 
table always tries to help her, which she will not suffer him 
to do. When Philip the Good learns that his cousin, the 
dauphin, in consequence of a quarrel with his father, has 
removed to Brabant, he at once raises the siege of Deventer, 
which formed the first step to his very important scheme of 
conquering Friesland. He travels in hot haste to Brussels, 
there to receive his royal guest. As the moment of the 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 35 

meeting approaches, there follows a veritable race to be the 
first in doing homage to the other. At the news that the 
dauphin is coming to meet him, the old duke is extremely 
vexed ; he sends him " three, four messages, one after the 
other, to tell him, that if he should ride forward to meet him, 
he had taken an oath, he would quickly return to where he 
came from, and would retire before him so quickly and so 
far, that the other would not find him for a whole year, nor 
would see him, whatever he did ; for, he said, it would mean 
to him, the duke, ridicule and shame, which would never cease, 
but be imputed to him throughout the world, to all eternity 
as a great outrage and a foolish thing; which he was very 
anxious to avoid." Out of reverence for the blood of France, 
the duke, although in the territory of the Empire, prohibits 
his sword to be carried before him, on entering Brussels ; 
before reaching the palace, he hastily alights from his horse, 
enters the court and passes on quickly on perceiving the king's 
son, " who has come down from his apartment, holding the 
duchess by the hand, and rapidly goes to him in the inner 
court with wide-open arms." At once the old duke bares his 
head, kneels down for a moment and passes on quickly. The 
duchess holds the dauphin to prevent his advancing a step, 
the dauphin vainly seizes the duke to prevent him from kneeling, 
and makes a fruitless attempt to make him rise. Both cried 
with emotion, says Chastellain, and so did all the spectators. 

In the royal receptions of modern times we undoubtedly 
find ceremonies bordering on the ludicrous, but we shall look 
in vain for this passionate anxiety about formalities, which 
attests that towards the close of the Middle Ages a moral 
significance still attached to them. 

After the young count- of Charolais, out of modesty, has 
obstinately refused to use the wash-basin before a meal at 
the same time with the queen of England, the court talks the 
whole day of the incident; the duke, to whom the case is 
submitted, charges two noblemen to argue the case on both 
sides. Humble refusals to take precedence of another last 
upwards of a quarter of an hour ; the longer one resists, the 
more one is praised. People hide their hands to avoid the 
honour of a hand-kiss ; the queen of Spain does so on meeting 
the young archduke Philippe la Beau ; the latter waits patiently, 

36 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

for a moment of inattentiveness on the part of the queen, to 
seize her hand and kiss it. For once Spanish gravity was at 
fault ; the court laughed. 

AH the trifling amenities of social intercourse are minutely 
regulated. Etiquette not only prescribes which ladies of the 
court may hold each other by the hand, but also which lady 
is entitled to encourage others to this mark of intimacy, by 
beckoning them. This right of beckoning, "hucher," is a 
technical question for the old court lady Ali6nor de Poitiers, 
who has described the ceremonial of the court of Burgundy, 
The departure of a guest is opposed with troublesome insist- 
ence. Philip the Good refuses to let the queen of France go 
on the day fixed by the king, in spite of the fear which the 
poor queen and her train felt for the anger of Louis XI. 

Goethe has said that there is not an outward sign of polite* 
ness which has not a profound moral foundation, and Emerson 
expresses almost the same thought when calling politeness 
" virtue gone to seed." It would, perhaps, be an exaggeration 
to say that at the end of the Middle Ages people were still 
fully conscious of the ethical value of politeness ; but surely 
people still felt its aesthetic value, which marks the transition 
of these forms from sincere professions of affection to arid 
formalities of civility. 

It is obvious that this rich adornment of life flourished 
nowhere so much as at the court of princes, where people could 
devote time to it and had room for it. This same cult of forms, 
however, spread downwards from the nobility to the middle 
classes, where they lingered on, after having become obsolete 
in higher circles. Customs such as that of urging a guest to 
have another helping of a dish, or to prolong his visit, of 
refusing to take precedence, now hardly fashionable, were in 
full bloom in the fifteenth century, scnipulously observed, 
though at the same time an object of satire* 

Above all, public worship offered ample occasion for lengthy 
displays of civility. In the first place, there is the " offirande " } 
no one is willing to be the first to place his alms on the altar : 

" Passez. Non leray. Or avant ! 
Certes si ferez, ma cousine. 
-Non feray. Huehez no voisine, 
Qu'elle doit miens devant offrir. 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 37 

Vous ne le devriez souffrir." 
Dist la voisine ; " n'appartient 
A moy ; off rez, qu'a vous ne tient 
Que li prestres ne se delivre." * 

When at last the person'of highest rank has led the way, the 
same debate will be repeated in connection with the " pax," 
a disc of wood, silver or ivory, that was kissed after the Agnus 
Dei. Amid polite refusals to kiss first, the " pax " went from 
hand to hand among the notabilities, with the result of a 
.prolonged interruption of the service. 

" Bespondre doit la juene fame : 
Prenez, je ne prendray pas, dame, 
Si ferez, prenez, douce amie. 
Certes, je ne le prandray mie ; 
L'en me tendroit pour une sote. 
Baillez, damoiselle Marote. 
Non feray, Jhesucrist m'en gart ! 
Portez a ma dame Ermagart. 
Dame, prenez. Saincte Marie, 
Portez la paix a la baillie 
Non, mais a la gouverneresse." a 

Even a holy man like Fran9ois de Paule thought it his duty 
to take part in these childish observances ; the witnesses 
in the process for his canonization considered this behaviour 
a mark of great humility and merit, which shows that satire 
can have hardly exaggerated and that the ethical idea of these 
forms had not completely disappeared. 

With all this business of compliments, attending public 
worship became almost like dancing a minuet. For on 
leaving the church similar scenes are enacted, in getting a 
superior to walk on the right hand, or to be the first to cross a 
plank-bridge or enter a narrow lane. Arrived at home, the 
whole company has to be invited to enter and drink some wine 

1 " Go onI shall not Come forward ! Certainly, you will do so, cousin 
I shall not Call to our neighbour, That she should offer before you You 
should not suffer it," the neighbour says : " it does not belong To me ; offer, 
only for you The priest has to wait." 

1 The young woman should answer, Take it, I shall not, lady Yes, do, 
take it, dear friend I shall certainly not take it, dear ; People would take 
me for a fool Pass it, miss Marote I shall not, Jesus Christ forbid ! Take 
it to the lady Ermagart Lady, take it Holy Mary, Take the pax to the 
bailiffs wife No, but to the governor's wife. 

38 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

(as Spanish, courtesy demands to this day). The company 
excuse themselves politely, upon which it becomes requisite 
to accompany them part of the way, in spite of their repeated 

These futile forms become touching, and their moral and 
civilizing value is better understood, on remembering they 
emanated from the passionate soul of a savage race, struggling 
to tame its pride and its anger. Quarrels and acts of violence 
go hand in hand with the ceremonious abdication of all pride, 
of which they are the reverse. Noble families disputed fiercely 
for that same precedence in church by which they courteously 
pretended to set little store. 

Often enough native rudeness pierces through the thin 
veneer of politeness. Duke John of Bavaria, the elect of 
Lidge, is a guest at Paris. At the festivities given in his 
honour by the great nobles, he wins all their money from 
them in gaming. One of the princes cannot restrain himself 
any longer, and exclaims : " What devil of a priest have we 
got here ? " (It is the chronicler of Ltege, Jean de Stavelot, 
who reports the fact.) " What, is he to win all our money ? 
Whereupon my lord of Liege rose from the table and said 
angrily : I am not a priest and I do not want your money. 
And he took it and threw it all about the room ; and many 
marvelled greatly at his liberality." 

The magnificent order maintained at the court of Burgundy, 
praised by Christine de Pisan, by Chastellain, and by the 
Bohemian nobleman Leon of Eozmital, acquires its full signi- 
ficance only when compared with the disorder which reigned 
at the court of France, Burgundy's older and more illustrious 
model. In a number of his ballads Eustache Deschamps com- 
plains of the misery at court, and these complaints are not 
merely variations on the familiar theme of disparagement of 
court life. Bad fare and poor lodgings ; continual noise and 
disorder ; swearing and quarrels ; jealousies and injuries ; in 
short, the court is an abyss of sins, the gate of hell. 

Neither the sacred respect for royalty, nor the almost 
sacramental value attaching to ceremonies, could prevent 
decorum from being occasionally ignominiously thrust aside 
on the most solemn occasions. At the coronation banquet 
of Charles VI, in 1380, the duke of Burgundy seeks, by force, 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 39 

to take the place to which he is entitled, as doyen of the peers, 
between the king and the duke of Anjou. Already the train 
of the duke begins to thrust aside their opponents ; threaten- 
ing cries arise, a scuffle is breaking out when the king prevents 
it, by doing justice to the claims of the duke of Burgundy. 

Even the infractions of solemn forms tended to become 
forms themselves. It seems that it was more or less a custom 
for the funeral of a king of Prance to be interrupted by a 
quarrel, of which the object was the possession of the utensils 
of the ceremony. In 1422 the corporation of the " henouars," 
or salt-weighers, of Paris, whose privilege it was to carry the 
king's corpse to Saint-Denis, came to blows with the monks 
of the abbey, as both parties claimed the pall covering the 
bier of Charles VI. 

An analogous case occurred in 1461, at the funeral of Charles 
YII. In consequence of an altercation with the monks, the 
" henouars " put down the coffin when they have come half- 
way and refuse to carry it any further, unless they are paid ten 
pounds Paris. The Lord Grand Master of the Horse quiets 
them by promising to pay them out of his own pocket, but the 
delay had been so long that the cortege arrives at Saint- 
Denis only towards eight at night. After the interment, a 
new conflict arises with regard to the pall of gold-cloth, between 
the monks and the Grand Master of the Horse himself. 

The great publicity which it was customary to give to all 
important events in the life of a king, and which survived to 
the times of Louis XIV, sometimes led to a pitiable break- 
down of discipline on the most solemn occasions. At the 
coronation banquet of 1380, the throng of spectators, guests 
and servants was such that the constable and the marshal of 
Sancerre had to serve up the dishes on horseback. At the 
coronation of Henry VI of England at Paris, in 1431, the people 
force their way at daybreak into the great hall where the feast 
was to take place, " some to look on, others to regale them- 
selves, others to pilfer or to steal victuals or other things." 
The members of the Parlement and of the University, the 
provost of the merchants and the aldermen, after having 
succeeded with great difficulty in entering the hall, find the 
tables assigned to them occupied by all sorts of artisans. An 
attempt is made to remove them, "but when they had 

40 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

succeeded in driving away one or two, six or eight sat down on 
the other side." At the inauguration of Louis XI, in 1461, 
the precaution had been taken of closing the doors of the 
cathedral of Reims early and placing a guard there, so that 
not more persons should enter the church than the choir could 
hold. Nevertheless, the spectators so pressed round the altar 
where the king was anointed, that the prelates assisting the 
archbishop could scarcely move, and the princes of the blood 
were nearly squeezed to death in their seats of honour. 

The passionate and violent soul of the age, always vacil- 
lating between tearful piety and frigid cruelty, between 
respect and insolence, between despondency and wantonness, 
could not dispense with the severest rules and the strictest 
formalism. All emotions required a rigid system of con- 
ventional forms, for without them passion and ferocity would 
have made havoc of life. By this sublimating faculty each 
event became a spectacle for others ; mirth and sorrow were 
artificially and theatrically made up. For want of the faculty 
to express emotions in a simple and natural way, recourse 
must needs be had to aesthetic representations of sorrow and 
of joy. 

The ceremonies accompanying birth, marriage and death 
fully assumed this character of spectacles. ^Esthetic values 
have here taken the place of their old religious (pagan for the 
most part) or magic signification. 

Nowhere does the formalizing of the emotions assume a 
more suggestive appearance than in the sphere of mourning 
rites. There is a tendency in primitive times to exaggerate 
the expression of grief, like that of joy. Pompous mourning 
is the counterpart of immoderate rejoicings and of insane 
luxury. At the death of Jean sans Peur the mourning is 
organized with incomparable magnificence, in which there 
was, no doubt, also a political by-purpose, The retinue 
escorting Philip of Burgundy, who went out to meet the kings 
of France and of England, carry two thousand black vanes, 
to say nothing of the standards and banners seven yards long, 
of the same colour. The carriage of the duke and also the 
state seats have been painted black for the occasion. At 
the meeting of Troyes, Philip wears a mantle of black velvet 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the 8ublime Life 41 

which is so long as to hang down from his horse to the ground. 
For a long time afterwards he and his court only show them- 
selves dressed in black. 

Amidst the general black of court mourning the red worn 
only by the king of France (not even by the queen) must have 
made a most startling contrast. In 1393 the Parisians had 
the surprise of a pompous funeral all in white : that of the 
king of Armenia, Leon de Lusignan, who died in exile. 

The manifestations of sorrow at the death of a prince, if 
at times purposely exaggerated, undoubtedly often enfolded 
a deep and unfeigned grief. The general instability of the 
soul, the extreme horror of death, the fervour of family 
attachment and loyalty, all contributed to make the decease 
of a king or a prince an afflicting event. A savage exuberance 
of grief breaks out when the news is brought to Ghent of the 
murder of Jean sans Peur. All chronicles confirm it ; Chastel- 
lain is diffuse on the subject. His heavy and trailing style is 
wonderfully well adapted for reporting the long harangue of 
the bishop of Tournay to prepare the young duke for the 
awful tidings, as well as for the majestic lamentations of Philip 
and of Michelle of France, his consort. Half a century later we 
see Charles the Bold, at the death-bed of his father, weeping, 
crying out, wringing his hands, falling on the ground, " so 
as to make every one wonder at his unmeasured grief." 

Whatever may be the share of the court style in these 
narratives, what they tell us fits in too well with the over- 
strung sensibility of the epoch, and at the same time with the 
craving for clamorous mourning as an edifying thing, not to 
be substantially true. Primitive custom demanding that the 
dead should be publicly and loudly lamented still survived in 
considerable strength in the fifteenth century. Noisy mani- 
festations of sorrow were thought fine and becoming, and all 
things connected with a deceased person had to bear witness 
to unmeasured grief. 

The extreme fear of announcing a death likewise bears 
testimony to the same intermingling of primitive ritual and 
passionate emotionalism. The death of her father is kept a 
secret from the countess of Charolais, who is pregnant. During 
an illness of Philip the Good, the court does not dare to 
announce to him a single death touching him at all nearly ; 

42 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Adolphus of Cleves is forbidden to go into mourning for his 
wife, out of consideration for the duke, who is ill. The chan- 
cellor Nicolas Rolin dies : the duke is left in ignorance of his 
decease. Yet he begins to suspect it and asks the bishop of 
Tournay, who has come to visit him, to tell him the truth. 
" My liege, says the bishop in sooth, he is dead, indeed, for 
he is old and broken, and cannot live long. Dea ! says the 
duke, I do not ask that. I ask if he is truly dead and gone. 
H& ! my liege the bishop retorts, he is not dead, but paralysed 
on one side, and therefore practically dead. The duke grows 
angry. Vechy merveilles ! Tell me clearly, now, whether 
he is dead. Only then says the bishop : Yes, truly, my liege, 
he is really dead/' 

Does not this curious way of announcing a death suggest 
some trace of ancient superstition, more even than the wish 
to spare a sick man ? The anxiety to exclude systematically 
the thought of death denotes a state of mind analogous to 
that of Louis XI, who would never again wear the dress he 
had on, nor use the horse he was riding at the moment when 
evil tidings were announced to him, and who even had a part 
of the forest of Loches cut down where the tidings of the death 
of a new-born son were brought to him. "Monsieur the 
Chancellor," the king writes on May 25, 1483, " I thank you 
for the letters etc., but I beg you to send me no more by him 
who brought them, for I found his face terribly changed since 
I last saw him, and I tell you on my word that he made me 
much afraid, and farewell." 

The cultural value of mourning is that it gives grief its form 
and rhythm. It transfers actual life to the sphere of the 
drama. It shoes it with the cothurnus. Mourning at the 
court of France or of Burgundy, at the time with which we 
are concerned, has to be regarded as a sort of acted elegy. 
Funeral ceremonial and funeral poetry, which in primitive 
civilizations are still undistinguished (in Ireland, for instance), 
had not yet been completely separated. Mourning still con- 
tinued a remnant of its poetical functions. It dramatized 
the effects of grief. 

The nobler the deceased and the survivors are, the more 
heroic the mourning. For a whole year the queen of France 
may not leave the room in which the death of her consort was 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 43 

announced to her. For the princesses the seclusion lasts six 
weeks. During all the time that Madame de Charolais is in 
mourning for her father, she remains in bed, propped up by 
cushions and dressed in bands, coif and mantle. The rooms 
are upholstered in black; the floor is covered with a large 
black cloth. Ali6nor de Poitiers has described for us all the 
gradations of the ceremonial, varying according to rank. 

Under this fine outward show the feelings which are thus 
exhibited and formalized often tend to disappear. The 
pathetic posture belies itself behind the scenes. " State " 
and real life are clearly and naively distinguished. Ali&ior, 
having described the sumptuous mourning of the countess 
of Charolais, adds : " When Madame was * en son particulier * 
she by no means always lay in bed, nor confined herself to 
one room." 

Next to mourning, the lying-in chamber affords ample 
opportunity for fine ceremonial and differentiation according 
to rank. The colours and materials of coverings and clothes 
all have a meaning. Green is the privilege of queens and 
of princesses, whereas it was white in preceding ages. " La 
chambre verde " was forbidden even to countesses. During 
the lying-in of Isabelle de Bourbon, mother of Mary of Bur- 
gundy, five large state beds, all draped with an artful fabric 
of green curtain, remain empty, like state coaches at funerals, 
only to serve for ceremonious use at the baptism, while the 
mother reposes on a low couch near the fire. The blinds are 
kept closed all the time, and the room is lighted by candles. 

Through all the ranks of society a severe hierarchy of material 
and colour kept classes apart, and gave to each estate or rank 
an outward distinction, which preserved and exalted the 
feeling of dignity. 

Moreover, outside the sphere of birth, marriage and death, 
a strongly felt esthetic need tends to create a solemn and 
decorous form for every event and every notable deed. A 
sinner who humbles himself, a condemned prisoner who re- 
pents, a holy person sacrificing himself, all afford a kind of 
public spectacle. Public life in this way almost presents the 
appearance of a perpetual " morale en action." 

Even intimate relations in medieval society are rather 
paraded than kept secret. Not only love, but friendship too, 

44 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

has its finely made up forms. Two friends dress in the same 
way, share the same room, or the same bed, and call one 
another by the name of " mignon." It is good form for the 
prince to have his minion. We must not let the well-known 
case of Henry III of France affect for us the ordinary accept- 
ance of the word " mignon " in the fifteenth century. There 
have been princes and favourites in the Middle Ages too who 
were accused of culpable relations Richard II of England and 
Robert de Vere, for instance but minions would not have been 
spoken of so freely, if we had to regard this institution as 
connoting anything but sentimental friendship. It was a 
distinction of which the friends boasted in public. On the 
occasion of solemn receptions the prince leans on the shoulder 
of the minion, as Charles V at his abdication leaned on William 
of Orange. To understand the duke's sentiment towards Cesario 
in Twelfth Night, we must recall this form of sentimental 
friendship, which maintained itself as a formal institution till 
the days of James I and George Villiers. 

The complex of all these fine forms, veiling cruel reality 
under apparent harmony, made life an art. This art leaves 
no traces, and it is for this reason that its cultural importance 
has been noticed too little. The tenderness of compliments, 
the charming fiction of modesty and altruism, the hieratic 
pomp of ceremonies, the pageant of marriage, all this is ephe- 
meral and may seem culturally sterile. That which gives 
them their style and expression is fashion, not art, and fashion 
leaves no monuments behind. 

And yet, at the close of the Middle Ages, the connections 
between art and fashion were closer than at present. Art had 
not yet fled to transcendental heights ; it formed an integral 
part of social life. In the domain of costume art and fashion 
were still inextricably blended, style in dress stood nearer to 
artistic style than later, and the function of costume in social 
life, that of accentuating the strict order of society itself, 
almost partook of the liturgic. The amazing extravagance 
of dress during the last centuries of the Middle Ages was, as 
it were, the expression of an overflowing aesthetic craving, 
which art alone did not suffice to satisfy. 

All relations, all dignities, all actions, all sentiments, had 

Pessimism and the Ideal of the Sublime Life 45 

found their style. The higher the moral value of a social 
function, the nearer its form of expression approached to 
pure art. Whereas ceremony and courtesy have no other 
expression than conversation and luxury, and pass away 
without visible residue, the rites of mourning do not exhaust 
themselves in funeral pomp and fictions of etiquette, but leave 
a durable and artistic expression in the sepulchral monument. 
As in the case of marriage and baptism, the link of mourning 
with religion heightens its cultural value. 

Still, the richest flower of beautiful forms was reserved for 
three other elements of life courage, honour and love. 


When, somewhat more than a hundred years ago, medieval 
history began to assert itself as an object of interest and 
admiration, the first element of it to draw general attention 
and to become a source of enthusiasm and inspiration was 
chivalry. To the epoch of romanticism the Middle Ages and 
Chivalry were almost synonymous terms. Historical imagina- 
tion dwelt by preference on crusades, tournaments, knights- 
errant. Since then history has become democratic. Chivalry 
is now only seen as a very special efflorescence of civilization, 
which, far from having controlled the course of medieval 
history, has been rather a secondary factor in the political 
and social evolution of the epoch. For us the problems of the 
Middle Ages lie first of all in the development of communal 
organization, of economic conditions, of monarchic power, of 
administrative and judicial institutions ; and, in the second 
place, in the domain of religion, scholasticism and art. Towards 
the end of the period our attention is almost entirely occupied 
by the genesis of new forms of political and economic life 
(absolutism, capitalism), and new modes of expression (Renais- 
sance). From this point of view feudalism and chivalry appear 
as little more than a remnant of a superannuated order already 
crumbling into insignificance, and, for the understanding of 
the epoch, almost negligible. 

^ Nevertheless, an assiduous reader of the chronicles and 
literature of the fifteenth century will hardly resist the im- 
pression that nobility and chivalry occupy a much more con- 
siderable place there than our general conception of the epoch 
would imply. The reason of this disproportion lies in the 
fact, that long after nobility and feudalism had ceased to be 
really essential factors in the state and in society, they con- 
tinued to impress the mind as dominant forms of life. The 


The Hierarchic Conception of Society 47 

men of the fifteenth century could not understand that the 
real moving powers of political and social evolution might be 
looked for anywhere else than in the doings of a warlike or 
courtly nobility. They persisted in regarding the nobility 
as the foremost of social forces and attributed a very exag- 
gerated importance to it, undervaluing altogether the social 
significance of the lower classes. 

So the mistake, it may be argued, is theirs, and our con- 
ception of the Middle Ages is right. This would be so if, to 
understand the spirit of an age, it sufficed to know its real and 
hidden forces and not its illusions, its fancies and its errors. 
But for the history of civilization every delusion or opinion of 
an epoch has the value of an important fact. In the fifteenth 
century chivalry was still, after religion, the strongest of all 
the ethical conceptions which dominated the mind and the 
heart. It was thought of as the crown of the whole social 
system. Medieval political speculation is imbued to the 
marrow with the idea of a structure of society based upon 
distinct orders. This notion of " orders " is itself by no means 
fixed. The words " estate " and " order," almost synony- 
mous, designate a great variety of social realities. The idea 
of an " estate " is not at all limited to that of a class ; it extends 
to every social function, to every profession, to every group. 
Side by side with the French system of the three estates of 
the realm, which in England, according to Professor Pollard, 
was only secondarily and theoretically adopted after the 
French model, we find traces of a system of twelve social 
estates. The functions or groupings, which the Middle Ages 
designated by the words " estate " and " order," are of very 
diverse natures. There are, first of all, the estates of the 
realm, but there are also the trades, the state of matrimony 
and that of virginity, the state of sin. At court there are the 
" four estates of body and mouth " : bread-masters, cup-bearers, 
carvers, and cooks. In the Church there are sacerdotal orders 
and monastic orders. Finally, there are the different orders 
of chivalry. That which, in medieval thought, establishes 
unity in the very dissimilar meanings of the word, is the 
conviction that every one of these groupings represents a 
divine institution, an element of the organism of Creation 
emanating from the will of God, constituting an actual entity, 

48 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

and being, at bottom, as venerable as the angelic hierarchy. 

Now, if the degrees of the social edifice are conceived as the 
lower steps of the throne of the Eternal, the value assigned 
to each order will not depend on its utility, but on its sanctity 
that is to say, its proximity to the highest place. Even if the 
Middle Ages had recognized the diminishing importance of 
the nobility as a limb of the social body, that would not have 
changed the conception they had of its high value, no more 
than the spectacle of a violent and dissipated nobility ever 
hindered the veneration of the order in itself. To the catholic 
soul the unworthiness of the persons never compromises the 
sacred character of the institution. The morals of the clergy, 
or the decadence of chivalrous virtues, might be stigmatized, 
without deviating for a moment from the respect due to the 
Church or the nobility as such. The estates of society cannot 
but be venerable and lasting, because they all have been 
ordained by God. The conception of society in the Middle 
Ages is statical, not dynamical. 

The aspect which society and politics assume under the 
influence of these general ideas is bound to be a strange one. 
The chroniclers of the fifteenth century have, nearly all, been 
the dupes of an absolute misappreciation of their times, of 
which the real moving forces escaped their attention. Chas- 
tellain, the historiographer of the dukes of Burgundy, may 
serve as an instance. A Fleming by birth, he had been face 
to face, in the Netherlands, with the power and the wealth of 
the commoners, nowhere stronger and more self-conscious 
than there. The extraordinary fortune of the Burgundian 
branch of Valois transplanted to Flanders was in reality based 
on the wealth of the Flemish and Brabant towns. Neverthe- 
less, dazzled by the splendour and magnificence of an extrava- 
gant court, Chastellain imagined that the power of the house 
of Burgundy was especially due to the heroism and the devo- 
tion of knighthood. 

God, he says, created the common people to till the earth 
and to procure by trade the commodities necessary for life ; 
he created the clergy for the works of religion ; the nobles that 
they should cultivate virtue and maintain justice, so that the 
deeds and the morals of these fine personages might be a 
pattern to others* All the highest tasks in the state are 

The Hierarchic Conception of Society 49 

assigned by ChasteUain to the nobility; notably those of 
protecting the Church, augmenting the faith, defending the 
people from oppression, maintaining public prosperity, com- 
bating violence and tyranny, confirming peace. Veracity, 
courage, integrity, liberality, appertain properly to the noble 
class, and French nobility, according to this pompous pane- 
gyrist, comes up to this ideal image. In spite of his general 
pessimism, Chastellain does his best tp see his times through 
the tinted glasses of this aristocratic conception. 

This failing to see the social importance of the common 
people, which is proper to nearly all authors of the fifteenth 
century, may be regarded as a kind of mental inertia, which 
is a phenomenon of frequent occurrence and vital importance 
in history. The idea which people had of the third estate had 
not yet been corrected and remodelled in accordance with 
altered realities. This idea was simple and summary, like 
those miniatures of breviaries, or those bas-reliefs of cathedrals, 
representing the tasks of the year in the shape of the toiling 
labourer, the industrious artisan, or the busy merchant. Among 
archaic types like these there is neither place for the figure of 
the wealthy patrician encroaching upon the power of the 
nobleman, nor for that of the militant representative of a 
revolutionary craft-guild. Nobody perceived that the nobility 
only maintained itself, thanks to the blood and the riches of 
the commoners. No distinction in principle was made, in the 
third estate, between rich and poor citizens, nor between 
townsmen and country-people. The figure of the poor peasant 
alternates indiscriminately with that of the wealthy burgher, 
but a sound definition of the economic and political functions 
of these different classes does not take shape. In 1412 the 
reform programme of an Augustinian friar demanded in all 
earnest that every non-noble person in France should either 
devote himself to some handicraft or to labour, or be banished 
from the kingdom, evidently considering commerce and law 
as useless occupations. 

Chastellain, who is very naive in political matters and very 
susceptible to ethical delusions, attributes sublime virtues 
only to the nobility, and only inferior ones to the common 
people. " Coming to the third estate, making up the kingdom 
as a whole, it is the estate of the good towns, of merchants and 

50 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

of labouring men, of whom it is not becoming to give such a 
long exposition as of the others, because it is hardly possible 
to attribute great qualities to them, as they are of a servile 
degree." Humility, diligence, obedience to the king, and 
docility in bowing " voluntarily to the pleasure of the lords," 
those are the qualities which bring credit to " cestuy bas estat 
de Frangois." 1 

May not this strange infatuation, by preventing them from 
foreseeing future times of economic expansion have contri- 
buted to engender pessimism in minds such as that of Chastel- 
lain, who could only expect the good of mankind from the 
virtues of the nobility? 

Chasteflain still calls the rich burghers simply villeins. He 
has not the slightest notion of middle-class honour. Duke 
Philip the Good was wont to abuse his power by marrying his 
archers or other servants of lesser gentility to rich burgher 
widows or heiresses. To avoid those alliances, the parents on 
their side married their daughters as soon as they reached 
marriageable age. Jacques du Clercq mentions the case of a 
widow, who for this reason remarried two days after the 
burial of her husband. Once the duke, while engaged in such 
marriage-broking, met with an obstinate refusal from a rich 
brewer of Lille, who felt affronted at such an alliance for his 
daughter. The duke secured the person of the young girl ; 
the father removed with all his possessions to Tournay, outside 
the ducal jurisdiction, in order to be able to bring the matter 
before the Parlement of Paris. This brought him nothing 
but vexation, and he fell ill with grief. At last he sent his 
wife to Lille " in order to beg mercy of the duke and give up 
his daughter to him." The latter, in honour of Good Friday, 
gave her back to the mother, but with scornful and humilia- 
ting words. Chastellain's sympathies are all on the side of his 
master, though, on other occasions, he did not at all fear 
to record his disapproval of the duke's conduct. For the 
injured father he has no other terms than " this rebellious 
rustic brewer," " and such a naughty villein too." 

There are in the sentiments of the aristocratic class towards 
the people two parallel currents. Side by side with this 
haughty disdain of the small man, already a little out of date, 
1 This low estate of Frenchmen. 

The Hierarchic Conception of Society 51 

we notice a sympathetic attitude in the nobility, which seems 
in absolute contrast with it. Whereas feudal satire goes on 
expressing hatred mixed with contempt and sometimes with 
fear, as in the Proverbes del Vilain and in the K erelslied, the 
song of the Flemish villagers, the code of aristocratic ethics 
teaches, on the other hand, a sentimental compassion for the 
miseries of the oppressed and defenceless people. Despoiled 
by war, exploited by the officials, the people live in the greatest 

" Si fault de faim perir les innocens 
Dont les grans loups font chacun jour ventre*e, 
Qui amassent a milliers et a cens 
Les faulx tr&sors ; c'est le grain, c'est le b!6e, . 
Le sang, les os qui ont la terre are*e 
Des povres gens, dont leur esperit crie 
Vengence a Dieu, v6 a la seignourie." * 

They suffer in patience. "The prince knows nothing of 
this." If, at times, they murmur, " poor sheep, poor foolish 
people," a word from the prince will suffice to appease them. 
The devastation and insecurity which in consequence of the 
Hundred Years' War had finally spread over almost all France, 
gave these laments a sad actuality. From the year 1400 
downwards there is no end to the complaints about the fate 
of the peasants, plundered, squeezed, maltreated by gangs of 
enemies or friends, robbed of their cattle, driven from their 
homes. They are expressed by the great Churchmen who 
favoured reform, such as Nicolas de Clemanges, in his Liber 
de lapsu et reparationejiistitice, or Gerson in his political sermon 
Vivat rex, preached on November 7, 1405, in the queen's 
palace at Paris, before the regents and the court. " The poor 
man " said the brave chancellor " will not have bread to eat, 
except perhaps a handful of rye or barley ; his poor wife will 
lie in and they will have four or six little ones about the hearth 
or the oven, which perchance will be warm ; they will ask for 
bread, they will scream, mad with hunger. The poor mother 
will but have a very little salted bread to put into their mouths. 

1 The innocents must starve With which the big wolves fill their belly 
every day, Who by thousands and hundreds hoard Hi-gotten treasures ; it 
is the grain, it is the corn, The blood, the bones of poor people, which have 
ploughed the earth And therefore their souls call Upon God for vengeance and 
woe to lordship. 

52 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Now such misery ought to suffice ; but no : the plunderers 
will come, who will seek everything. . , . Everything will be 
taken, and snapped up ; and we need not ask who pays." 

Statesmen, too, make themselves the spokesmen of the 
miserable people, and utter their complaints. Jean Jouvenel 
laid them before the States of Blois in 1433, and those of Orleans 
in 1439. In a petition presented to the king at the meeting 
of the States of Tours in 1484, these complaints take the direct 
form of a political " remonstrance." 

The chroniclers could not help reverting to the subject again 
and again : it was bound up with their subject-matter. 

The poets in their turn took hold of the motif. Alain 
Chartier treats it in his Quadriloge Invectif, and Robert Gaguin 
in his Debat du Laboureur, du Prestre et du Gendarme, inspired 
by Chartier. A hundred years after La Complainte du pavre 
Cowmun et des povres Laboureurs de France of about 1400, 
Jean Molinet was to compose a Resource du petit Pewple. Jean 
Meschinot never tires of reminding the ruling classes of the 
fact that the common people are being neglected. 

" O Dieu, voyez du conumin 1'indigence, 
Pourvoyez-y & toute diligence : 
Las 1 par f aim, f roid, paour et misere tremble. 
S'il a peche 1 ou commis negligence 
Bncontre vous, il demande indulgence. 
N'est-ce pitie* des biens que Ton lui emble T 
H n'a plus bled pour porter au molin, 
On lui oste draps de laine et de lin, 
L'eaue, sans plus, lui demeure pour boire." * 

This pity, however, remains sterile. It does not result in 
acts, not even in programmes, of reform. The felt need of 
serious reform is wanting to it and will be wanting for a long 
time. In La Bruyfcre, in F6nelon, perhaps in the elder Mira- 
beau, the theme is still the same ; even they have not yet got 
beyond theoretical and stereotyped commiseration* 

It is natural that the belated chivalrous spirits of the fifteenth 

1 O God, see the indigence of the common people, Provide for it with all 
speed : Alas I with hunger, cold, fear and misery they tremble, If they 
have sinned or are guilty of negligence Toward Thee, they beg indulgence. 
Is it not a pity that they are bereft of their goods ? They have no more 
corn to take to the mill, Woollen and linen goods are taken from them. Only 
water is left to them to drink. 

The Hierarchic Conception of Society 53 

century join in this chorus of pity for the people. Was it 
not the knight's duty to protect the weak? The ideal of 
chivalry implied, after all, two ideas which might seem to 
concur in forbidding a haughty contempt for the small man ; 
the ideas, namely, that true nobility is based on virtue, and 
that all men are equal. 

We should be careful not to overrate the importance of 
these two ideas. They were equally stereotyped and theoreti- 
cal. To acknowledge true chivalry a matter of the heart 
should not be considered a victory over the spirit of feudalism 
or an achievement of the Renaissance. This medieval notion 
of equality is by : no means a manifestation of the spirit of 
revolt. It does not owe its origin to radical reformers. In 
quoting the text of John Ball, who preached the revolt of 
1381, " When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the 
gentleman ? " one is inclined to fancy that the nobles must 
have trembled on hearing it. But, in fact, it was the nobility 
themselves who for a long time had been repeating this ancient 

The two ideas of the equality of men and of the nature of 
true nobility were commonplaces of courteous literature, just 
as they were in the salons of the " ancien r6gime." Both 
derived from antiquity. The poetry of the troubadours had 
sung and popularized them. Every one applauded them. 

u Dont vient a tons souveraine noblesse ? 
Du gentil cuer, par de nobles mours. 
. . . Nulz n'est villains se du cuer ne lui muet." x 

The notion of equality had been borrowed by the Fathers 
of the Church from Cicero and Seneca. Gregory the Great, 
the great initiator of the Middle Ages, had given a text for 
coming ages in his Omnes namque homines natura aequales 
sumus. It had been repeated in all keys, but an actual social 
purport was not attached to it. It was a moral sentence, 
nothing more ; to the men of the Middle Ages it meant the 
approaching equality of death, and was far from holding out, 
as a consolation for the iniquities of this world, a deceptive 
prospect of equality on earth. The thought of equality in 

i Whence comes to all sovereign nobility ? From a gentle heart,, adorned 
by noble morals. ... No one is a villein unless it comes from his heart. 

54 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the Middle Ages is closely akin to a memento mori. Thus we 
find it in a ballad by Eustache Desehamps, where Adam 
addresses his posterity: 

"Enfans, enfans, de moy, Adam, venuz, 
Qui apres Dieu suis peres premerain 
Cre6 de ltd, tons estes descenduz 
Naturelment de ma coste et d'Evain ; 
Vo mere fut. Comment est Pun villain 
Et 1'autre prant le nom de gentillesce 
De vous, freres ? dont vient tele noblesce ? 
Je ne le s$ay, se ce n'est des vertus, 
Et les villains de tout vice qui blesce : 
Vous estes tous d'une pel revestuz. 

" Quant Dieu me fist de la boe ou je fus, 
Homme mortel, faible, pesant et vain, 
Eve de moy, il nous crea tous nuz, 
Mais 1'esperit nous inspira a plain 
Perpetuel puis eusmes soif et faim, 
Labour, dolour, et enfans en tristesce ; 
Pour noz peohiez enfantent a destresce 
Toutes femmes ; vilment estes conguz, 
Vous estes tous d'une pel revestuz. 

"Les roys puissans, les contes et les dus, 
Le gouverneur du peuple et souverain, 
Quant ilz naissent, de quoy sont ilz vestuz ? 
D'une orde pel. 

. . . Prince, pensez, sans avoir en desdain 
Les povres gens, que la mort tient le frain." * 

1 Children, descended from me, Adam, Who am the first father, after God, 
Created by him, you are all born Naturally of my rib and of Eve ; She was 
your mother. How is it that one is a villein And the other assumes the 
name of gentility, Of you, brothers ? Whence comes such nobility ? I do 
not know, unless it springs from virtues And the villeins from all vice, which 
wounds : You are all covered by the same skin. 

When God made me out of the mud where I lay, A mortal man, feeble, 
heavy and vain, Eve out of me, he created us quite nude, But the spirit 
fully inspired us, Afterwards we were perpetually thirsty and hungry, We 
laboured, suffered, children were born in sorrow ; For our sins, all women 
bear children In pain ; vilely you are conceived. Whence then comes this 
name : villein that wounds the hearts ? You are all covered bv the same 

The mighty kings, the counts and the dxikes, The governor of the people 
and sovereign, When they are born, with what are they clothed ? By a 
dirty skin. . .. . Prince, remember, without disdaining The poor people, 
that death holds the reins. . 

The Hierarchic Conception of Society 55 

Jean le Make de Beiges, in Les Chansons de Namur, pur- 
posely mentions the exploits of rustic heroes, to acquaint the 
nobles with the fact that those whom they treat as villeins 
are sometimes animated by the greatest gallantry. For the 
reason of these poetical admonitions on the subject of true 
nobility and human equality generally lies in the stimulus they 
impart to the nobles to adapt themselves to the true ideal of 
knighthood, and thereby to support and to purify the world. 
In the virtues of the nobles, says Ohastellain, lies the remedy for 
the evils of the time ; the weal of the kingdom, the peace of the 
Church, the rule of justice, depend on them. " Two things," 
it is said in Le Livre des Faicts du Mareschal Bowicaut, " have, 
by the will of God, been established in the world, like two 
pillars to sustain the order of divine and human laws . . . 
and without which the world would be like a confused thing 
and without any order . . . these two flawless pillars are 
Chivalry and Learning, which go very well together.' * * * Learn- 
ing, Faith and Chivalry " are the three flowers of the Chapel 
des Fleurs-de-lis of Philippe de Vitri; it is the duty of knight- 
hood to preserve and protect the two others. 

Long after the Middle Ages a certain equivalence of knight- 
hood and a doctor's degree was generally acknowledged. This 
parallelism indicates the high ethical value attaching to the 
idea of chivalry. The two dignities of a knight and of a 
doctor are conceived as the sacred forms of two superior 
functions, that of courage and of knowledge. By being 
knighted the man of action is raised to an ideal level ; by tak- 
ing his doctor's degree the man of knowledge receives a badge 
of superiority. They are stamped, the one as a hero, the other 
as a sage. The devotion to a higher life-work is expressed 
by a ceremonial consecration. If as an element of social 
life the idea of chivalry has been of much greater importance, 
it was because it contained, besides its ethical value, an abun- 
dance of aesthetic value of the most suggestive kind. 


Medieval thought in general was saturated in every part 
with the conceptions of the Christian faith. In a similar way 
and in a ipore limited sphere the thought of all those who lived 
in the circles of court or castle was impregnated with the idea 
of chivalry. Their whole system of ideas was permeated by 
the fiction that chivalry ruled the world. This conception 
even tends to invade the transcendental domain. The primor- 
dial feat of arms of the archangel Michael is glorified by Jean 
Molinet as "the first deed of knighthood and chivalrous 
prowess that was ever achieved." Prom the archangel 
"terrestrial knighthood and human chivalry" take their 
origin, and in so far are but an imitation of the host of the 
angels around God's throne. 

This illusion of society based on chivalry curiously clashed 
with the reality of things. The chroniclers themselves, in 
describing the history of their time, tell us far more of covetous- 
ness, of cruelty, of cool calculation, of well-understood self- 
interest, and of diplomatic subtlety, than of chivalry. None 
the less, all, as a rule, profess to write in honour of chivalry, 
which is the stay of the world. Froissart, Monstrelet* 
d'Escouohy, Chastellain, La Marche, Molinet, all, with the 
exception only of Philippe de Commines and Thomas Basin, 
open their works by high-sounding declarations of their pur- 
pose of glorifying knightly bravery and virtues, of recording 
" noble enterprises, conquests, feats of heroism and of arms/' 
" the great marvels and the fine feats of arms that have come 
to pass because of the great wars." History, to them, is 
illumined throughout by this their ideal. Later, when writing, 
they forget it more or less. Proissart, himself the author of a 
super-romantic epic of chivalry, Meliador, narrates endless 
treasons and cruelties, without being aware of the contra- 


The Idea of Chivalry 57 

diction between his general conceptions and the contents of 
his narrative. Molinet, in his chronicle, from time to time 
remembers his chivalrous intention, and interrupts his matter- 
of-fact account pf events, to unbosom himself in a flood of 
high-flown terms. 

The conception of chivalry constituted for these authors 
a sort of magic key, by the aid of which they explained 
to themselves the motives of politics and of history. The 
confused image of contemporaneous history being much too 
complicated for their comprehension, they simplified it, as 
it were, by the fiction of chivalry as a moving force (not con- 
sciously, of course). A very fantastic and rather shallow 
point of view, no doubt. How much vaster is ours, embracing 
all sorts of economic and social forces and causes. Still, this 
vision of a world ruled by chivalry, however superficial ajid 
mistaken it might be, was the best they had in the matter of 
general political ideas. It served them as a formula to under- 
stand, in their poor way, the appalling complexity of the 
world's way. What they saw about them looked primarily 
mere violence and confusion. War in the fifteenth century 
tended to be a chronic process of isolated raids and incursions ; 
diplomacy was mostly a very solemn and very verbose pro- 
cedure, in which a multitude of questions about juridical 
details clashed with some very general traditions and some 
points of honour. All notions which might have enabled 
them to discern in history a social development were lacking 
to them. Yet they required a form for their political concep- 
tions, and here the idea of chivalry came in. By this tra- 
ditional fiction they succeeded in explaining to themselves, 
as well as they could, the motives and the course of history, 
which thus was reduced to a spectacle of the honour of princes 
and the virtue of knights, to a noble game with edifying and 
heroic rules. 

As a principle of historiography, this point of view is a very 
inferior one. History thus conceived becomes a summary 
of feats of arms and of ceremonies. The historians par excel- 
lence will be heralds and kings-at-arms Froissart thinks 
so f or they are the witnesses of these sublime deeds ; they 
are experts in matters of honour and of glory, and it is to 
record honour and glory that history is written. The statutes 

58 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

of the Golden Fleece enjoined that the feats of arms of the 
knights be noted down. Types of this combination of herald 
and historiographer are the king-at-arms of the Golden Fleece, 
Lef&vre de Saint Bemy, and Gilles le Bouvier, dit le h6raut 

The conception of chivalry as a sublime form of secular life 
might be defined as an aesthetic ideal assuming the appearance 
of an ethical ideal. Heroic fancy and romantic sentiment 
form its basis. But medieval thought did not permit ideal 
forms of noble life, independent of religion. For this reason 
piety and virtue have to be the essence of a knight's life. 
Chivalry, however, will always fall short of this ethical function. 
Its earthly origin draws it down. For the source of the chival- 
rous idea is pride aspiring to beauty, and formalized pride 
gives rise to a conception of honour, which is the pole of noble 
life. The sentiment of honour, says Burckhardt, this strange 
mixture of conscience and of egotism, " is compatible with 
many vices and susceptible to extravagant delusions ; never- 
theless, all that has remained pure and noble in man may find 
support in it and draw new strength from it." Is not this 
almost what Chastellain tried to say, when he expressed him- 
self thus : 

" Honneur semont toute noble nature 
D'aimer tout ce qui noble est en son estre. 
Noblesse aussi y adjoint sa droiture." x 

And again : 

"La gloire des princes pend en orgueil et en haut peril emprendre ; 
toutes principales puissances conviengnent en un point estroit qui se 
dit orgueil." a 

According to the celebrated Swiss historian, the quest of 
personal glory was the characteristic attribute of the men of 
the Eenaissance. The Middle Ages proper, according to him, 
knew honour and glory only in collective forms, as the honour 
due to groups and orders of society, the honour of rank, of 

1 Honour urges every noble nature To love all that is noble in being. 
Nobility also adds its uprightness to it. 

* The glory of princes is in their pride and in undertaking great peril ; all 
principal forces meet in a small point, which is called pride. 

The Idea of Chivalry 59 

class, or of profession. It was in Italy, he thinks, under the 
influence of antique models, that the craving for individual 
glory originated. Here, as elsewhere, Burckhardt has exagger- 
ated the distance separating Italy from the Western countries 
and the Renaissance from the Middle Ages. 

The thirst for honour and glory proper to the men of the 
Renaissance is essentially the same as the chivalrous ambition 
of earlier times, and of French origin. Only it has shaken off 
the feudal form and assumed an antique garb. The passion- 
ate desire to find himself praised by contemporaries or by 
posterity was the source of virtue with the courtly knight of 
the twelfth century and the rude captain of the fourteenth, 
no less than with the beaux-esprits of the quattrocento. When 
Beaumanoir and Bamborough fix the conditions of the famous 
combat of the Thirty, the English captain, according to Frois- 
sart, expresses himself in these terms : " And let us right there 
try ourselves and do so much that people will speak of it in 
future times in halls, in palaces, in public places and else- 
where throughout the world." The saying may not be authen- 
tic, but it teaches us what Froissart thought. 

The quest of glory and of honour goes hand in hand with 
a hero-worship which also might seem to announce the Renais- 
sance. The somewhat factitious revival of the splendour of 
chivalry that we find everywhere in European courts after 
1300 is already connected with the Renaissance by a real 
link. It is a naive prelude to it. In reviving chivalry the 
poets and princes imagined that they were returning to anti- 
quity. In the minds of the fourteenth century, a vision of 
antiquity had hardly yet disengaged itself from the fairy-land 
sphere of the Round Table. Classical heroes were still tinged 
with the general colour of romance. On the one hand, the 
figure of Alexander had long ago entered the sphere of chivalry ; 
on the other, chivalry was supposed to be of Roman origin. 
" And he maintained the discipline of chivalry well, as did the 
Romans formerly," thus a Burgundian chronicler praised 
Henry V of England. The blazons of Csesar, of Hercules, 
and of Troilus, are placed in a fantasy of King Rene, side by 
side with those of Arthur and of Lancelot. Certain coinci- 
dences of terminology played a part in tracing back the origin 
of chivalry to Romap. antiquity. How could people have 

60 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

known that the word miles with Roman authors did not mean 
a miles in the sense of medieval Latin, that is to say, a knight, 
or that a Roman eques differed from a feudal knight ? Conse- 
quently, Romulus, because he raised a band of a thousand 
mounted warriors, was taken to be the founder of chivalry. 

The life of a knight is an imitation ; that of princes is so too, 
sometimes. No one was so consciously inspired by models of 
the past, or manifested such desire to rival them, as Charles 
the Bold. In his youth he made his attendants read out to 
him the exploits of Gauvain and of Lancelot. Later he pre- 
ferred the ancients. Before retiring to rest, he listens for an 
hour or two to the " lofty histories of Rome." He especially 
admires Caesar, Hannibal and Alexander, " whom he wished to 
follow and imitate." All his contemporaries attach great 
importance to this eagerness to imitate the heroes of antiquity, 
and agree in regarding it as the mainspring of his conduct. 
" He desired great glory " says Commines " which more than 
anything else led hi to undertake his wars ; and longed to 
resemble those ancient princes who have been so much talked 
of after their death." The anecdote is well known of the 
jester who, after the defeat of Granson, called out to him : 
" My lord, we are well Hannibaled this time ! " His love of the 
" beau geste " in antique style was observed by Chastellain 
at Mechlin in 1467, when he made his first entry there as duke. 
He had to punish a rising. He sat down facing the scaffold 
erected for the leader of the insurgents. Akeady the hangman 
has drawn the sword and is preparing to strike the blow. 
"Stop," said the duke then, "take the bandage from his 
eyes and help him up." "And then I perceived" says 
Chastellain " that he had set his heart on high and singular 
purposes for the future, and on acquiring glory and renown 
by extraordinary works." 

Thus the aspiration to the splendour of antique life, which 
is the characteristic of the Renaissance, has its roots in the 
chivalrous ideal. Between the ponderous spirit of the Burgun- 
dian and the classical instinct of an Italian of the same period 
there is only a difference of nuance. The forms which Charles 
the Bold affected are still flamboyant Gothic, and he still read 
his classics in translations. 

The chivalrous element and the Renaissance element are 

The Idea of Chivalry 61 

also confounded in the cult of the Nine Worthies (" les neuf 
preux "). The grouping of three pagans, three Jews, and three 
Christians in a sort of gallery of heroism is found for the first 
time in a work of the beginning of the fourteenth century, 
Lea VCBUX du Paon, by Jacques de Longuyon. The choice 
of the heroes betrays a close connection with the romances of 
chivalry. They are Hector, Caesar, Alexander, Josuah, David, 
Judas Maccabseus, Arthur, Charlemagne, Godfrey of Bouillon. 
Eustache Deschamps adopted the idea of the " neuf preux " 
from his master, Guillaume de Machaut, and devoted many 
of his ballads to the subject. The craving for symmetry, so 
strong in the Middle Ages, demanded that the series should 
be completed by counterparts of the female sex. Deschamps 
satisfied the demand by choosing from fiction and history a 
group of rather bizarre heroines. Among them we find Penthe- 
silea, Tomyris, Semiramis. His idea was successful. Litera- 
ture and tapestry popularized the female as well as the male 
worthies. Blazons were invented for them. On the occasion 
of his entry into Paris, in 1431, the English king, Henry VI, 
is preceded by all the eighteen worthies of both sexes. How 
popular the idea was, is attested by the parody which Molinet 
composed of the " nine worthies of gluttony." Francis I still 
occasionally dressed himself " in the antique style," in order 
to represent one of the worthies. 

Deschamps went further. He completed the series of the 
nine worthies by adding a tenth, Bertram! du Guesclin, the 
brave and prudent Breton warrior to whom France owed her 
recovery from Cr6cy and Poitiers. In this way he linked 
the cult of ancient heroes to the budding sentiment of national 
military glory. His idea was generally adopted. Louis of 
Orleans had the statue of Du Guesclin, as tenth of the " preux," 
erected in the great hall of the castle of Coucy. His special 
reason for honouring the constable's memory was the fact 
that the latter had held Hm at the baptismal font and put a 
sword into his little hand. 

The inventories of the Burgundian dukes enumerate curious 
relics of ancient and modern heroes, such as " the sword of 
Saint George," with his coat of arms ; *' another war-sword 
which belonged to Messire Bertran de daiquin " ; " a big boar's 
fang, said to be the fang of the boar of Garin le Loherain " ; 

62 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

" the psalter of Saint Louis, out of which he learned in his child- 
hood." How curiously the spheres of imagination of chival- 
rous romance, and of religious veneration, blend here with the 
coming spirit of the Renaissance ! 

About 1300 the sword of Sir Tristram, with an inscription 
in French verse, was said to have been discovered in Lom- 
bardy, in an ancient tomb. 1 Here we are only a step from 
Pope Leo X, who accepted solemnly, as though it were a relic, 
a humerus of Livy, offered him by the Venetians. 

This hero-worship of the declining Middle Ages finds its 
literary expression in the biography of the perfect knight. 
In this genre the figures of recent history gradually superseded 
the legendary ones like that of Gillon de Trazegnies. Three of 
these lives of contemporary and illustrious knights are cha- 
racteristic, although very different from each other : those of 
Marshal Boucicaut, of Jean de Bueil, and of Jacques de 

The military career of Jean le Meingre, surnamed the 
Marshal Boucicaut, had led him from the defeat of Mcopolis 
to that of Agincourt, where he was taken prisoner, to die in 
captivity, six years later. As early as 1409 one of his admirers 
wrote his biography from reliable information, but with the 
intention of producing, not a book of contemporary history, 
but a mirror of chivalrous life. The real facts of this hard life 
of a captain and statesman disappear beneath the appear- 
ances of ideal heroism. The marshal is depicted as the type 
of a frugal and pious knight, at once courtly and well read. 
He is not rich. His father would neither augment nor diminish 
his possessions, saying : " If my children are honest and brave, 
they will have enough ; if they are worthless, it would be a 
pity to leave them much/' Boucicaut's piety has a Puritan 
flavour. He rises early and remains in prayer for three hours. 
However occupied or hurried he may be, he hears, on his 
knees, two masses a day. On Fridays he dresses in black. 
On Sundays and festal days he makes pilgrimages on foot, 
discourses of holy matters, or has some life of a saint read out 
to him or some story of " the valiant dead Roman or other." 
He lives soberly, he speaks little, and when he speaks it is of 

1 A sword of Tristram figures also among King John's jewels lost in the 
Wash in 1216. 

From a MS. at Munich, Library of the University. 

[See page 63. 

The Idea of Chivalry 63 

God and the saints, or of chivalry and virtue. He has accus- 
tomed his servants to practise piety and observe decency; 
they have given up the habit of swearing. We shall find him 
again as one of the propagandists of faithful and chaste love, 
and as the founder of the order of " Pescu vert & la dame 
blanche," for the defence of women, for which Christine de 
Pisan praised him. At Genoa, as a regent of the king of 
France, one day he courteously returned the curtsy of two 
ladies whom he met. " My lord ' V-said his squire " who are 
those two women to whom you bowed so deeply ? " " Hugue- 
nin," said he, " I do not know." Then he said to him : " My 
lord, they are harlots." " Harlots," said he, " Huguenin, I 
would rather have paid my salutations to ten harlots than 
have omitted them to one respectable woman." His device, 
resigned and enigmatical, is " What you will." 

Such are the colours of piety, austerity and fidelity in 
which the ideal image of a knight is painted. The real Bouci- 
caut did not altogether resemble this portrait ; no one would 
have expected it. He was neither free from violence nor from 
avarice, common faults in his class. 

There are, however, patterns of chivalry of another type. 
The biographical romance about Jean de Bueil, entitled Le 
Jouvencel, was written half a century after Le Livre des Faicts 
of Boucicaut, which partly explains the differences. Jean 
de Bueil had fought under the banner of Joan of Arc. He 
had taken part in the rising called the Praguerie and in the 
war " du bien public " ; he died in 1477. Fallen in disgrace 
with the king, he dictated, or rather suggested, about 1465, 
an account of his life to three of his servants. In contrast 
with the Life of Boucicaut, of which the historical form hardly 
conceals the romantic purpose, Le Jawvencel contains in ficti- 
tious garb a great deal of simple realism ; this is so, at least, 
in the first part, for further on the authors have lost them- 
selves in very insipid romanticism. 

Jean de Bueil must have given his scribes a very lively 
narrative of his exploits. It would hardly be possible to quote 
in the literature of the fifteenth century another work giving 
as sober a picture as Le Jouvencel of the wars of those times. 
We find the small miseries of military life, its privations and 
boredom, gay endurance of hardships and courage in danger. 

64 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

A castellan musters his garrison ; there are but fifteen horses, 
lean and old beasts, most of them unshod. He puts two men 
on each horse, but of the men also most are blind of one eye 
or lame. They set out to seize the enemy's laundry in order 
to patch the captain's clothes. A captured cow is cour- 
teously returned to a hostile captain at his request. Beading 
the description of a nocturnal march, one feels as though 
surrounded by the silence and the freshness of the night. It 
is not saying too much that here military France is announc- 
ing herself in literature, which will give birth to the types of 
the " mousquetaire," the "grognard," and the "poilu." 
The feudal knight is merging into the soldier of modern times ; 
the universal and religious ideal is becoming national and 
military. The hero of the book releases his prisoners without 
a ransom, on condition that they shall become good French- 
men. Having risen to great dignities, he yearns for the old 
life of adventure and liberty. 

Le Jouvencel is an expression of true French sentiment. 
Literature in the Burgundian sphere, being more old-fashioned, 
more feudal and more solemn, would not have been able as 
yet to create so realistic a type of a knight. By the side of 
the Jouvencel, the figure of the Hainault pattern knight of the 
fifteenth century, Jacques de Lalaing, is an antique curiosity, 
more or less modelled on the knights-errant of a preceding 
age. Le Lime des Faits du bon Chevalier Messire Jacques de 
Lalaing is far more concerned with tournaments and jousts 
than with real war. 

In the Jouvencel we find a remarkable portrayal, hardly 
to be surpassed, of the psychology of warlike courage of a 
simple and touching kind. " It is a joyous thing, is war. . . . 
You love your comrade so in war. When you see that your 
quarrel is just and your blood is fighting well, tears rise to 
your eye. A great sweet feeling of loyalty and of pity fills 
your heart on seeing your friend so valiantly exposing his body 
to execute and accomplish the command of our Creator. And 
then you prepare to go and die or live with him, and for love 
not to abandon him. And out of that there arises such a 
delectation, that he who has not tasted it is not fit to say 
what a delight it is. Bo you think that a man who does that 
fears death ? Not at all ; for he feels so strengthened, he is 

The Idea of Chivalry 65 

so elated, that he does not know where he is. Truly he is 
afraid of nothing." 

These sentiments have nothing specifically chivalrous or 
medieval. The words might have been spoken by a modern 
soldier. They show us the very core of courage: man, in 
the excitement of danger, stepping out of his narrow egotism, 
the ineffable feeling caused by a comrade's bravery, the 
rapture of fidelity and of sacrifice, in short, the primitive 
and spontaneous asceticism, which is at the bottom of the 
chivalrous ideal. 


A conception of military life resembling that of medieval 
chivalry is found nearly everywhere, notably with the Hindus 
of the MaMbh&rato and in Japan. Warlike aristocracies need 
an ideal form of manly perfection. The aspiration to a pure 
and beautiful life, expressed in the Kalokagathia of the Hel- 
lenes, in the Middle Ages gives birth to chivalry. And during 
several centuries that ideal remains a source of energy, and 
at the same time a cloak for a whole world of violence and 

The ascetic element is never absent from it. It is most 
accentuated in the times when the function of knighthood is 
most vital, as in the times of the early crusades. The noble 
warrior has to be poor and exempt from worldly ties. " This 
ideal of the well-born man without possessions " says William 
James " was embodied in knight-errantry and templardom, 
and, hideously corrupted as it has always been, it still domi- 
nates sentimentally, if not practically, the military and aristo- 
cratic view of life. We glorify the soldier as the man abso- 
lutely unincumbered. Owning nothing but his bare life, and 
willing to toss that up at any moment when the cause com- 
mands him, he is the representative of unhampered freedom 
in ideal directions." Medieval chivalry, in its first bloom, was 
bound to blend with monachism. From this union were born 
the military orders of the Templars, of Saint John, of the 
Teutonic knights, and also those of Spain. Soon, however, 
or rather from the very beginning, reality gives the lie to the 
ideal, and accordingly the ideal will soar more and more 
towards the regions of fantasy, there to preserve the traits 
of asceticism and sacrifice too rarely visible in real life. The 
knight-errant, fantastic and useless, will always be poor and 
without ties, as the first Templars had been. 


The Dream of Heroism and of Love 67 

It would thus be unjust to regard as factitious or super- 
ficial the religious elements of chivalry, such as compassion, 
fidelity, justice. They are essential to it. Yet the complex of 
aspirations and imaginings, forming the idea of chivalry, in 
spite of its strong ethical foundation and the combative in- 
stinct of man, would never have made so solid a frame for the 
life beautiful if love had not been the source of its constantly 
revived ardour. 

These very traits, moreover, of compassion, of sacrifice, and of 
fidelity, which characterize chivalry, are not purely religious ; 
they are erotic at the same time. Here, again, it must be 
remembered that the desire of bestowing a form, a style, on 
sentiment, is not expressed exclusively in art and literature ; 
it also unfolds in life itself : in courtly conversation, in games, 
in sports. There, too, love incessantly seeks a sublime and 
romantic expression. If, therefore, lie borrows motifs and 
forms from literature, literature, after all, is only copying 
life. The chivalrous aspect of love had somehow to make its 
appearance in life before it expressed itself in literature. 

The knight and his lady, that is to say, the hero who serves 
for love, this is the primary and invariable motif from which 
erotic fantasy will always start. It is sensuality transformed 
into the craving for self-sacrifice, into the desire of the male 
to show his courage, to incur danger, to be strong, to suffer 
and to bleed before his lady-love. 

From the moment when the dream of heroism through 
love has intoxicated the yearning heart, fantasy grows and 
overflows. The first simple theme is soon left behind, the 
soul thirsts for new fancies, and passion colours the dream 
of suffering and of renunciation. The man will not be content 
merely to suffer, he will want to save from danger, or from 
suffering, the object of his desire. A more vehement stimulus 
is added to the primary motif : its chief feature will be that of 
defending imperilled virginity in other words, that of ousting 
the rival. This, then, is the essential theme of chivalrous 
love poetry: the young hero, delivering the virgin. The 
sexual motif is always behind it, even when the aggressor is 
only an artless dragon ; a glance at Burne-Jones's famous 
picture suffices to prove it. 

One is surprised that comparative mythology should have 

The Waning of the Middle Ages 

looked so indefatigably to meteorological phenomena for the 
explanation of such an immediate and perpetual motif as the 
deliverance of the virgin, which is the oldest of literary motifs, 
and one which can never grow antiquated. It may from time 
to time become stale from overmuch repetition, and yet it will 
reappear, adapting itself to all times and surroundings. New 
romantic types will arise, just as the cowboy has succeeded the 

The Middle Ages cultivated these motifs of a primitive 
romanticism with a youthful insatiability. Whereas in some 
higher genres of literature, such as lyrical poetry, the expres- 
sion of desire and fulfilment became more refined, the romance 
of adventure always preserved it in its crude and naive form, 
without ever losing its charm to its contemporaries. We might 
have expected that the last centuries of the Middle Ages would 
have lost their relish for these childish fancies. We are 
inclined to suppose that Meliador, the super-romantic novel 
by Eroissart, or Perceforest, those belated fruits of chivalrous 
romance, were anachronisms even in their own day. They 
were no more so than the sensational novel is at present. 
Erotic imagination always requires similar models, and it finds 
them here. In the hey-day of the Renaissance we see them 
revive in the cycle of Amadis of Gaul. When, a good while 
after the middle of the sixteenth century, IPra^ois de la Noue 
affirms that the novels of Amadis had caused " un esprit de 
vertige " among his generation the generation of the Hugue- 
nots, which had passed through humanism with its vein of 
rationalism we can imagine what must have been the 
romantic susceptibility of the ill-balanced and ignorant 
generation of 1400. 

Literature did not suffice for the almost insatiable needs 
of the romantic imagination of the age. Some more active 
form of expression was required. Dramatic art might have 
supplied it, but the medieval drama in the real sense of the 
word treated love matters only exceptionally ; sacred subjects 
were its substance. There was, however,, another form of 
representation, namely, noble sports, tourneys and jousts. 
Sportive struggles always and everywhere contain a strong 
dramatic element and an erotic element. In the medieval 
tournament these two elements had so much got the upper 

The Dream of Heroism and of Love 69 

hand, that its character of a contest of force and courage had 
been almost obliterated by its romantic purport. With its 
bizarre accoutrements and pompous staging, its poetical 
illusion and pathos, it filled the place of the drama of a later 

The life of aristocracies when they are still strong, though 
of small utility, tends to become an all-round game. In order 
to forget the painful imperfection of reality, the nobles turn 
to the continual illusion of a high and heroic life. They wear 
the mask of Lancelot and of Tristram. It is an amazing self- 
deception. The crying falsehood of it can only be borne by 
. treating it with soine amount of raillery. The whole chivalrous 
culture of the last centuries of the Middle Ages is marked 
by an unstable equilibrium between sentimentality and mock- 
ery. Honour, fidelity and love are treated with unim- 
peachable , seriousness ; only from time to time the solemn 
rigidity relaxes into a smile, but downright parody never 
prevails. Even after the Morgante of Pulci and the Orlando 
Innamorato of Boiardo had made the heroic pose ridicu- 
lous, Ariosto recaptured the absolute serenity of chivalrous 

In French circles, of about 1400, the cult of chivalry was 
treated with perfect gravity. It is not easy for us to under- 
stand this seriousness, and not to be startled by the contrast 
between the literary note of a Boucicaut and the facts of his 
career. He is represented as the indefatigable defender of 
courtesy and of chivalry, serving his lady according to the 
old rules of courteous love. " He served all, he honoured all, 
for the love of one. His speech was graceful, courteous and 
diffident before his lady." During his travels in the Near 
East in 1388, he and his companions in arms amuse themselves 
by composing a poetical defence of the faithful and chaste 
love of a knight the Lime des Gent Ballades. One might have 
supposed Trim cured of all chivalrous delusions after the 
catastrophe of Nicopolis. There he had seen the lamentable 
consequences of statecraft recklessly embarking on an enter- 
prise of vital import in the spirit of a chivalrous adventure. 
His companions of the Cent Ballades had perished. That 
would suffice, one would think, to make hi turn his back on 
old-fashioned forms of courtesy. Yet he remains devoted 

70 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

to them and resumes his moral task in founding the order 
" de la dame blanche & Pescu vert." 

Like all romantic forms that are worn out as an instrument 
of passion, this apparatus of chivalry and of courtesy affects 
us at first sight as a silly and ridiculous thing. The accents 
of passion are heard in it no more save in some rare products 
of literary genius. Still, all these costly elaborated forms of 
social conduct have played their part as a decoration of life, 
as a framework for a living passion. In reading this anti- 
quated love poetry, or the clumsy descriptions of tournaments, 
no exact knowledge of historical details avails without the 
vision of the smiling eyes, long turned to dust, which at one 
time were infinitely more important than the written word 
that remains. 

Only a stray glimmer now reminds us of the passionate 
significance of these cultural forms. In the Voeu du Heron 
the unknown author makes Jean de Beaumont speak : 

" Quant sommes es tavernes, de ces fors vins buvant, 
Et ces dames deles qui nous vont regardant, 
A ces gorgues polies, ces colies tirant, 
Chil ceil vair resplendissent de biaut souriant, 
Nature nous semont d'avoir CCBUT d6sirant, 
. . . Adonc conquerons-nous Yaumont et Agoulant 
Et 11 autre conquiexrent Olivier et Reliant, 
Mais, quant sommes as camps sus nos destriers courans, 
Nos escus a no col et nos lansses bais(s)ans, 
Et le froidure grande nous va tout engelant, 
Li membres nous effondrent, et derriere et devant, 
Et nos ennemies sont envers nous approchant, 
Adonc vorri&nes estre en un chiller si grant 
Que jamais ne fussions veu tant ne quant." 1 

Nowhere does the erotic element of the tournament appear 
more clearly than in the custom of the knight's wearing the 

1 When we are in the tavern, drinking strong wines, And the ladies pass 
and look at us, With those white throats, and tight bodices, Those sparkling 
eyes resplendent with smiling beauty, Then nature urges us to have a desiring 
heart, . . . Then we could overcome Yaumont and Agoulant And the others 
would conquer Oliver and Roland. But when we are in camp on our trotting 
chargers, Our bucklers round our necks and our lances lowered, And the 
great cold is congealing us altogether, And our limbs are crushed before and 
behind, And our enemies are approaching us, Then we should wish to be in 
a cellar so large That we might never be seen by any means. 

The Dream of Heroism and of Love 71 

veil or the dress of Ms lady. In Perceforest we read how the 
lady spectators of the combat take off their finery, one article 
after another, to throw them to the knights in the lists. At 
the end of the fight they are bareheaded and without sleeves. 
A poem of the thirteenth century, the work of a Picard or a 
Hainault minstrel, entitled Des trois Chevaliers et del CJiainse, 1 
has worked out this motif in all its force. The wife of a noble- 
man of great liberality, but not very fond of fighting, sends her 
shirt to three knights who serve her for love, that one of them 
at the tournament which her husband is going to give may 
wear it as a coat-armour, without any mail underneath. The 
first and the second knights excuse themselves. The third, 
who is poor, takes the shirt in his arms at night, and kisses it 
passionately. He appears at the tournament, dressed in the 
shirt and without a coat of mail ; he is grievously wounded, 
the shirt, stained with his blood, is torn. Then his extra- 
ordinary bravery is perceived and he is awarded the prize. 
The lady gives him her heart. The lover asks something in 
his turn. He sends back the garment, all blood-stained, to 
the lady, that she may wear it over her gown at the meal 
which is to conclude the feast. She embraces it tenderly and 
shows herself dressed in the shirt as the knight had demanded. 
The majority of those present blame her, the husband is con- 
founded, and the minstrel winds up by asking the question : 
Which of the two lovers sacrificed most for the sake of the 
other ? 

The Church was openly hostile to tournaments ; it repeatedly 
prohibited them, and there is no doubt that the fear of the 
passionate character of this noble game, and of the abuses 
resulting from it, had a great share in this hostility. Moralists 
were not favourably disposed towards tournaments, neither 
were the humanists. Where do we read, Petrarch asks, that 
Cicero or Scipio jousted ? The burghers thought them useless 
and ridiculous. Only the world of the nobility continued to 
cultivate all that regarded tournaments and jousts, as things 
of the highest importance. Monuments were erected on the 
sites of famous combats, as the P61erine Cross near Saint 
Omer, in remembrance of the Passage of Arms of la Pelerine, 
and of the exploits of the bastard of Saint Pol and a Spanish 
1 Of the three knights and the shirt. 

72 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

knight. Bayard piously went to visit this cross, as if on a 
pilgrimage. In the church of Notre Dame of Boulogne were 
preserved the decorations of the Passage of Arms of the 
Fontaine des Pleurs, solemnly dedicated to the Holy Virgin. 

The warlike sports of the Middle Ages differ from Greek 
and modern athletics by being far less simple and natural. 
Pride, honour, love and art give additional stimulus to the 
competition itself. Overloaded with pomp and decoration, 
full of heroic fancy, they serve to express romantic needs too 
strong for mere literature to satisfy. The realities of court 
life or a military career offered too little opportunity for the 
fine make-belief of heroism and love, which filled the soul. 
So they had to be acted. The staging of the tournament, 
therefore, had to be that of romance; that is to say, the 
imaginary world of Arthur, where the fancy of a fairy-tale 
was enhanced by the sentimentality of courtly love. 

A Passage of Arms of the fifteenth century is based on a 
fictitious case of chivalrous adventure, connected with an 
artificial scene called by a romantic name, as, for instance, 
La fontained es pleurs, L'arbre Charlemagne. A fountain is 
expressly constructed, and beside it a pavilion, where during 
a whole year a lady is to reside (in effigy, be it understood), 
holding a unicorn which bears three shields. The first day 
of each month knights come to touch the shields, and in this 
way to pledge themselves for a combat of which the " Chap- 
ters " of the Passage of Arms lay down the rules. They will 
find horses in readiness, for the shields have to be touched on 
horseback. Or, in the case of the Emprise du dragon, four 
knights will be stationed at a cross-road where, unless she 
gives a gage, no lady may pass without a knight breaking two 
lances for her. There is an unmistakable connection between 
these primitive forms of warlike and erotic sport and the 
children's play of forfeits. One of the rules of the " Chapters " 
of the Fontaine des pleurs runs thus : he who, in a combat, is 
lanhorsed, will during a year wear a gold bracelet, until he 
finds the lady who holds the key to it and who can free him, 
on condition that he shall serve her. 

The nobles liked to throw a veil of mystery and melancholy 
over the procedure. The knight should be unknown. He is 
te blaBc cb^v&liesr," "la chevalier mesoonnu/* or 


The, Dream of Heroism and of Love 73 

lie wears the crest of Lancelot or Palamedes. The shields of 
the Fount of Tears are white, violet and black, and overspread 
with white tears ; those of the Tree of Charlemagne are sable 
and violet, with gold and sable tears. At the Emprise du 
dragon, celebrated on the occasion of the departure of his 
daughter Margaret for England, King Ken6 was present, 
dressed all in black, and his whole outfit, caparison, horse and 
all, down to the wood of his lance, was of the same colour. 


The ideal of courage, of honour, and of fidelity found other 
forms of expression, besides those of the tournament. Apart 
from martial sport, the orders of chivalry opened an ample 
field where the taste for high aristocratic culture might expand. 
Like the tournaments and the accolade, the orders of chivalry 
have their roots in the sacred rites of a very remote past. 
Their religious origins are pagan, only the feudal system of 
thought had Christianized them. Strictly speaking, the 
several orders of chivalry are only ramifications of the order of 
knighthood itself. For knighthood was a sacred brotherhood, 
into which admittance was effected by means of solemn rites 
of initiation. The more elaborate form of these rites shows 
a most curious blending of Christian and heathen elements : 
the shaving, the bath, and the vigil of arms undoubtedly go 
back to pre-Christian times. Those who had gone through 
these ceremonies were called Knights of the Bath, in distinc- 
tion from those who were knighted by the simple accolade. 
The term afterwards gave rise to the legend of a special Order 
of the Bath instituted by Hemy IV, and thus to the establish- 
ment of the real one by George I. 

The first great orders, those of the Temple, of Saint John, 
and of the Teutonic Knights, born of the mutual penetration 
of monastic and feudal ideas, early assumed the character of 
great political and economic institutions. Their aim was no 
longer in the first place the practice of chivalry ; that element, 
as well as their spiritual aspirations, had been more or less 
effaced by their political and financial importance. It was 
in the orders of more recent origin that the primitive concep- 
tion of a club, of a game, of an aristocratic federation, re- 
appeared. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the real 
importance of chivalrous orders, which were founded in great 
mrmbers, was very slight, but the aspirations professed in 


Orders of Chivalry and Vows 75 

founding them were always those of the very highest ethical 
and political idealism. Philippe de Mezieres, an unrivalled 
political dreamer, wishes to remedy all the evils of the century 
by a new order of chivalry, that of the Passion, which is to 
unite Christendom in a common effort to expel the Turks. 
Burgesses and labourers are to find a place in it, side by side 
with the nobles. The three monastic vows are to be modified 
for practical reasons : instead of celibacy he only requires 
conjugal fidelity, Mezieres adds a fourth vow, unknown to 
preceding orders, that of individual, moral perfection, summa 
perfectio. He confided the task of propagating the Militia 
Pas&ionis Jhesu Christi to four " messaiges de Dieu et de la 
chevalerie " (among whom was the celebrated Othe de Granson), 
who were to go to " divers lands and kingdoms to preach and 
to announce the aforesaid holy chivalry, like four evangelists." 

The word " order " thus still preserved much of its spiritual 
meaning ; it alternates with " religion," which usually desig- 
nated a monastic order. We hear of the " religion " of the 
Golden Fleece, of a " knight of the religion of Avys." The 
rules of the Golden Fleece are conceived in a truly ecclesiastical 
spirit ; mass and obsequies occupy a large place in them ; the 
knights are seated in choir-stalls like canons. The member* 
ship of an order of chivalry constituted a sacred and exclusive 
tie. The, knights of the Star of John the Good are required 
to withdraw from every other order, Philip the Good declines 
the honour of the Garter, in spite of the urgency of the duke 
of Bedford, in order not to tie himself too closely to England. 
Charles the Bold, on accepting it, was accused by Louis XI 
of having broken the peace of Peronne, which forbade alliance 
with England without the king's consent. 

In spite of these serious airs, the founders of new orders 
had to defend themselves from the reproach of pursuing merely 
a vain amusement. The Golden Fleece, says the poet Mchault, 
was instituted, 

"Non point pour jeu ne pour esbatexnent, 
Mais -a la fin quo soit attribute 
Loenge & Dieu trestout premi&rement, 
Et aux bons gloire et haulte renoimn^e." * 

1 Not for amusement, nor for recreation, But for the purpose that praise 
shall be given To God, in the first place, And glory and high renown to the 

76 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Similarly, Guillaume Fillastre writes his book of the Golden 
Fleece to demonstrate the high interest and the sacred import- 
ance of the order, that it might not be regarded as a work of 
vanity. It was not superfluous to draw attention to the high 
objects of the duke, so that his creation might be distinguished 
from the numerous orders of recent foundation. There was 
not a prince or great noble who did not desire to have his 
own order. Orleans, Bourbon, Savoie, Hainaut-Bavi&re, 
Lusignan, Coucy, all eagerly exerted themselves in invent- 
ing bizarre emblems and striking devices. The chain of 
Pierre de Lusignan's Sword-order was made of gold S's, 
which meant " silence." The Porcupine of Louis of Orleans 
threatens Burgundy with its spines, which it shoots, according 
to popular belief, cominus et eminus. 

If the Golden Fleece eclipsed all the other orders, it is 
because the dukes of Burgundy placed at its disposal the 
resources of their enormous wealth. In their view, the order 
was to serve as the symbol of their power. The fleece was 
primar% that of Colchis ; the fable of Jason was familiar to 
all. Jason, however, was, as an eponymous hero, not absolutely 
irreproachable. Had he not broken his word ? There was 
an opening here for nasty allusions to the policy of the dukes 
towards France. La Ballade de Foug&res of Alain Chartier is 
an instance : 

"A Dieu et aux gens detestable 
Est menterie et trahison, 
Pour ce n'est point mis a la table 
Des preux Pimage de Jason, 
Qui pour emporter la toison 
De Colcos se veult parjurer. 
Larrecin ne se peult celer." 1 

It was, therefore, a very happy inspiration of the learned 
bishop of Chalons, chancellor of the order, to substitute for 
the fleece of the ram that carried Helle another, far more 
venerable, namely, that which Gideon spread to receive the 
dew of Heaven. The fleece of Gideon was one of the most 

imL? ?r d ^T* men 1 detestable * ly^g and treason, For this reason the 
unage of Jason Is not placed in the gallery of worthies. Who, to carry off 
e fleece Of Oolchos, was willing to commit perjury, Larceny oi^ 

Orders of Chivalry and Vows 77 

striking symbols of the Annunciation. Thus the Old Testa- 
ment judge more or less eclipses the pagan hero, as a patron 
of the order. Guillaume Fillastre, the successor of Jean 
Germain as chancellor of the order, discovered four more 
fleeces in Scripture, each of them denoting a special virtue. 
But this was plainly overdoing it, and, as far as we can see, 
was not successful. " Gedeonis signa " remained the most 
revered appellation of the Golden Fleece. 

To describe the solemn pomp of the Golden Fleece, or of 
the Star, would only be adding new instances to the subject- 
matter of a preceding chapter. Let it suffice here to point 
dut a single trait common to all the orders of chivalry, in 
which the original character of a primitive and sacred game 
is particularly conspicuous, namely, the technical appellations 
of their officials. The kings-at-arms are called Golden Fleece, 
Garter. The heralds bear names of countries : Charolais, 
^Zealand. The first of the pursuivants is called "Fusil," 
after the duke's emblem, the flint-and-steel. The names 
of the other pursuivants are of a romantic or moral char- 
acter, as Montreal, Perseverance, or allegorical, as Humble 
Bequest, Sweet Thought, Lawful Pursuit, designations bor- 
rowed from the Bomaunt of the Bose. At the feasts of 
the order, the pursuivants are baptized in these names by 
sprinkling them with wine. Nicolas Upton, a herald of 
Humphrey of Gloucester, has described the ceremonial of 
such a baptism. 

The very essence of the conception of an order of chivalry 
appears in its knightly vows. Every order presupposes vows, 
but the chivalrous vow exists also outside the orders, under 
an individual and occasional form. Here the barbarous 
character, testifying that chivalry has its roots in primitive 
civilization, comes to the surface. We find parallels in the 
India of the MahdbMrata, in ancient Palestine, and in the 
Iceland of the Sagas. 

What remained, at the end of the Middle Ages, of the cul- 
tural value of these chivalrous vows 1 We find them very near 
akin to purely religious vows, serving to accentuate o& to fix 
a lofty moral aspiration. We also find them supplying roman- 
tic and erotic needs and degenerating into an amusement and 
a theme for raillery. It is not easy to determine accurately 

78 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the degree of sincerity belonging to them. We should not 
judge them from the impression of silliness and untruthfulness 
which we derive from the Vceux du Faisan, to mention the best 
known and most historical example. As in the case of tourna- 
ments and passages of arms, we only see the dead form of the 
thing : the cultural significance of the custom has disappeared 
with the passion animating those to whom these forms were 
the realization of a dream of beauty. 

In the vows we find once more that mixture of asceticism 
and eroticism which we found underlying the idea of chivalry 
itself, and so clearly expressed in the tournaments. The 
Chevalier de la Tour Landry, in his curious book of admoni- 
tion to his daughters, speaks of a strange order of amorous 
men and women of noble birth which existed in Poitou and 
elsewhere, in his youth. They called themselves Galois and 
Galoises, and had "very savage regulations." In summer 
they dressed themselves in furs and fur-lined hoods, and lighted 
a fire on the hearth, whereas in winter they were only allowed 
to wear a simple coat without fur ; neither mantles, nor 
hats, nor gloves. During the most severe cold they hid 
the hearth behind evergreen sprigs, and had only very 
light bed-clothes. It is not surprising that a great many 
members died of cold. The husband of a Galoise receiving 
a Galois under his roof was bound, under penalty of dis- 
honouring himself, to give up his house and his wife to 
him. Here is a very primitive trait, which the author could 
hardly have invented, although he may have exaggerated 
this strange aberration in which we divine a wish to exalt 
love by ascetic excitement. 

The savage spirit of the vows of knights manifests itself 
very clearly in Le Vceu du Heron, a poem of the fourteenth 
century, of little historical value, describing the feasts given 
at the court of Edward III at the moment when Robert 
d'Artois urges the king to declare war on France. The earl 
of Salisbury is seated at the feet of his lady. When called 
upon to formulate a vow, he begs her to place a finger on his 
right eye. Two, if necessary, she replies, and she closes his 
eye by placing two fingers on it. " Belle, is it well closed ? " 
asks the knight. " Yes, certainly." 

Orders of Chivalry and Vows 79 

"A dont, dist de le bouche, du ouer le pensement; 
Et je veu et prometh a Dieu omnipotent, 
Et a sa douche mere que de beaute" resplent, 
Qu'il n'est jamais Olivers, pour or6, ne pour vent, 
Pour mal, ne pour martire, ne pour encombrement, 
Si seray dedans Franche, oft il a bonne gent, 
Et si aray le fu boute" enticement 
Et serai combatus a grand efforchement 
Centre les gens Philype, qua tant a hardement. 
... Or, aviegne qu'aviegne, car il n'est autrement. 
A done osta son doit la puchelle au cors gent, 
Et li iex clos demeure, si ques virent la gent." 1 

The literary motif is not without a real foundation. Froissart 
actually saw English gentlemen who had covered one eye with 
a piece of cloth, to redeem a pledge to use only one eye, till 
they should have achieved some deed of bravery in France. 

The extreme of savagery is reached in the vow of the queen, 
which ends the series in The Vow of the Heron. She takes an 
oath not to give birth to the child of which she is pregnant 
before the THng h as taken her to the enemy's country and 
to kill herself " with a big steel knife," if the confinement 
announces itself too early. 

" I shall have lost my soul and the fruit will perish." 

Le Vo&u du Heron shows us the literary conception of these 
vows, the barbarous and primitive character they had in the 
minds of that time. Their magical element betrays itself 
in the part which the hair and the beard play in them, as in 
the case of Benedict XIII, imprisoned at Avignon, who made 
the very archaic vow not to have his beard shaved before he 
recovered his liberty. 

In making a vow, people imposed some privation upon them- 
selves as a spur to the accomplishment of the actions they were 
pledged to perform. Most frequently the privation concerns 
food. The first of the knights whom Philippe de M6zteres 
admitted to his Chivalry of the Passion was a Pole, who during 

1 Well then, he said by the mouth the thought of the heart ; And I vow 
and I promise to Almighty God, And to his sweet mother of resplendent 
beauty, That it will never be opened, for storm nor for wind, By evil, nor by 
torture, nor by hindrance, Until I shall be hi France, where there are good 
people, And until I shall have lighted the fire And I shall have battled with 
great exertion Against the people of Philip who is so hardy. . . . Now come 
what may, for it is not otherwise. Then the gentle girl took away her finger 
And the eye remained shut, as people saw. 

80 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

nine years had only eaten and drunk standing. Bertrand du 
Guesclin was dangerously prone to utter vows of this kind. 
He will not undress till he has taken Montcontour ; he will 
not eat till he has effected an encounter with the English. 

It goes without saying that a nobleman of the fourteenth 
century understood nothing of the magical meaning implied 
in these fasts. To us this original meaning is clear. It is 
equally so in the custom of wearing foot-irons as signs of a vow. 
As early as the eighteenth century, La Curne de Sainte Palaye 
remarked that the usage of the Chatti, described by Tacitus, 
corresponded exactly with the fashion which medieval 
chivalry had preserved. In 1415 Jean de Bourbon vowed, 
and sixteen knights and squires with him, that each Sunday 
during two years they would wear on the left leg foot-irons 
the knights of gold, the squires of silver till they should 
find sixteen adversaries ready to fight them to the death. 
The " adventurous knight," Jean de Boniface, arriving at 
Antwerp from Sicily in 1445, wears an " emprise " of the 
same sort, so does Sir Loiselench in Le petit Jehan de Saintre. 
The propensity to vow to perform some thing, when in danger 
or in violent emotion, undoubtedly always remains a powerful 
one. It has very deep psychological roots, and does not 
belong to any particular religion or civilization. Neverthe- 
less, as a form of chivalrous culture, the vow was dying out 
at the end of the Middle Ages, 

When, at Lille, in 1454, Philip the Good, preparing for his 
crusade, crowns his extravagant feasts by the celebrated 
Vows of the Pheasant, it is like the last manifestation of a 
dying usage, which has become a fantastic ornament, after 
having been a very serious element of earlier civilization. 
The old ritual, such as chivalrous tradition ,and romance 
taught it, is carefully observed. The vows are taken at the 
banquet ; the guests swear by the pheasant served up, one 
" bluffing " the other, just as the old Norsemen vied with 
each other in foolrhardy vows sworn in drunkenness by the 
boar served up. There are pious vows, made to God and to 
the Holy Virgin, to the ladies and to the bird, and others in 
which the Deity is not mentioned. They contain always 
the same privations of food or of comfort : not to sleep in a 
bed on Saturday, not to take animal food on Friday, etc* 

Orders of Chivalry and Vows 81 

One act of asceticism is heaped upon another : one nobleman 
promises to wear no armour, to drink no wine one day in 
every week, not to sleep in a bed, not to sit down to meals, 
to wear the hair-shirt. The method of accomplishing the 
vowed exploit is minutely specified and registered. 

Are we to take all this seriously ? The actors of the play 
pretend to do so. In connection with the vow of Philippe 
Pot to fight with his right arm bare, the duke, as though he 
feared real danger for his favourite, orders this addition to 
the registered promise : " It is not the pleasure of my very 
redoubted lord, that Messire Philippe Pot undertakes, in his 
company, the holy votive journey with his arm bare ; but he 
desires that he shall travel with him well and sufficiently 
armed, as beseems." As regards the vow of the duke himself, 
to fight the Great Turk with his own hand, it provokes general 
emotion. Among the vows there are conditional ones, betray- 
ing the intention of escaping, in case of danger, by a pretext. 
There are those resembling a fillipeen. And in fact this game, 
still in fashion some forty years ago, may be regarded as a 
pale survival of the chivalrous vow. 

Yet a vein of mocking pleasantry runs through the super- 
ficial pomp. At the Vow of the Heron, Jean de Beaumont 
takes an oath to serve the lord from whom he may expect the 
greatest liberality. At those of the Pheasant, Jennet de 
Eebreviettes swears that unless he wins the favour of his lady 
before the expedition, he will marry, on his return from the 
East, the first lady or girl possessing twenty thousand gold 
pieces, " if she be willing." Yet this same Rebreviettes, in 
spite of his cynicism, set out as a "poor squire," seeking 
adventures in the wars against the Moors of Granada. 

Thus a blase aristocracy laughs at its own ideal. After 
having adorned its dream of heroism with all the resources 
of fantasy, art and wealth, it bethinks itself that life is not so 
fine, after all and smiles* 



In tracing the picture of the declining Middle Ages, the 
scholars of our days, generally speaking, take little account 
of the surviving chivalrous ideas. They are regarded by 
common consent as a more or less artificial revival of ideas, 
whose real value had long since disappeared. They would 
seem to be an ornament of society and no more. The men 
who made the history of those times, princes, nobles, prelates, 
or burghers, were no romantic dreamers, but dealt in solid 
facts. Still, nearly all paid homage to the chivalrous bias, 
and it remains to consider to what extent this bias modified 
the course of events. For the history of civilization the 
perennial dream of a sublime life has the value of a very 
important reality. And even political history itself, under 
penalty of neglecting actual facts, is bound to take illusions, 
vanities, follies, into account. There is not a more dangerous 
tendency in history than that of representing the past, as if 
it were a rational whole and dictated by clearly defined interests . 

We have, therefore, to estimate 1/he influence of chivalrous 
ideas on politics and on war at the close of the Middle Ages. 
Were the rules of chivalry taken into account in the councils 
of kings and in those of war ? Were resolutions sometimes 
inspired by the chivalrous point of view ? Without any doubt. 
If medieval politics were not governed for the better by the 
idea of chivalry, surely they were so sometimes for the worse. 
Chivalry during the Middle Ages was, on the one hand, the 
great source of tragic political errors, exactly as are nationalism 
and racial pride at the present day. On the other, it tended 
to disguise well-adjusted calculations under the appearance of 
generous aspirations. The gravest political error which France 
could commit was the creation of a quasi-independent Bur- 


Value of Chivalrous Ideas 83 

gundy, and it had a chivalrous reason for its avowed motive : 
King John, that knightly muddle-head, wished to reward the 
courage shown by his son at Poitiers by an extraordinary 
liberality. The stubborn anti-French policy of the dukes of 
Burgundy after 1419, although dictated by the interests of 
their house, was justified in the eyes of contemporaries by 
the duty of exacting an exemplary vengeance for the murder 
of Montereau. Burgundian court literature exerts itself to 
keep up in all political matters the semblance of chivalrous 
inspiration. The surnames of the dukes, that of "Sans 
Peur" given to Jean, of "Hardi" to the first Philip, of 
" Qui qu'en hongne " which they did not succeed in imposing 
on the second Philip, usually called " the Good," are inventions 
calculated to place the prince in a nimbus of chivalrous 

Now there was one among the political aspirations of the 
epoch where the chivalrous ideal was implied in the nature of 
the enterprise itself, namely, the recovery of the Holy Sepul- 
chre. The highest political ideal which all the kings of Europe 
were obliged to profess was still symbolized by Jerusalem. 
Here the contrast between the real interest of Christendom 
and the form the idea took is most striking. The Europe of 
1400 was confronted by an Eastern question of supreme 
urgency: that of repulsing the Turks who had just taken 
Adrianople and wiped out the Serbian kingdom. The immi- 
nent danger ought to have concentrated all efforts on the 
Balkans. Yet the imperative task of European politics does 
not yet disengage itself from the old idea of the crusades. 
People only succeeded in seeing the Turkish question as a 
secondary part of the sacred duty in which their ancestors 
had failed : the conquest of Jerusalem. 

The conquest of Jerusalem could not but present itself to 
the mind as a work of piety and of heroism that is to say, 
of chivalry. In the councils on Eastern politics the heroic 
ideal preponderated more than in ordinary politics, and this it 
is which explains the very meagre success of the war against 
the Turks. Expeditions which, before all else, required 
patient preparation and minute inquiry, tended, more than 
once, to be romanticized, so to speak, from the very outset. 
The catastrophe of Nicopolis had proved the fatal folly of 

84 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

undertaking, against a very warlike enemy, an expedition of 
great importance as light-heartedly as if it were a question 
of going to kill a handful of heathen peasants in Prussia or in 

In the fifteenth century each king still felt virtually bound 
to set out and recapture Jerusalem. When Henry V of 
England, dying at Paris in 1422, in the midst of his career of 
conquest, was listening to the reading of the seven penitential 
psalms, he interrupted the officiating priest at the words 
Benigne fac, domine, in lona, voluntate tua, Sion, ut aedificentur 
muri Jerusalem, and declared that he had intended to go 
and conquer Jerusalem, after having re-established peace in 
France, " if it had pleased God, his Creator, to let him live to 
old age." After that he orders the priest to go on reading, 
and dies. 

In the case of Philip the Good, the design of a crusade seems 
to have been a mixture of chivalrous caprice and political 
advertising ; he wished to pose, by this pious and useful project, 
as the protector of Christendom, to the detriment of the king 
of France. The expedition to Turkey was, as it were, a trump- 
card that he did not live to play. 

The chivalrous fiction was also at the back of a peculiar 
form of political advertisement, to which Duke Philip was 
much attached to wit, the duel between two princes, always 
being announced, but never carried out. The idea of having 
political differences decided by a single combat between the 
two princes concerned, was a logical consequence of the 
conception still prevailing, as if political disputes were nothing 
but a " quarrel " in the juristic sense of the word. A Burgun- 
dian partisan, for instance, serves the " quarrel " of his lord. 
What more natural means to settle such a case can be imagined 
than the duel of two princes, the too parties to the " quarrel " ? 
The solution was satisfactory to both the primitive sense of 
right and the chivalrous imagination. In reading the summary 
of the carefully arranged preparations for these princely duels, 
we ask ourselves, if they were not a conscious feint, either to 
impose upon one's enemy, or to appease the grievances of 
one s own subjects. Are we not rather to regard them as an 
inextricable mixture of humbug and of a chimerical, but, after 
all, sincere, craving to conform to the life heroic, by posing 

Value of Chivalrous Ideas 85 

before all the world as the champion of right, who does not 
hesitate to sacrifice himself for his people ? 

How, otherwise, are we to explain the surprising persistence 
of these plans for princely duels ? Richard II of England 
offers to fight, together with his uncles, the dukes of Lancaster, 
York, and Gloucester, against the king of France, Charles VI, 
and his uncles, the dukes of Anjou, Burgundy and Berry. 
Louis of Orleans defies the king of England, Henry IV. 
Henry V of England challenges the dauphin before marching 
upon Agincourt. Above all, the duke of Burgundy displayed an 
almost frenzied attachment to this mode of settling a question. 
In 1425 he challenges Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, in con- 
nection with the question of Holland. The motive, as always, 
is expressly formulated in these terms : "To prevent Christian 
bloodshed and destruction of the people, on whom my heart 
has compassion," I wish " that by my own body, this quarrel 
may be settled, without proceeding by means of wars, which 
would entail that many noblemen and others, both of your 
army and of mine, would end their days pitifully." 

All was ready for the combat : the magnificent armour and 
the state dresses, the pavilions, the standards, the banners, 
the armorial tabards for the heralds, everything richly adorned 
with the duke's blazons and with his emblems, the flint-and- 
steel and the Saint Andrew's cross. The duke had gone in 
for a course of training " both by abstinence in the matter of 
food and by taking exercise to keep him in breath." He 
practised fencing every day in his park of Hesdin with the 
most expert masters. The detailed expenses entailed by this 
affair are found in the accounts published by de La Borde, 
but the combat did not take place. 

This did not prevent the duke, twenty years later, from 
again wishing to decide a question touching Luxemburg by a 
single combat with the duke of Saxony. Towards the close 
of his life he is still vowing to engage in a hand-to-hand combat 
with the Grand Turk. 

We find this custom oi challenges between sovereigns re- 
appearing as late as the hey-day of the Renaissance. To 
deliver Italy from Cesare Borgia, Francesco Gonzaga offers 
to fight the latter with sword and dagger. Charles V himself, 
on two occasions, in 1526 and in 1536, formally proposes to 

The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the THng of France to end their differences by a single combat. 

The notion of two princes fighting a duel in order to decide a 
conflict between their countries had nothing impossible about 
it at an epoch when the judicial duel was still as firmly rooted 
in practice and in ideas as it was in the fifteenth century. 
If a political duel between two real sovereigns never actually 
took place, at any rate in 1397 a very great lord, accused of a 
political crime by a nobleman, fought him in due form and was 
killed. We refer to Othe de Granson, an illustrious knight and 
admired poet, who perished at Bourg en Bresse by the hand 
of Gerard d'Estavayer. The latter had made himself the 
champion of the towns of the Pays de Vaud, which were very 
hostile to Granson, as he was suspected of complicity in the 
murder of his lord, Ame VII, of Savoy, surnamed " the Red 
Count." This judicial duel caused an immense sensation. 

If princes had such a chivalrous conception of their duty, 
it is not astonishing that similar ideas constantly exercised a 
certain influence on political and military decisions : a nega- 
tive influence and scarcely of a decisive nature, taking all 
in all, but nevertheless real. The chivalrous prejudice often 
caused resolutions to be retarded or precipitated, opportunities 
to be lost, and profit to be neglected, for the sake of a point 
of honour; it exposed commanders to unnecessary dangers. 
Strategical interests were frequently sacrificed in order to keep 
up the appearances of the heroic life. Sometimes a king him- 
self would go forth to seek military adventure, like Edward III 
attacking a convoy of Spanish ships by night. Froissart 
asserts that the knights of the Star had to swear never to fly 
more than four acres from the battlefield, through which rule 
soon afterwards more than ninety of them lost their lives. The 
article is not found in the statutes of the order, as published 
by Luc d'Achery ; nevertheless, such formalism tallies well 
with the ideas of that epoch. Some days before the battle of 
Agincourt, the king of England, on his way to meet the French 
army, one evening passed by mistake by the village which 
the foragers of his army had fixed upon as night-quarters. He 
would have had time to return, and he would have done it, if 
a point of honour had not prevented him. The king, " as the 
chief guardian of the very laudable ceremonies of honour," 
had just published an order, according to which knights, while 

Value of Chivalrous Ideas 87 

reconnoitring, had to take off their coat-armour, because their 
honour would not suffer knights to retreat, when accoutred for 
battle. Now, the king himself had put on his coat-armour, 
and so, having passed it by, he could not return to the village 
mentioned. He therefore passed the night in the place he had 
reached and also made the vanguard advance accordingly, in 
spite of the dangers that might have been incurred. 

Just as a political conflict was regarded as an action at law, 
so there was also but a difference of degree between a battle 
and a judicial duel, or the combat of knights in the lists. In 
his Arbre des Batailles, Honore Bonet places them under the 
same head, although carefully distinguishing "great general 
battles" and "particular battles." In the wars of the fif- 
teenth century, and even later, the custom for two captains 
or two equal groups to appoint meetings for a fight, in sight 
of the two armies, was still kept up. The Combat of the 
Thirty has remained the celebrated type of these fights. It 
was fought in 1351 at Ploermel, in Brittany, between the 
French of Beaumanoir and a company of thirty men, English, 
Germans and Bretons, under a certain Bamborough. Frois- 
sart, though full of admiration, cannot help remarking : 
" Some held it a prowess, and some held it a shame and a 
great overbearing." The uselessness of these chivalrous 
spectacles was so evident that those in authority resented 
them. It was impossible to expose the honour of the king- 
dom to the hazards of a single combat. When Guy de la 
Tremoille wished to prove in 1386 the superiority of the French 
by a duel with an English nobleman, Peter Courtenay, the dukes 
of Burgundy and Berry at the last moment issued a formal 
prohibition. The authors of the Jouvencel disapprove of these 
competitions of glory. " They are forbidden things and which 
people should not do. In the first place, those who do it, 
want to take away the good of others, that is to say, their 
honour, to procure themselves vain glory, which is of little 
value ; and, in doing this, he serves none, he spends his money ; 
... in being occupied in doing this, he neglects his part in 
waging war, the service of his king and the public cause ; and 
no one should expose his body, unless in meritorious works." 

This is the military spirit, which itself has issued from the 
spirit of chivalry and is now gradually supplanting it. The 

The Waning of the Middle Ages 

custom of these fights outlived the Middle Ages. The French 
and Spanish armies, in the south of Italy, in 1503, feasted 
their eyes first upon the Combat of the Eleven, without any 
fatal result, and then upon the famous duel between Bayard 
and Sotomayor, which was by no means the last of its sort. 

Thus, in warfare, the chivalrous point of honour continues 
to make itself felt, but when an important question arises for 
decision, strategic prudence carries the day in the majority 
of cases. Generals still propose to the enemy to come to an 
understanding as to the choice of the battlefield, but the 
invitation is generally declined by the party occupying the 
better position. In vain did the English in 1333 invite the 
Scotch to come down from their strong position in order to 
fight them in the plains ; in vain did Guillaume de Hainaut 
propose an armistice of three days to the king of France, during 
which a bridge could be built permitting the armies to join 
battle. Reason, however, is not always victorious. Before 
the battle of Najera (or of Navarrete), in which Bertrand du 
Guesclin was taken prisoner, Don Henri de Trastamara desires, 
at any cost, to measure himself with the enemy in the open 
field. He voluntarily gives up the advantages offered by the 
configuration of the ground and loses the battle. 

If chivalry had to yield to strategy and tactics, none the 
less it remained of importance in the exterior apparatus of 
warfare. An army of the fifteenth century, with its splendid 
show of rich ornament and solemn pomp, still offered the spec- 
tacle of a tournament of glory and honour. The multitude of 
banners and pennons, the variety of heraldic bearings, the 
sound of clarions, the war-cries resounding all day long, all 
this, with the military costume itself and the ceremonies of 
dubbing knights before the battle, tended to give war the 
appearance of a noble sporjb. 

After the middle of the century, the drum, of Oriental 
origin, makes its appearance in the armies of the West, in- 
troduced by the lansquenets. With its unmusical hypnotic 
effect it symbolizes, as it were, the transition from the epoch 
of chivalry to that of the art of modern warfare ; together with 
fire-arms it has contributed towards rendering war mechanical. 

The chivalrous point of view still presides over the classifi- 
cation of martial exploits by the chroniclers. They take 

Value of Chivalrous Ideas 

pains to distinguish, according to technical rules, between 
a pitched battle and an encounter, for it is imperative that 
every combat has its appropriate place in the records of glory. 
" And so, from this day forward " says Monstrelet " this 
business was called the encounter of Mons en Vimeu. And 
it was declared to be no battle, because the parties met by 
chance and there were hardly any banners unfurled.'* Henry V 
solemnly baptizes his great victory, the battle of Agincourt, 
" inasmuch as all battles should bear the name of the nearest 
fortress where they are fought." 

In spite of the care taken on all hands to keep up the illusion 
of chivalry, reality perpetually gives the lie to it, and obliges 
it to take refuge in the domains of literature and of conversa- 
tion. The ideal of the fine heroic life could only be cultivated 
within the limits of a close caste. The sentiments of chivalry 
were current only among the members of the caste and by no 
means extended to inferior persons. The Burgundian court, 
which was saturated with chivalrous prejudice, and would 
not have tolerated the slightest infringement of rules in a 
"combat & outrance" between noblemen, relished the un- 
bridled ferocity of a judicial duel between burghers, where 
there was no code of honour to observe. Nothing could be 
more remarkable in this respect than the interest excited 
everywhere by the combat of two burghers of Valenciennes 
in 1455. The old Duke Philip wanted to see the rare spectacle 
at any cost. One must read the vivid and realistic description 
given by Chastellain in order to appreciate how a chivalrous 
writer who never succeeded in giving more than a vaguely 
fanciful description of a Passage of Arms, made up for it here 
by giving full rein to the instincts of natural cruelty. Not 
one detail of the " very beautiful ceremony " escaped him. 
The adversaries, accompanied by their fencing masters, enter 
the lists, first Jacotin Plouvier, the plaintiff, next Mahuot. 
Their heads are cropped close and they are sewn up from head 
to foot in cordwain dresses of a single piece. They are very 
pale. After having saluted the duke, who was seated behind 
lattice-work, they await the signal, seated upon two chairs 
upholstered in black. The spectators exchange remarks in a 
low voice on the chances of the combat : How pale Mahuot is 

90 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

as he kisses the Testament ! Two servants come to rub them 
with grease from the neck to the ankles. Both champions 
rub their hands with ashes and take sugar in their mouths ; 
next they are given quartersticks and bucklers painted with 
images of saints, which they hold upside down, having, more- 
over, in their hands " a scroll of devotion." 

Mahuot, a small man, begins the combat by throwing sand 
into Jacotin's face with the point of his buckler. Soon after- 
wards he falls to the ground under the formidable blows of 
Jacotin, who throws himself on Mm, fills his eyes and mouth 
with sand, and thrusts his thumb into the socket of his eye, to 
make him let go of a finger which Mahuot has between his teeth. 
Jacotin wrings the other's arms, jumps upon his back and tries 
to break it. In vain does Mahuot cry for mercy, and asks to 
be confessed. "O my lord of Burgundy," he calls out, "I 
have served you so well in your war of Ghent ! O my lord, 
for God's sake, I beg for mercy, save my life ! "... Here 
some pages of Chastellain's chronicle are missing ; we learn 
elsewhere that the dying man was dragged out of the lists 
and hanged by the executioner. 

Did Chastellain end his lively narrative by a moral ? It 
is probable ; anyhow, La Marche tells that the nobility were a 
little ashamed at having been present at such a spectacle. 
" Because of which God caused a duel of knights to follow, 
which was irreproachable and without fatal consequences," 
adds the incorrigible court poet. 

As soon as it is a question of non-nobles, the old and deep- 
rooted contempt for the villein shows us that the ideas of 
chivalry had availed but little in mitigating feudal barbarism* 
diaries VI, after the battle of Eosebeke, wishes to see the 
corpse of Philip of Artevelde. The king does not show the 
slightest respect for the illustrious rebel. According to one 
chronicle, he is said to have kicked the body, " treating it as 
a villein." " When it had been looked at, for some time " 
says Froissart " it was taken from that place and hanged on a 

Hard realities were bound to open the eyes of the nobility 
and show the falseness and uselessness of their ideal. The 
financial side of a knight's career was frankly avowed. Erois- 
sart never omits to enumerate, the profits which a successful 

Value of Chivalrous Ideas 91 

enterprise procured for its heroes. The ransom of a noble 
prisoner was the backbone of the business to the warriors 
of the fifteenth century. Pensions, rents, governor's places, 
occupy a large place in a knight's life. His aim is " s'avanchier 
par armes " (to get on in life by arms). Commines rates the 
courtiers according to their pay, and speaks of " a nobleman 
of twenty crowns," and Deschamps makes them sigh after 
the day of payment, in a ballad with the refrain : 

" Et quant venra le tresorier ? " x 

As a military principle, chivalry was no longer sufficient. 
Tactics had long since given up all thought of conforming to 
its rules. The custom of making the knights fight on foot was 
borrowed by the French from the English, though the chival- 
rous spirit was opposed to this practice. It was also opposed 
to sea-fights. In the Debat des Herauts d' Armes de France et 
d'AngUterre, the French herald being asked by his English 
colleague : Why does the king of France not maintain a great 
naval force, like that of England ? replies very naively : In 
the first place he does not need it, and, then, the French 
nobility prefer wars on dry land, for several reasons, " for 
(on the sea) there is danger and loss of life and God knows how 
awful it is when a storm rages and sea-sickness prevails which 
many people find hard to bear. Again, look at the hard life 
which has to be lived, which does not beseem nobility." 

Nevertheless, chivalrous, ideas did not die out without 
having borne some fruit. In so far as they formed a system 
of rules of honour and precepts of virtue, they exercised a 
certain influence on the evolution of the laws of war. The law 
of nations originated in antiquity and in canon law, but it 
was chivalry which caused it to flower. The aspiration after 
universal peace is linked with the idea of crusades and with 
that of the orders of chivalry. Philippe de Mezieres planned 
his " Order of the Passion " to insure the good of the world. 
The young king of France (this was written about 1388, 
when such great hopes were still entertained of the unhappy 
Charles VI) will be easily able to conclude peace with Richard 
of England, young like himself and also innocent of bloodshed 
in the past. Let them discuss the peace personally ; let them 

1 And when will the paymaster come ? 

92 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

tell each other of the marvellous revelations which have already 
heralded it. Let them ignore all the futile differences which 
might prevent peace, if negotiations were left to ecclesiastics, 
to lawyers, and to soldiers. The king of France may fearlessly 
cede a few frontier towns and castles. Directly after the 
conclusion of peace the crusade will be prepared. Quarrels 
and hostilities will cease everywhere ; the tyrannical govern- 
ments of countries will be reformed ; a general council will 
summon the princes of Christendom to undertake a crusade, 
in case sermons do not suffice to convert the Tartars, Turks, 
Jews and Saracens. 

The share which the ideas of chivalry have had in the develop- 
ment of the law of nations is not limited to these dreams. The 
notion of a law of nations itself was preceded and led up to 
by the ideal of a beautiful life of honour and of loyalty. In 
the fourteenth century we find the formulation of principles 
of international law blending with the casuistical and often 
puerile regulations of passages of arms and combats in the 
lists. In 1352 Sir Geoffroi de Charney (who died at Poitiers 
bearing the oriflamme) addresses to the king, who has just 
instituted his order of the Star, a treatise composed of a long 
list of " demandes," that is to say, questions of casuistry, 
concerning jousts, tournaments and war. Jousts and tourna- 
ments rank first, but the importance of questions of military 
law is shown by their far greater number. It should be remem- 
bered that this order of the Star was the culmination of chival- 
rous romanticism, founded expressly " in the manner of the 
Bound Table." 

Better known than the " demandes " of Geoftroi de Charney 
is a work that appeared towards the end of the fourteenth 
century, and which remained in vogue till the sixteenth : 
PArbre des Batailles of Honore Bonet, prior of Selonnet, in 
Provence. The influence of chivalry on the development of 
the law of nations nowhere appears more clearly than here. 
Though the author is an ecclesiastic, the idea which suggests 
his very remarkable conceptions to him is that of chivalry. 
He treats promiscuously questions of personal honour and 
the gravest questions of the law of nations. For example, 
"by what right can one wage war against the Saracens or 
other unbelievers," or, "if a prince may refuse the passage 

Value of Chivalrous Ideas 93 

through his country to another." What is especially remark- 
able is the spirit of gentleness and of humanity in which Bonet 
solves these problems. May the king of France, waging war 
with England, take prisoner " the poor English, merchants, 
labourers of the soil and shepherds who tend their flocks in the 
fields " ? The author answers in the negative ; not only do 
Christian morals forbid it, but also " the honour of the age. 5 ' 
He even goes so far as to extend the privilege of safe conduct 
in the enemy's country to the case of the father of an English 
student wishing to visit his sick son in Paris. 

L'Arbre des Batailles was, unfortunately, only a theoretical 
treatise. We know full well that war in those times was very 
cruel. The fine rules and the generous exemptions enumerated 
by the good prior of Selonnet were too rarely observed. Still, 
if a little clemency was slowly introduced into political and 
military practice, this was due rather to the sentiment of 
honour than to convictions based on legal and moral principles. 
Military duty was conceived in the first place as the honour 
of a knight. 

Taine said : " In the middle and lower classes the chief 
motive of conduct is self-interest. With an aristocracy the 
mainspring is pride. Now among the profound sentiments 
of man there is none more apt to be transformed into probity, 
patriotism and conscience, for a proud man feels the need of 
self-respect, and, to obtaiii it, he is led to deserve it." Is not 
this the point of view whence we must consider the importance 
of chivalry in the history of civilization ? Pride assuming 
the features of a high ethical value, knightly self-respect pre- 
paring the way for clemency and right. These transitions 
in the domain of thought are real. In the passage quoted 
above from Le Jouvencel we noticed how chivalric sentiment 
passes into patriotism. All the best elements of patriotism 
the spirit of sacrifice, the desire for justice and protection for 
the oppressed sprouted in the soil of chivalry. It is in the 
classic country of chivalry, in France, that are heard, for the 
first time, the touching accents of love of the fatherland, 
irradiated by the sentiment of justice. One need not be a 
great poet to say these simple things with dignity. No author 
of those times has given French patriotism such a touching 
and also such a varied expression as Eustache Deschamps, 

94 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

whom we can only rate as a mediocre poet. Addressing France, 
he says : 

" Tu as dur< et durras sanz doubtance 
Tant com raisons sera de toy aine'e, 
Autrement, non ; fay done a la balance 
Justice en toy et que bien soit gard<Se." * 

Chivalry would never have been the ideal of life during 
several centuries if it had not contained high social values, 
Its strength lay in the very exaggeration of its generous and 
fantastic views. The soul of the Middle Ages, ferocious and 
passionate, could only be led by placing far too high the ideal 
towards which its aspirations should tend. Thus acted the 
Church, thus also feudal thought. We may apply, here 
Emerson's words: "Without this violence of direction, 
which men and women have, without a spice of bigot and 
fanatic, no excitement, no efficiency. We aim above the mark 
to hit the mark. Every act hath some falsehood of exaggera- 
tion in it." That reality has constantly given the lie to these 
high illusions of a pure and noble social life, who would deny ? 
But where should we be, if our thoughts had never trans- 
cended the exact limits of the feasible ? 

1 You have endured and will, no doubt, endure So long as reason will be 
loved by you. Not otherwise ; so hold the balance Of justice in yourself, 
and let it be well kept. 


When in the twelfth century unsatisfied desire was placed 
by the troubadours of Provence in the centre of the poetic 
conception of love, an important turn in the history of civiliza- 
tion was effected. Antiquity, too, had sung the sufferings of 
love, but it had never conceived them save as the expectation 
of happiness or as its pitiful frustration. The sentimental 
point of Pyramus and Thisbe, of Cephalus and Procris, lies 
in their tragic end ; in the heart-rending loss of a happiness 
already enjoyed. Courtly poetry, on the other hand, makes 
desire itself the essential motif, and so creates a conception 
of love with a negative ground-note. Without giving up all 
connection with sensual love, the new poetic ideal was capable 
of embracing all kinds of ethical aspiratipns. Love now be- 
came the field where all moral and cultural perfection flowered. 
Because of his love, the courtly lover is pure and virtuous. The 
spiritual element dominates more and more, till towards the 
end of the thirteenth century, the dolce stil nuavo of Dante and 
his friends ends by attributing to love the gift of bringing 
about a state of piety and holy intuition. Here an extreme 
had been reached. Italian poetry was gradually to find 
its way back to a less exalted expression of erotic sentiment. 
Petrarch is divided between the ideal of spiritualized love and 
the more natural charm of antique models. Soon the artificial 
system of courtly love is abandoned, and its subtle distinctions 
will not be revived, when the Platonism of the Renaissance, 
latent, already, in the courtly conception, gives rise to new 
forms of erotic poetry with a spiritual tendency. 

In France the evolution of erotic culture was more compli- 
cated. The idea of courtly love was not to be supplanted so 
easily there. The system is not given up ; but the forms are 
filled by new values. Even before Dante had found the eternal 


The Waning of the Middle Ages 

harmony of his Vita Nuova, the Roman de la Rose had in- 
augurated a novel phase of erotic thought in France. The 
work, begun before 1240 by Guillaume de Lorris, was finished, 
before 1280, by Jean Chopinel. Few books have exercised a 
more profound and enduring influence on the life of any period 
than the Romaunt of the Rose. Its popularity lasted for two 
centuries at least. It determined the aristocratic conception 
of love in the expiring Middle Ages. By reason of its encyclo- 
pedic range it became the treasure-house whence lay society 
drew the better part of its erudition. 

The existence of an upper class whose intellectual and moral 
notions are enshrined in an ars amandi remains a rather excep- 
tional fact in history. In no other epoch did the ideal of 
civilization amalgamate to such a degree with that of love. 
Just as scholasticism represents the grand effort of the medieval 
spirit to unite all philosophic thought in a single centre, so the 
theory of courtly love, in a less elevated sphere, tends to em- 
brace all that appertains to the noble life. The Roman de la 
Rose did not destroy the system ; it only modified its tendencies 
and enriched its contents. 

To formalize love is the supreme realization of the aspiration 
to the life beautiful, of which we traced above both the cere- 
monial and the heroic expression. More than in pride and 
in strength, beauty is found in love. To formalize love is, 
moreover, a social necessity, a need that is the more imperious 
as life is more ferocious. Love has to be elevated to the 
height of a rite. The overflowing violence of passion demands 
it. Only by constructing a system of forms and rules for the 
vehement emotions can barbarity be escaped. The brutality 
and the licence of the lower classes was always ifervently, but 
never very efficiently, repressed by the Church. The aristo- 
cracy could feel less dependent on religious admonition, because 
they had a piece of culture of their own from which to draw 
their standards of conduct, namely, courtesy. Literature, 
fashion and cdnversation here formed the means to regulate 
and refine erotic life. If they did not altogether succeed, they 
at least created the appearance of an honourable life of courtly 
love. For, in reality, the sexual life of the higher classes 
remained surprisingly rude. 

In the erotic conceptions of the Middle Ages two diverging 

Love Formalized 97 

currents are to be distinguished. Extreme indecency showing 
itself freely in customs, as in literature, contrasts with an 
excessive formalism, bordering on prudery. Chastellain 
mentions frankly how the duke of Burgundy, awaiting an 
English embassy at Valenciennes, reserves the baths of the 
town " for them and for all their retinue, baths provided with 
everything required for the calling of Venus, to take by choice 
and by election what they liked best, and all at the expense 
of the duke." Charles the Bold was reproached with his 
continence, which was thought unbecoming in a prince. At 
the royal or princely courts of the fifteenth century, marriage 
feasts were accompanied by all sorts of licentious pleasantries 
a usage which had not disappeared two centuries later. In 
Eroissart's narrative of the marriage of Charles VI with 
Isabella of Bavaria we hear the obscene grinning of the court, 
Deschamps dedicates to Antoine de Bourgogne an epithala- 
nminm of extreme indecency. A certain rhymer makes a 
lascivious ballad at the request of the lady of Burgundy and 
of all the ladies. 

Such customs seem to be absolutely opposed to the con- 
straint and the modesty imposed by courtesy, The same 
circles who showed so much shamelessness in sexual relations 
professed to venerate the ideal of courtly love. Are we to 
look for hypocrisy in their theory or for cynical abandonment 
of troublesome forms in their practice ? 

We should rather picture to ourselves two layers of 
civilization superimposed, coexisting though contradictory. 
Side by side with the courtly style, of literary and rather 
recent origin, the primitive forms of erotic life kept all 
their force ; for a complicated civilization like that of the 
closing Middle Ages could not but be heir to a crowd of 
conceptions, motives, erotic forms, which now collided and 
now blended. 

The whole of the epithalamic genre may be considered as 
a heritage of a remote past. In primitive culture marriage 
and nuptials form but one single sacred rite, converging in 
the mystery of copulation. Afterwards the Church, by trans- 
ferring the sacred element of marriage to the sacrament, 
reserved the mystery for itself, leaving its accessories, to 
which it objected, to develop freely as popular practices. Thtis 

"98 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the epithalamic apparatus, though stripped of its sacred 
character, nevertheless kept its importance as the main element 
in the nuptial feasts, thriving there more freely than ever. 
Licentious expression and gross symbolism were essential to 
it. The Church was powerless to bridle them. Neither 
Catholic discipline nor Reformed Puritanism could do away 
with the quasi-publicity of the marriage-bed, which remained 
in vogue well into the seventeenth century. 

It is therefore from an ethnological point of view, as sur- 
vivals, that we have to regard the mass of obscenities, equi- 
vocal sayings and lascivious symbols which we meet in the 
civilization of the Middle Ages. They were the remains of 
mysteries that had degenerated into games and amusements. 
Evidently the people of that epoch did not feel that, in taking 
pleasure in them, they were infringing the prescriptions of 
the courtly code ; they felt themselves on different soil where 
courtesy was not current. 

It would be an exaggeration to say that in erotic literature 
the whole comic genre was derived from the epithalamium. Cer- 
tainly the indecent tale, the farce and the lascivious song had 
long formed a genre of their own of which the forms of expres- 
sion were liable to but little variation. Obscene allegory pre- 
dominates ; every trade lent itself to this treatment ; the 
literature of the time abounds in symbolism borrowed from 
the tournament, the chase or music ; but most popular of all 
was., the religious travesty of erotic matters. Besides the 
grossly comic style of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvettes, punning 
with homonymous words like saint and seins, or using in an 
obscene sense the words for blessing and confession, erotic- 
ecclesiastical allegory took a more refined form. The poets of 
the circle of Charles d' Orleans compared their amorous sadness 
to the sufferings of the ascetic and the martyr. They call 
themselves "les amoureux de Pobservance," alluding to the 
severe reform which the Franciscan order had just undergone. 
Charles d'Orleans begins one of his pieces : 

"Ce sont ici les dix commandemens, 
Vray Dieu d'amours. . . ." x 

1 These are the ten commandments, True God of love. 

Love Formalized 

Or, lamenting his dead love, he says : 

"J'ay fait 1'obseque de ma dame 
Dedans le moustier amoureux, 
Et le service pour son ame 
A chant6 Penser doloreux. 
Mains sierges de soupirs piteux 
Ont est6 en son luminaire, 
Aussi j'ay fait la tombe faire 
De regrets. . . ," 1 

All the effects of a sweet and melancholy burlesque are 
found together in that very tender and pure poem of the end 
of the century called L'Amant rendu Cordelier de FObservance 
d' Amour, which describes the reception of an inconsolable 
lover in the convent of amorous martyrs. It is as though 
erotic poetry even in this perverse way strove to recover that 
primitive connection with sacred matters of which the Christian 
religion had bereft it. 

French authors like to oppose " Pesprit gaulois " to the 
conventions of courtly love, as the natural conception and 
expression opposed to the artificial. Now the former is no 
less a fiction than the latter. Erotic thought never acquires 
literary value save by some process of transfiguration of com- 
plex and painful reality into illusionary forms. The whole 
genre of Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles and the loose song, with 
its wilful neglect of all the natural and -social complications 
of love, with its indulgence towards the lies and egotism of 
sexual life, and its vision of a never-ending lust, implies, no 
less than the screwed-up system of courtly love, an attempt to 
substitute for reality the dream of a happier life. It is once 
more the aspiration towards the life sublime, but this time 
viewed from the animal side. It is an ideal all the same, even 
though it be that of unchastity. Reality at all times has been 
worse and more brutal than the refined sestheticism of courtesy 
would have it be, but also more chaste than it is represented 
to be by the vulgar genre which is wrongly regarded as realism. 

As an element of literary culture the " genre gaulois " could 

1 1 have celebrated the obsequies of my lady In the church of love, And 
the'service for her soul Was sung by dolorous Thought. Many tapers of pitiful 
sighs Have burned in her iHuminatioxift Also I had the tomb made Of 
regrets. * . . 

100 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

only occupy a secondary place, because erotic poetry is only 
fit to beautify life and to serve as a source of inspiration and 
imitation, in so far as it takes for its themes, not sexual inter- 
course itself, but the possibility of happiness, the promise, 
desire, languor, expectation. Only thus will it be capable of 
expressing all the different shadings of love, and of treating it 
equally from the sad and from the merry side* By introducing 
into love's domain the concepts of honour, courage, fidelity, 
and all the other elements of moral life, it will be of far greater 
aesthetic and ethical value. The Roman de la Ease, by com- 
bining the passionate character of its sensuous central theme 
with all the elaborate fancy of the system of courtly love, 
satisfied the needs of erotic expression of a whole age. 

In this veritable treasure-house of amorous doctrine, ritual 
and legend, systematic and complete, the encyclopedic spirit 
of the thirteenth century had poured itself out, as it did in the 
sterner work of a Vincent of Beauvais, The extraordinary 
influence of the book could not but be heightened by its am- 
biguous nature. The work of two poets of different trends of 
thought, it joined it would be more correct to say it juxta- 
posed the courtly conception of love and sensual cynicism 
of the most daring kind. Texts could be found in it for all 

GuiUaume de Lorris had given it charm of form and tender- 
ness of accent. The background of vernal landscape, the 
bizarre and yet harmonious imagery of allegorical figures, are 
his work. As soon as the lover has approached the wall of 
the mysterious garden of love, the allegorical system is unfolded. 
Dame Leisure opens the gate for him, Gaiety conducts the 
dance, Amor holds by the hand Beauty, who is accompanied 
by Wealth, Liberality, Frankness, Courtesy and Youth. After 
having locked the heart of his vassal, Amor enumerates to 
him the blessings of love, called Hope, Sweet Thought, Sweet 
Speech, Sweet Look. Then, when Bel-Accueil, the son of 
Courtesy, invites him to come and see the roses, Danger, Male- 
bouche, Fear and Shame come to chase hi away. The 
dramatic struggle commences. Reason comes down from its 
high tower, and Venus appears upon the scene. The text of 
GuiUaume de Lorris ends in the middle of the crisis. 

Jean Ghopinel, or Clopinel, or de Meun, who finished the 

Love Formalized 101 

work, adding much more than he found, sacrificed the harmony 
of the composition to his fondness for psychological and social 
analysis. The conquest of the castle of the roses is drowned 
in a continual flood of digressions, speculations and examples. 
The sweet breeze of Guillaume de Lorris was followed by the 
east wind of chilling scepticism and cruel cynicism of his 
successor. The vigorous and trenchant spirit of the second 
tarnished the naive and lightsome idealism of the first. Jean 
de Meun is an enlightened man, who believes neither in spectres 
nor in sorcerers, neither in faithful love nor in the chastity of 
woman, who has an inkling of the problems of mental pathology, 
and puts into the mouths of Venus, Nature and Genius the 
most daring apology for sensuality. 

Venus, requested by her son to come to his aid, swears 
not to leave a single woman chaste and makes Amor and the 
whole army of assailants take the same vow as regards men. 
Nature, occupied in her smithy with her task of preserving 
the various species, her eternal struggle against Death, com- 
plains that of all creatures, man alone transgresses her com- 
mandments by abstaining from procreation. She charges 
Genius, her priest, to go and hurl at Love's army, Nature's 
anathema on those who despise her laws. In sacerdotal dress, 
a taper in his hand, Genius pronounces the sacrilegious ex- 
communication, in which the boldest sensualism blends with 
refined mysticism. Virginity is condemned, hell is reserved 
for those who do not observe the commandments of nature 
and of love. For the others the flowered field, where the white 
sheep, led by Jesus, the lamb born of the Virgin, crop the 
incorruptible grass in endless daylight. At the close Genius 
throws the taper into the besieged fortress ; its flame sets the 
universe on fire. Venus also throws her torch ; then Shame 
and Fear flee, the castle is taken, and Bel-Accueil allows the 
lover to pluck the rose. 

Here, then, in the Roman de la Rose, the sexual motif is again 
placed in the centre of erotic poetry, but enveloped by symbol- 
ism and mystery and presented in the guise of saintliness. It 
is impossible to imagine a more deliberate defiance of the 
Christian ideal. The dream of love had taken a form as 
artistic as it was passionate. The profusion of allegory satis- 
fied all the requirements of medieval imagination. These 

102 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

personifications were indispensable for expressing the finer 
shades of sentiments. Erotic terminology, to be understood, 
could not dispense with these graceful puppets. People used 
these figures of Danger, Evil Mouth, etc., as the accepted terms 
of a scientific psychology. The passionate character of the 
central motif prevented tediousness and pedantry. 

In theory, the Roman de la Rose does not deny the ideal of 
courtesy. The garden of delights is inaccessible except to 
the elect, regenerated by love. He who wants to enter must 
be free from all hatred, felony, villainy, avarice, envy, sadness, 
hypocrisy, poverty and old age. But the positive qualities he 
has to oppose to these are no longer ethical, as in the system 
of courtly love, but simply of an aristocratic character. They 
are leisure, pleasure, gaiety, love, beauty, wealth, liberality, 
frankness and courteousness. They are no longer so many 
perfections brought about by the sacredness of love, but simply 
the proper means to conquer the object desired. For the 
veneration of idealized womanhood, Jean Ohopinel substituted 
a cruel contempt for its feebleness. 

Now, whatever influence the Roman de la Rose may have 
exercised on the minds of men, it did not succeed in com- 
pletely destroying the older conception of love. Side by side 
with the glorification of seduction professed by the Rose, the 
glorification of the pure and faithful love of the knight main- 
tained its ground, both in lyrical poetry and in the romance 
of chivalry, not to speak of the fantasy of tournaments and 
passages of arms. Towards the end of the fourteenth century 
the question which of the two conceptions of love should be 
held by the perfect nobleman provoked a literary dispute such 
as Rrench taste loved in later centuries also. The noble 
Boucicaut had made himself the champion of true courtesy 
by composing with his travelling companions the Hwe des 
Cent Ballades, in which he called on the wits of the court to 
decide between the honest and self-denying service of a single 
lady, and fashionable flirtation. Knights or poets who, like 
Boucicaut, honoured the old ideal of courtesy, were vaunted 
as models, Othe de Granson and Louis de Sancerre among 
others. Christine de Pisan took part in the dispute by posing 
as the intrepid advocate of female honour. Her Epistre aw 
Dieu d : Amours formulated the complaints of women about 

Love Formalized 103 

all the deceit and instilts of men. With serious indignation 
she denounces the doctrine of the Roman de la Rose. 

Then the multitude of fervent admirers of Jean de Meun 
appeared upon the scene. Among them were men of very 
varying spiritual bent, even ecclesiastics. The debate lasted 
for years. The nobility and the court took it up as a means 
of amusement. Boucicaut encouraged, perhaps, by the 
praise of Christine de Pisan, for his defence of ideal courtesy 
had already founded his "ordre de 1'escu vert & la dame 
blanche," for the defence of oppressed women, when the duke 
of Burgundy eclipsed him by founding in Paris, at the " hotel 
d'Artois," on February 14, 1401, a court of love on a very 
splendid scale. Philippe le Hardi, the old diplomat, whom one 
would have supposed to be occupied with affairs of a very 
different nature, and Louis de Bourbon, had begged the king 
to institute a court of love to furnish some distraction during 
an epidemic of the plague which raged at Paris, " to spend part 
of the time more graciously and in order to find awakening 
of new joy." The cause of chivalry triumphed in the form of 
a literary salon. The court was founded on the virtues of 
humility and of fidelity, "to the honour, praise and com- 
mendation and service of all noble ladies." The members 
were provided with illustrious titles. The two founders and 
the king were called the Grands Conservateurs. Among the 
conservators we find Jean sans Peur, his brother Antoine, and 
his six-years-old son, Philippe. A certain Pierre d'Hauteville, 
from Hainault, was Prince of Love ; there were also ministers, 
auditors, knights of honour, knights treasurers, councillors, 
grand-masters of the chase, squires of love, etc. Burghers 
and lower clergy were admitted, side by side with princes and 
prelates. The business of the court much resembled that of a 
"rhetorical chamber." Eefrains were set to be worked up 
into "ballades couronn6es ou chapelees," songs, sirventois, 
complaints, rondels, lays, virelais, etc. There were debates 
" in the form of amorous law-suits to defend different opinions," 
The ladies distributed the prizes, and poems attacking the 
honour of women were forbidden. 

In this pompous and grave apparatus of a graceful amuse- 
ment one cannot help feeling the effect of Burgundian style 
beginning to influence the French court itself. It is equally 

104 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

obvious that the royal court, archaic like all courts, must 
declare in favour of the ancient and severe ideal of love, and 
that the 700 known members of the club were far from con- 
forming their practice to it. By what is known of their habits, 
the great lords of that epoch were rather strange protectors 
of female honour. The most curious fact is that we find there 
the same persons who, in the debate about love, had defended 
the Roman de la Rose and attacked Christine de Pisan. Evi- 
dently it was merely a society amusement. 

The intimate circle of Jean de Meun's admirers consisted 
of men in the service of princes, both priests and laymen. It 
is identical with that of the first French humanists. One of 
them, Jean de Montreuil, provost of Lille, secretary to the 
dauphin and later to the duke of Burgundy, was the author of 
a good many Ciceronian epistles, and, like his friends, Gontier 
and Pierre Col, he corresponded with Nicolas de Clemanges, 
the grave censor of the abuses in the Church. We now find 
trim devoting his talents to the defence of the Roman de la 
Rose, and of its author, Jean de Meun. He asserts that several 
of the most learned and enlightened men honour the Roman 
de la Rose so much that their appreciation resembles a cult 
(paewe ut ookrent), and that they would rather do without their 
shirt than this book. He exhorts his friends to undertake its 
defence, like himself. " The more I study " he writes to one 
df the detractors " the gravity of the mysteries and the mystery 
of the gravity of this profound and famous work of Master 
Jean de Meun, the more I am astonished at your disapproba- 
tion." He himself will defend it to his last breath, and many 
others will serve this cause with words and deeds. 

The conviction with which Jean de Montreuil speaks, seems 
already to indicate that the question of love, after all, involved 
graver issues than those of a court amusement, and this is 
further proved by the fact that Jean Gerson, the illustrious 
chancellor of the university, took part in the quarrel. He 
hated the Roman de la Rose with implacable hatred. The 
book seemed to him to be the most dangerous pest, the source 
of all immorality. In his works he reverts again and again to 
the pernicious influence "of the vicious romaunt of the rose." 
If he had a copy, which was the only one and worth a thousand 
pounds, he would rather burn it than sell it to be published. 

Love Formalized 105 

When Pierre Col had refuted one of Qerson's polemical writings, 
the latter replied by a treatise against the Roman de la Rose, 
which was more bitter than his former denunciations. He 
dated it " from my study, on the evening of the 18th of May, 

Following the example of the author .of the Roman de la 
Rose, he gave his treatise the form of an allegoric vision, 
Awakening, one morning, he feels his soul flying far away, 
" using the feathers and the wings of various thoughts, from 
one place to another, to the sacred court of Christianity," 
where he hears the complaints of Chastity addressed to Justice, 
Conscience and Wisdom about the Fool of love, that is to say, 
Jean de Meun, who has chased her from the earth, with all her 
train. The " good guardians " of Chastity are precisely the 
evil personages of the Rose : Shame, Fear and Danger, " the 
good porter, who would not dare, who would not deign to 
sanction even an impure Mss or dissolute look, or attractive 
smile or light speech." Chastity overwhelms the Fool of 
love with reproaches. The Fool rails at marriage and monastic 
life. He teaches " how all young girls should sell their persons 
early and dearly, without fear and without shame, and that 
they should make light of deceit and perjury." He directs 
the fancy exclusively to carnal desire, and, to top all perver- 
sity, in the speeches of Venus, of Nature, and of Dame Reason, 
he blends conceptions of Paradise, and of the mysteries of the 
Faith, with those of sensual pleasure. 

There, in truth, was the peril. This imposing work, with 
its mixture of sensuality, scoffing cynicism and elegant symbol- 
ism, infused a voluptuous mysticism into the mind which, to 
an austere man, was simply an abyss of sin. Had not Gerson's 
adversary dared to affirm that only the Fool of love could judge 
of the value of passion ? He who does not know it sees it only as 
in a glass, to hi it remains a riddle. Such was the use he had 
made for his sacrilegious purposes, of the holy words of Saint 
Paul ! Pierre Col had not scrupled to affirm that the Song of 
Solomon was composed in honour of the daughter of Pharaoh. 
Those who have defamed the Roman de la Ease, he declared, 
have bent their knees before Baal. Nature does not wish that 
a woman should be content with one single man, and the 
genius of Nature is God. He carried his blasphemy so far as 

106 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

to show from the Gospel of Saint Luke that formerly a woman's 
genitals, the rose of the romance, were sacred. Being con- 
vinced of the truth of this impious mysticism, he appealed 
to the friends of the book, forming a cloud of witnesses, and 
predicted that Gerson himself would fall madly in love, as 
had happened to other theologians before him. 

Gerson did not succeed in destroying the authority, or, at 
least, the popularity, of the Roman de la Rose. In 1444 a 
canon of Lisieux, Estienne Legris, composed a Repertoire du 
Roman de la Rose. Towards the end of the century Jean 
Molinet could assert that its sentences were current like pro- 
verbs. He has given himself the trouble of "moralizing" 
the whole book, in giving its allegories a religious meaning. 
The nightingale calling to love meant the voice of the preacher, 
the rose meant Jesus. Even in the hey-day of the Renaissance, 
Clement Marot considered that the work deserved to be 
modernized, and Eonsard did not consider the figures of Bel- 
Accueil and Faus Danger too worn for use in Jus verse. 


It is from literature that we gather the forms of erotic 
thought belonging to a period, but we should try to picture 
them functioning as elements of social life. A whole system 
of amatory conceptions and usages was current in aristocratic 
conversation of those times. What signs and figures of love 
which later ages have dropped ! Around the god of Love 
the bizarre mythology of the Roman de la Rose was grouped. 
Then there was the symbolism of colours in costume, and of 
flowers and precious stones. The meaning of colours, of 
which feeble traces still obtain, was of extreme importance 
in amorous conversation during the Middle Ages. A manual 
of the subject was written about 1458, by the herald Sicily 
in his Le Bfason des Coukurs, laughed at by Rabelais. When 
Guillaume de Machaut meets his beloved for the first time, 
he is delighted to see her wear a white dress and a sky-blue 
hood with a design of green parrots, because green signifies 
new love and blue fidelity. Later, he sees her image in a 
dream, turning away from him and dressed in green, " signify- 
ing novelty," and reproaches her with it in a ballad : 

" En lieu de bleu, dame, vous vestez vert.'* l 

Rings, veils and bands, all the jewels and presents of court- 
ship had their special function, with devices and enigmatic 
emblems which sometimes were veritable rebuses. The stand- 
ard of the dauphin in 1414 bore a gold K, a swan "fcygne) 
and an L, indicating one of his mother's maids of '^honour, 
who was called la Cassinelle. The "glorieux de court et 
transporters de noms," at whom Rabelais mocked, represent 
" espoix " by a sphere, " m61ancholie " by a columbine (anco- 
lie). Numerous games served to express the finesses of senti- 

1 Instead of in blue, lady, you dress in green. 

108 TTie Waning of the Middle Ages 

merit, such as The King who does not lie, The Castle of love, 
Sales of love, Games for sale. In one of them, for instance, 
the lady mentions a flower ; the young man has to answer 
by a rhymed compliment. 

" Je vous vena la passerose. 
Belle, dire ne vous ose 
Comment Amours vers vous me tire, 
Si 1'apercevez tout sanz dire." * 

The game of Castle of love consisted of a series of allegorical 

" Du chastel d' Amours vous demant : 
Dites le premier fondemeutl 
Amer loyaument. 

" Or me nommez le mestre mur 
Qui joli le font, fort et seur ! 
Celer sagement. 

" Dites moy qui sont li crenel, 
Les f enestres et li carrel 1 
Regart atraiant. 

" Amis, nommez moy le portier ! 
Dangler mauparlant. 

" Qui est la clef qui le puet deffermer T 
Prior courtoisement." * 

Since the times of the troubadours the casuistry of love 
had occupied a large place in courtly conversation. It was, 
so to say, curiosity and backbiting raised to the level of a 
literary form. At the court of Louis of Orleans people amuse 
themselves at meals by " tales, ballads " and " graceful ques- 
tions." Poets are especially laid under contribution. Machaut 
is requested by a company of ladies and noblemen to reply 
to a series of " partures of love and of its adventures." Every 
love-affadr is discussed according to rigorous rules. " Beau 

1 I seU you the hollyhock.-, Belle, I dare not tell How Love draws me 
towards you, But you perceive it, without saying a word, 

1 Of the castle of Love I ask you : TeU me the first foundation I To love 
loyally. Now mention the principal wall Which makes it fine, strong and 
sure ITo conceal wisely. TeU me what are the loopholes, The windows 
and the stones I Alluring looks. Friend, mention the porter I Hi-speaking 
danger. Which is the key that can unlock it T Courteous request; 

The Conventions of Love 109 

sire, which would you prefer : that people spoke ill of your 
lady and that you found her good, or that she were well 
spoken of and you should find her bad ? " The strict con- 
ception of honour obliged a gentleman to answer : " Lady, I 
should prefer to hear her well spoken of and that I should 
find her bad." 

Does a lady, neglected by her lover, break faith by choosing 
another ? May a knight bereft of all hope of seeing his lady, 
whom a jealous husband keeps locked up, seek a new love ? 
One step more and love questions will be treated as law- 
suits, as in the Arrestz d'Amour of Martial d'Auvergne. 

The courtly code did not serve exclusively for making 
verses ; it claimed to be applicable to life, or at least to con- 
versation. It is very difficult to pierce the clouds of poetry 
and to penetrate to the real life of the epoch. How far did 
courting and flirtation during the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries come up to the requirements of the courtly system 
or to the precepts of Jean de Meun 1 Autobiographical con- 
fessions are very rare at that epoch. Even when an actual 
love-affair is described with the intention of being accurate, 
the author cannot free himself from the accepted style and 
technical conceptions. We find an instance of this in the 
too lengthy narrative of a love-affair of an old poet and a 
young girl, which Guillaume de Machaut has given us in 
Le Livre du Voir-Dit. He was approaching his sixtieth year, 
when Peronnelle d'Armentieres, of a noble family in Cham- 
pagne, sent him, in 1362, her first rondel, in which she offered 
her heart to the celebrated poet, whom she did not know, 
and invited him to enter with her into a poetical love corre- 
spondence. The poor poet, sickly, blind of one eye, gouty, 
at once kindles. He replies to her rondel and an exchange 
of letters and of poems begins. Peronnelle is proud of her 
literary connection ; she does not make a secret of it, and begs 
the poet to put in writing the true story of their love, inserting 
their letters and their poetry. Machaut readily complies. 
" I shall make," he says, " to your glory and praise, something 
that will be well remembered." 

"And, my very sweet heart, are you sorry because we 
have begun so late 1 By God, so am I ; but here is the 
remedy : let us enjoy life as much as circumstances permit, 

110 The Waning of the Middk Ages 

so that we may make up for the time we have lost ; and that 
people may speak of our love a hundred years hence, and all 
well and honourably ; for if there were evil, you would con- 
ceal it from God, if you could." 

The narrative connecting the letters and the poetry teaches 
us what degree of intimacy was considered compatible with 
a decent love-affair. The young lady may permit herself 
extraordinary liberties, provided everything takes place in 
the presence of third parties, her sister-in-law, her maid or 
her secretary. At the first interview, which Machaut has 
been waiting for with misgivings, because of his unattractive 
appearance, Peronnelle falls asleep, or pretends to sleep, 
under a cherry tree, with her head on the poet's knees. The 
secretary covers her mouth with a green leaf and tells Machaut 
to kiss the leaf. Just when the latter takes courage to do so, 
the secretary pulls the leaf away* 

She grants him other favours. A pilgrimage to Saint 
Denis, at the time of the fair, provides them with an oppor- 
tunity of passing some days together. One afternoon, over- 
come by the heat of mid-June, they fly from the crowd at 
the fair to take a few hours* rest. A burgher of the town 
provides them with a double-bedded room. The blinds are 
closed and the company lies down. The sister-in-law takes 
one of the two beds. Peronnelle and her maid occupy the 
other. She orders the bashful poet to lie down between them, 
which he does, lying very still for fear of disturbing her. 
On waking, she orders him to kiss her. 

At the end of the trip^ she permits him to come and wake 
her, in order to take leave, and the narrative gives us to 
understand that she refused him nothing. She gives him 
the golden key of her honour, to guard that treasure, or what 
was left of it. 

The poet's good fortune ended there. He did not see her 
again, and, for lack of other adventures, he filled the rest of 
his book with mythological excursions. At last she lets him 
know that their relations must end, because of a marriage, 
probably. He resolves to go on loving and revering her till 
the end of his days. And aiter their death,.he will pray 
God, to reserve for her, in the glory of Heaven, the name he 
gave her : 

The Conventions of Love 111 

In the Voir-Dit of Machaut religion and love are mixed up 
with a sort of ingenuous shamelessness. We need not be 
shocked by the fact that the author was a canon of the church 
of Reims, for, in the Middle Ages, minor orders, which sufficed 
for a canon (Petrarch was one), did not absolutely impose 
celibacy. The fact that a pilgrimage was chosen as an occa- 
sion for the lovers to meet was not extraordinary either. 
At this period pilgrimages served all sorts of frivolous pur- 
poses. But what astonishes us is that Machaut, a serious 
and delicate poet, claims to perform his pilgrimage "very 
devoutly." At mass he is seated behind her : 

" . . . Quant on dist : Agnus Dei, 
Foy que je doy a Saint Grepais, 
Doucement me donna la pais, 1 
Entre deux pilers du moustier. 
Et j'en avoie bien mestier, 
Oar znes cuers amoureus estoit 
Troubles, quant si tost se partoit." * 

He says his hours as he is waiting for her in the garden. 
He glorifies her portrait as his God on earth. Entering the 
church to begin a novene, he takes a mental vow to compose 
a poem about his beloved on each of the nine days which 
does not prevent him from speaking about the great devotion 
with which he said his prayers. 

We shall revert elsewhere to the astonishing ingenuousness 
with which, before the Council of Trent, worldly occupations 
were mixed up with works of the Faith. 

As regards the tone of the love-affair of Machaut and Per- 
onnelle, it is soft, cloying, somewhat morbid. The expression 
of their feelings remains enveloped in arguments and alle- 
gories. But there is something touching in the tenderness 
of the old poet, which prevents him from seeing that 
** Toute-belle," after all, has but played with him aa<I with 
her own heart. 

To grasp what little we can of actual love relations, apart 
from literature, we should oppose to the Voir-Dit, as a pendant, 

* Vide page 37. 

* When the priest said : Agnus Dei, Faith I owe to Saint Crepais, Sweetly 
she gave me the pax Between two pillars of the church. And I needed it 
indeed, For my amorous heart was Troubled that we had to part so soon. 

112 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Le Livre du Chevalier de la Tour Landry pour VEnseignement 
de ses Fittes, written at the same epoch. This time we are 
not concerned with an amorous old poet; we have to do 
with a father of a rather prosaic turn of mind, an Angevin 
nobleman, who relates his reminiscences, anecdotes and tales 
"pour ines filles aprandre a roumancier." This might be 
rendered, " to teach my daughters the fashionable conventions 
in love matters/' The instruction, however, does not turn out 
romantic at all. The moral of the examples and admonitions 
which the cautious father recommends to his daughters tends 
especially to put them on their guard against the dangers of 
romantic flirtations. Take heed of eloquent people, always 
ready with their "false long and pensive looks and little 
sighs, and wonderful emotional faces, and who have more 
words at hand than other people." Do not be too encouraging. 
He himself, when young, was conducted by his father to a 
castle to make the acquaintance of a young lady to whom they 
wanted to betroth him. The girl received him very kindly. 
He conversed with her on all sorts of subjects, so as to probe 
her character somewhat. They got to talk of prisoners, which 
gave the knight a chance to pay a neat compliment : " ' Ma 
demoiselle, it would be better to fall into your hands as a 
prisoner than into many another's, and I think your prison 
would not be so hard as that of the English.' She replied 
that she had recently seen one whom she could wish to be 
her prisoner. And then I asked her, if she would make a 
bad prison for him, and she said not at all, and that she would 
hold him as dear as her own person, and I told her that the 
man would be very fortunate in having such a sweet and 
noble prison. What shall I say ? She could talk well enough, 
and it seemed, to judge from her conversation, that she knew 
a good deal, and her eyes had also a very lively and lightsome 
expression." When they took leave she begged In two 
or three times to came back soon, as if she had known Mm 
for a long time already. " And when we had departed my 
lord my father said to me : ' What do you think of her whom 
you have seen ? Tell me your opinion.' ' Monseigneur, she 
seems to me all well and good, but I shall never be nearer to 
her than I am now, if you please.' " Her lack of reserve left 
him without any desire to get better acquainted with her. 

The Conventions of Love 113 

So they did not get engaged, and of course the author says 
that he afterwards had reason not to repent it. 

It is to be regretted that the chevalier has not given more 
autobiographical details and fewer moral exhortations, be- 
cause these personal traits, showing how customs adapted 
themselves to the ideal, are very rare in the traditions of the 
Middle Ages. 

In spite ot. his avowed intention to teach his girls " i 
roumancier," the knight de la Tour Landry thinks, before all 
things, of a good marriage ; and marriage had little to do 
with love. He reports to them a "debate" between his 
wife and himself, on the question, whether it is becoming 
" d'amer par amours.'* He thinks that a girl may, in certain 
cases, for example, " in the hope of marrying," love honourably. 
His wife thinks otherwise. It is better that a girl should not 
fall in love at all, not even with her betrothed, otherwise 
piety would suffer in consequence. " For I have heard many 
women say who were in love in their youth, that when they 
were in church, their thoughts and fancies made them dwell 
more on those nimble imaginations and delights of their love- 
affairs than on the service of God, and the art of love is of such 
a nature that just at the holiest moments of the service, that 
is to say, when the priest holds our Lord on the altar, the most 
of these little thoughts would come to them." Machaut and 
Peronnelle might have confirmed this. 

It is not easy for us to reconcile the general austerity of 
the Chevalier de la Tour Landry with the fact that this father 
does not scruple to instruct his daughters by means of stories 
which would not have been out of place in the Cent Nouvelles 
NouvelUa. Still, even more recent literature, that of the 
Elizabethan age, for instance, may remind us how completely 
the world becomes estranged from the erotic forms of a few 
centuries back. As for betrothals and marriages, neither the 
graceful forms of the courtly ideal nor the refined frivolity 
and open cynicism of the Roman de la Rose had any real 
hold upon them. In the very matter-of-fact considerations 
on which a match between noble families was based there 
was little room for the chivalrous fictions of prowess and of 
service. Thus it came about that the courtly notions of love 
were never corrected by contact with real life. They could 


114 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

unfold freely in aristocratic conversation, they could offer a 
literary amusement or a charming game, but no more. The 
ideal of love, such as it was, could not be lived up to, except 
in a fashion inherently false. 

Cruel reality constantly gave the lie to it. At the bottom 
of the intoxicating cup of the Roman de la Rose the moralist 
exposed the bitter dregs. From the side of religion maledic- 
tions were poured upon love in all its aspects, as the sin by 
which the world is being ruined. Whence, exclaims Gerson, 
come the bastards, the infanticides, the abortions, whence 
hatred, whence poisonings ? Woman joins her voice to that 
from the pulpit : all the conventions of love are the work 
of men : even when it dons an idealistic guise, erotic culture 
is altogether saturated by male egotism : and what else is 
the cause of the endlessly repeated insults to matrimony, to 
woman and her feebleness, but the need of masking this 
egotism? One word suffices, says Christine de Pisan, to 
answer all these infamies : it is not the women who have 
written the books. 

Indeed, medieval literature shows little true pity for woman, 
little compassion for her weakness and the dangers and pains 
which love has in store for her. Pity took on a stereotyped 
and factitious form, in the sentimental fiction of the knight 
delivering the virgin. The author of the Quinze Joyes de 
Manage, after having mocked at all the faults of women, 
undertakes to describe also the wrongs they have to suffer. 
So far as is known, he never performed this task. 

Civilization always needs to wrap up the idea of love in 
veils of fancy, to exalt and refine it, , and thereby to forget 
cruel reality. The solemn or graceful game of the faithful 
knight or the amorous shepherd, the fine imagery of courtly 
allegories, however brutally life belied them, never lost their 
charm nor all their moral value. The human mind needs 
these forms, and they always remain essentially the same. 


The lasting vogue of the pastoral genre towards the end 
of the Middle Ages implies a reaction against the ideal of 
courtesy. Weary of the complicated formalism of chivalrous 
love, the aristocratic soul renounces the overstrung pretension 
of heroism in love, and praises rural life as the escape from 
it. The new, or rather revived, bucolic ideal remains essen- 
tially an erotic one. Still there is a strain of bucolic sentiment, 
the inspiration of which is rather ethical than erotic. We 
may perhaps distinguish it from the pastoral proper by calling 
it the idea of the simple life, or of aurea mediocrifas. It is 
continually merging into the other. 

The negation of the chivalric ideal arises among the nobles 
themselves. It is in court literature that sarcastic or senti- 
mental criticism of it springs up. The burghers, on the other 
hand, are always striving to imitate the forms of the noble 
life. Nothing could be falser than to picture the third estate 
in the Middle Ages as animated by class hatred, or scorning 
chivalry. On the contrary, the splendour of the life of the 
nobility dazzles and seduces them. The rich burghers take 
pains to adopt the forms and the tone of the nobility. Philip 
of Artevelde, the leader of the Flemish insurgents, whom one 
would like to picture as a simple, sober revolutionary, kept 
a state like a prince's. Hfc going in to dinner is announced 
by music. His meals are served up on silver plate like that 
of a count of Flanders ; he goes about dressed in scarlet and 
miniver, preceded by his unfurled pennon showing a sable 
scutcheon with three silver hats. The great financier, Jacques 
Coeur, whom one instinctively thinks of as a modern, took a 
lively interest, according to Jacques de Lalaing's biographer, 
in the fantastic and useless projects of that anachronistic 

Among those who freed themselves from the chivalric 


116 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

illusion, seeing the misery and the falsehood of it, we must 
begin with those practical and frigid minds which were, so to 
say, opposed to it by temperament. Such were Philippe de 
Commines and his master, Louis XI. In describing the battle 
of Montlh6ry, Commines abstains from all heroic fiction : no 
fine exploits, no dramatic turns ; he only gives us a realistic 
picture of comings and goings, of hesitations and fears* He 
takes pleasure in telling of flights and noting how courage 
returned with security. He rejects all chivalrous terminology 
and scarcely mentions honour, which he treats almost as an 
inevitable evil. 

The ideal of chivalry tallies with the spirit of a primitive 
age, susceptible of gross delusion and little accessible to the 
corrections of experience. Sooner or later intellectual progress 
demands a revision of this ideal. It does not disappear, 
however, it only sheds its too fantastic tendencies. Chivalry, 
far from being completely disavowed, drops its affectation of a 
quasi-religious perfection, and will be henceforth only a model 
of social life. The knight is transformed into the cavalier, 
who, though still keeping up a very severs code of honour 
and of glory, will no longer claim to be a defender of the Faith 
or a protector of the oppressed. The modern gentleman is 
still ideally linked with the medieval conception of chivalry. 

The requirements of moral, aesthetic and social perfection 
weighed too heavily on the knight. This highly praised 
chivalry, considered from any point of view whatever, could 
not conceal its inherent falsity. It was a ridiculous ana- 
chronism, a piece of factitious making up. No social utility, 
no moral value, everywhere vanity and sin. Even as an 
aesthetic game, the courtly life ended by boring the players. 
So they turn to another ideal, that of simplicity and of repose. 
Does this mean that the disillusioned nobles turned to a 
spiritual life ? Sometimes they did. At all times the lives 
of many courtiers and soldiers have ended in renunciation of 
the world. More often, however, they are content themselves 
to seek elsewhere the sublime life which chivalry failed to 
give. From the days of antiquity a promise had been held 
out of an earthly felicity to be found in rural life. Here 
true peace seemed attainable without strife, simply by flight. 
Here was a sure refuge from envy and hatred, from the 

The Idyllic Vision of Life 117 

vanity of honours, from oppressive luxury and cruel war. 
Medieval literature inherited from the classic authors the 
theme of the praise of the simple life, which may be called 
the negative side of the bucolic sentiment. Court life and 
aristocratic pretension are disavowed in favour of solitude, 
work and study. In the fourteenth century this theme had 
found its typical expression in France in Le Dit de Franc 
Gontier of Philippe de Vitri, bishop of Meaux, musician and 
poet, and a friend of Petrarch. 

" Soubz feuille vert, sur herbe delitable 
Lez ru bruiant et prez clere fontaine 
Trouvay fichee une borde portable, 
Ilec mengeoit Gontier o dame Helayne 
Fromage frais, laict, burre fromaigee, 
Craime, matton, pomme, nois, prune, poire, 
Aulx et oignons, escaillongne froyee 
Stir crouste bise, au gros sel, pour mieux boire." * 

After the meal they kiss " both the mouth and the nose, 
the soft and the shaggy," then Gontier goes off to fell a tree, 
while Helayne goes to do the washing. 

" J'oy Gontier en abatant son arbre 
Dieu mercier de sa vie setire : 
*Ne scay,' dit-il, *que sont pilliers de marbre, 
Poznxneaux luisans, murs vestus de paincture ; 
Je n'ay paour de traison tissue 
Soubz beau semblant, ne qu'empoisonn6 soye 
En vaisseau d'or. Je n'ay la teste nue 
Devant thirant, ne genoil qui s'i ploye. 

* Verge d'uissier jamais ne me deboute, 

Car jusques la ne m'esprent convoitise, 

Ambicion, ne lescherie gloute. 

Labour me paist en joieuse franchise ; 

Moult j'ame Helayne et elle moy sans faille, 

Et c'est assez. De toxnbel n'avons cure.* 

Lors je dy : c Las ! serf de court ne vault maille, 

Mais Franc Gontier vault en or jame pure,* " 2 

1 Under green leaves, on delightful grass Near a noisy brook and a dear 
fountain I found a portable board, There Gontier took his meal with dame 
Helayne On fresh cheese, milk, cream and cheese, curds, apple, nut, plum, 
pear, Garlic and onions, chopped shallots On a brbwn crust, with coarse 
salt, to drink the better. 

3 1 heard Gontier in felling his .tree Thank God for his life of security : 
" I do not know," he said, " what are pillars of marble, Shining pommels, walls 

118 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

We observe how here already the motif of the simple life 
is coupled with that of natural love. 

For later generations the poem of Philippe de Vitri remained 
the classic expression of the bucolic sentiment and of the 
happiness procured by security and independence, frugality 
and health, useful labour and conjugal love, without complica- 

Eustache Deschamps imitated hrm in a number of ballads, 
of which one follows its model very closely. 

"En retournant d'une court souveraine 
Ou j'avoie longuement sejourne*, 
En un bosquet, dessus une fontaine 
Trouvay Robin le franc, enchapele* ; 
Chapeauls de flours avoit cilz afub!6 
Dessus son chief, et Marion sa drue , . .'* etc. 1 

He has enlarged the motif in adding to it an indictment of 
a knight's or a soldier's life ; there is no worse condition than 
that of a warrior ; he commits the seven deadly sins every 
day ; avarice and vainglory are the essence of warfare. 

" . . , Je vueil mener d'or en avant 
Estat moien, c'est mon opinion. 
Guerre laissier et vivre en labourant : 
Guerre mener n'est que dampnacion." * 

Generally, however, he simply praises the golden mean. 

" Je ne requier a Dieu fors qu'il me doint 
En ce monde de lui servir et loer, 
Vivre pour moy, cote entiere ou pourpoint, 
Aucun cheval pour mon labour porter, ' 

decorated with paintings; I have no fear of treason hidden Under fine 
appearances, nor that I shall be poisoned In a gold cup. I do not bare 
my head Before a tyrant, nor bend my knee. 

ft " No usher's rod ever turns me away, For no covetousness, Ambition, nor 
lechery entice me (to court). Labour holds me in joyous liberty ; I love 
Helayne dearly, and she loves me without fail, And that is enough. We are 
not afraid of the grave." Then I said: " Alas ! a serf of the court is not 
worth a doit, But ITranc Gcntier is worth a sure gem set in gold," 

1 Betuming from a sovereign's court Where I had long sojourned, In a bush, 
near a fountain I found Robin the free, his head crowned ; With ohaplets of 
flowers had he adorned His head, and Marion, his beloved ... 

Heneefortfcl win tateupaMiddle station, so I am resolved To leave off 
fitting and to live by labour ; Waging war is but damnation. 

The Idyllic Vision of Life 119 

Et que je puisse mon estat gouverner 
Moiennement, en grace, sanz envie, 
Sanz trop avoir et sanz pain demander, 
Car au jour d'ui est la plus seure vie." 1 

The quest of glory or of gain does but entail misery ; only 
she poor man is happy, he lives tranquilly and long. 

" . . . Un ouvrier et uns povres chartons 
Va mauvestuz, deschirez et deschaulx 
Mais en ouvrant prant en gre* ses travaulx 
Et liement fait son euvre f enir. 
Par nuit dort bien ; pour ce uns telz cueurs loiaulx 
Voit quatre roys et leur regne fenir." 2 

The picture of a working man surviving four kings pleased 
him so much that he used it several times. 

The editor of Deschamps' works, Monsieur Gaston Baynaud, 
supposes that the poems of this tendency all date from the 
last period of his life, when, deprived of his functions, forsaken 
and disappointed, he has at last learned to understand the 
vanity of court affairs. This is perhaps going too far ; these 
poems would seem rather to be the expression of sentiments, 
more or less conventional, current among the nobility itself 
in the midst of court life. 

The theme of contempt for a courtier's life enjoyed great 
favour with a group of scholars who, towards the end of the 
fourteenth century, mark the beginning of French humanism, 
and whose circle was connected with that of the leaders of 
the great councils of the Church. Pierre d'Ailly himself is 
the author of a poem forming a companion piece with that 
of Franc Gontieri the tyrant, in contrast with the happy 
rustic, leading the life of a slave in continuous fear. The 
theme was admirably fit to be treated in the epistolary style, 
after the model of Petrarch. Jean de Montreuil tried his hand 

1 1 only 'ask of God to give me That I may serve and praise him in this 
world, Live for myself, my coat or doublet whole, One horse to carry my 
labour, And that I may govern my estate la mediocre style, in grace, without 
envy, Without having too much and without begging my bread, For this day 
is the safest life. 

* A working man and a poor waggoner, Go about ill dressed, in torn clothes 
and ill shod; But, labouring, he takes pleasure in his work And merrily 
finishes it. At night he sleeps well ; and therefore such a loyal heart Sees 
four kings and their reigns end. 

120 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

at it; so did Nicolas de Clemanges, three times over. A 
secretary to the duke of Orleans, the Milanese Ambrose de 
Miliis, addressed to Gontier Col a Latin letter, in which a 
courtier dissuades his friend from entering into court service. 
Translated into French, this letter figures among the works 
of Alain Chartier, under the title Le Curial, and afterwards 
Eobert Gaguin translated it back into Latin. 

The theme was even worked out by a certain Charles Roche- 
fort in a long-winded allegorical poem, L'Abuze en Court, 
afterwards attributed to King Ren6. Towards the end of the 
fifteenth century, Jean Meschinot still rhymes as follows : 

" La cour est tine mer, dont sourt 
Vagues d'orgueil, d'envie orages. . . . 
Ire esmeut debats et outrages, 
Qui les nefs jettent souvent bas : 
Traison y fait son personnage. 
Nage aultre part pour tes ebats." 1 

In the sixteenth century the old motif had lost nothing of 
its freshness. 

For the most part the praises of a frugal life and of hard 
work in the fields are not based on the delights of simplicity 
and labour in themselves, nor on the security and independence 
they seemed to confer ; the positive content of the ideal is 
the longing for natural love. The pastoral is the idyllic form 
assumed by erotic thought. Just like the dream of heroism 
which is at the bottom of the ideas of chivalry, the bucolic 
dream is somewhat more than a literary genre. It is a crav- 
ing to reform life itself. It does not stop at describing the 
life of shepherds with its innocent and natural pleasures. 
People want to imitate it/ if not in real life, at least in the 
illusion of a graceful game. Weary of factitious conceptions 
of love, the aristocracy sought a remedy for them in the pastoral 
ideal. Facile and innocent love amid the delights of nature 
seemed to be the lot of country people, theirs to be the truly 
enviable form of happiness. The villein, in his turn, becomes 
an ideal type. 

1 The court is a sea, whence come Waves of pride, thunderstorms of envy. 
Wrath stirs up quarrels and outrages, Which often cause the ships to sink; 
Treason plays its part there, Swim elsewhere for your amusement. 

The Idyllic Vision of Life 121 

The antique form of bucolic life still satisfied the aspira- 
tions of the waning Middle Ages. No need is felt to correct 
the pastoral fiction in accordance with real life. The new 
enthusiasm for nature does not mean a truly deep sense of 
reality, not even a sincere admiration for work ; it is only 
an attempt to adorn courteous manners by an array of arti- 
ficial flowers, playing at shepherd and shepherdess just as 
people had played at Lancelot and Guinevere. 

In the Pastourelle, the short poem relating the facile adven- 
ture of the knight with the country girl, pastoral fancy is still 
in touch with reality. In the pastoral proper, however, the 
lover or poet thinks himself a shepherd too, all contact with 
reality is lost, all things are transferred to a sunlit land- 
scape full of the singing of birds and playing of reed-pipes, 
where even sadness assumes a sweet sound. The faithful 
shepherd -continues to resemble the faithful knight only too 
closely ; after all, it is courtly love transposed into another 

However artificial it might be, pastoral fancy still tended 
to bring the loving soul into touch with nature and its beauties. 
The pastoral genre was the school where a keener perception 
and a stronger affection towards nature were learned. The 
literary expression of the sentiment of nature was a by- 
product of the pastoral. Out of the simple words of exulta- 
tion at the joys caused by sunshine and shade, birds and 
flowers, the loving description of scenery and rural life gradu- 
ally develops. A poem like Le Dit de la Pastoure, of Christine 
de Pisan marks the transition of the pastoral to a new 

The bucolic idyll, then, offered itself as a new style for 
courtly amusement, a supplement to chivalry, as it were. 
Once received as such, it becomes another mask. The pastoral 
travesty serves for all sorts of diversions; the domains of 
pastoral fancy and of chivalric romanticism mingle. Tourna- 
ments are held in the apparel of an eclogue, like the " Pas 
d'armes de la bergere " of King Rene. These pastoral repre- 
sentations, even if they did not really deceive people, at least 
seem to have been regarded as important. Among bis 
" Marvels of the World " Chastellain mentions King Rene's 
playing at shepherd. 

122 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

* c J'ay un roi de Cecille 
Vu devenir berger 
Et sa femme gentille 
Be ce mesme mestier, 
Portant la pannetiere, 
La houlette et chappeau, 
Logeans sur la bruyere 
Aupres de leur trouppeau." * 

On another occasion, pastoral fancy had to supply a literary 
form for political satire. It is hard to imagine a more bizarre 
product than Le Pastoralet, a very long poem by a partisan 
of Burgundy, who, in this pretty disguise, relates the murder 
of Louis of Orleans for the purpose of exculpating Jean sans 
Peur and of venting his spleen on the house of Orleans. The 
two hostile dukes represented by Tristif er and Leonet in an 
environment of country dances and ornaments of flowers, 
Tristifer-Orleans robbing the shepherds of their bread and 
cheese, apples and nuts, shepherd's reeds and bells, and 
threatening them with his large crook, even the battle oi 
Agincourt described in pastoral guise . . * one would be in- 
clined to think this style rather flamboyant, if we did not 
remember that Ariosto uses the same machinery for excul- 
pating his patron, the Cardinal d'Este, who was hardly less 
guilty than Jean sans Peur. 

The pastoral element is never absent from court festivities. 
It was admirably fitted both for masquerades and for political 
allegories. Here the bucolic conception coalesced with another 
of Scriptural origin: the prince and his people symbolized 
by the shepherd and his sheep, the duties of the ruler com- 
pared to those of the shepherd. Meschinot sings : 

" Seigneur, tu es de Dieu bergier ; 
Garde ses bestes loyaument, 
Mets les en champ ou en vergier, 
Mais ne les perds aucunement, 
Pour ta peine auras bon paiement , 
En bien le gardant, et se non, 
A male heure recus ce nom." * 

1 1 have seen a king of Sicily Turn shepherd And his gentle wife Take to 
the same trade, Carrying the shepherd's pouch, The crook and hat, Dwelling 
on the heath Near their flock. 

* Lord, you are God's shepherd ; Guard his animals loyally, Lead them to 
the field or the orchard, But lose them by no means, You will have good pay. 

The Idyllic Vision of Life 123 

Represented in actual mummery, these ideas naturally took 
the outward appearance of the pastoral proper. At the 
marriage feasts of Charles the Bold and Margaret of York 
at Bruges in 1468, an " entremets " glorified the princesses 
of yore as "noble shepherdesses who formerly tended and 
guarded the sheep of the ' pays de par de9a * (the provinces 
* over here ')." At Valenciennes, in 1493, the revival of the 
land after the devastations of war was represented, " all in 
pastoral style." Even in war the pastoral game was kept up. 
The stone-mortars of the duke of Burgundy before Granson 
are called " the shepherd and the shepherdess." Philippe de 
Bavestein takes the field with four-and-twenty noblemen; 
they are all dressed up as shepherds and carry shepherds 9 
pouches and crooks. 

As the Roman de la Rose had done, because of its contrast 
with the chivalric ideal, so the bucolic ideal in its turn gave 
rise to an elegant quarrel. A number of variations had been 
made on the theme of Franc Gontier : every one had declared 
that he was sighing for a diet of cheese, apples, onions, brown 
bread and fresh water, for a woodcutter's work with its liberty 
and carelessness. But aristocratic life still looked very little 
like it and sceptics were aware of the inherent falsity of the 
factitious ideal. Villon unmasked it. In Les contrediz Franc 
Gontier he opposed to the idealized country man and his love 
under the roses, the fat canon, free from care, tasting good 
wines and the joys of love in a comfortable room, supplied 
with an ample hearth and a soft bed. The brown bread and 
the water of Franc Gontier ? 

" Terns les oyseaulx d'ici en Babiloine 
A tel escot une seule journe'e 
Ne me tiendroient, non tine matin6e." V 

ment for your trouble Of guarding them well, and if you do not, You received 
this name in. an, evil hour. 

1 All the birds from here to Babylon With such a fare a single day Would 
not keep me, no not one morning. 


No other epoch has laid so much stress as the expiring 
Middle Ages on the thought of death. An everlasting call 
of memento mori resounds through life. Denis the Carthusian, 
in his Directory of the Life of Nobles, exhorts them : " And 
when going to bed at night, he should consider how, just as 
he now lies down himself, soon strange hands will lay his 
body in the graye." In earlier times, too, religion had insisted 
on the constant thought of death, but the pious treatises of 
these ages only reached those who had already turned away 
from the world. Since the thirteenth century, the popular 
preaching of the mendicant orders had made the eternal admoni- 
tion to remember death swell into a sombre chorus ringing 
throughout the world. Towards the fifteenth century, a new 
means of inculcating the awful thought into all minds was 
added to the words of the preacher, namely, the popular 
woodcut. Now these two means of expression, sermons and 
woodcuts, both addressing themselves to the multitude and 
limited to crude effects, could only represent death in a simple 
and striking form. All that the meditations on death of 
the monks of yore had produced, was now condensed into 
a very primitive image. This vivid image, continually im- 
pressed upon all minds, had hardly assimilated more than 
a single element of the great complex of ideas relating 
to death, namely, the sense of the perishable nature of all 
things. It would seem, at times, as if the soul of the 
declining Middle Ages only succeeded in seeing death under 
this aspect. 

The endless complaint of the frailty of all earthly glory 
was sung to various melodies. Three motifs may be distin- 
guished. The first is expressed by the question : where are 
now all those who once filled the world with their splendour ? 


The Vision of Death 125 

The second motif dwells on the frightful spectacle of human 
beauty gone to decay. The third is the death-dance : death 
dragging along men of all conditions and ages. 

Compared with the two others, the first of these themes is 
but a graceful and elegiac sigh. After having taken shape in 
Greek poetry, it was adopted by the Fathers, and pervaded 
the literature of all Christendom, and that of Islam also. 
Byron, too, used it in Don Juan. The Middle Ages cultivated 
it with special predilection. We find it in the heavy rhythm 
of the erudite poetry of the twelfth century : 

"Est ubi gloria nunc Babylonia ? ntinc ubi dims 
Nabugodonosor, et Darii vigor, illeque Cyrus ? . . . 
Nunc ubi Regulus ? aut ubi Romulus, aut ubi Remus ? 
Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus." x 

Franciscan poetry of the thirteenth century (if the follow- 
ing lines are not of an older date) still preserves an echo of 
these rhyming hexameters : 

"Die ubi Salomon, olim tarn nobilis 
Vel Sampson ubi est, dux invincibilis, 
Et pulcher Absalon, vultu mirabilis, 
Aut dulcis Jonathas, multum amabilis t " a 

Deschamps composed at least four of his ballads on this 
theme. Gerson worked it out in a sermon ; Denis the Car- 
thusian in his treatise, De quatuor hominum novissimis (on 
the four last things of man) ; Chastellain in a long poem entitled 
Le Pas de la Mori. Olivier de la Marche, in his Parement 
et Triumphe des Dames composed on it a lament over all the 
princesses who died in his time. Villon gives it a new accent 
of soft tenderness in his Ballade des Dames du Temps jadis, 
with the refrain : 

"Mais ou sont lex neiges d'antan T" 
And then he sprinkles it with irony in the Ballad of the 

1 Where is now your glory, Babylon, where is now the terrible Kebuchad- 
nezzar, and strong Darius and the famous Cyrus ? Where is now Regulus, 
or where Romulus, or where Remus ? The rose of yore is but a name, 
mere names are left to us. 

8 Say where is Solomon, once so noble, Or Samson where is he, the invincible 
chief, And fair Absalom of the wonderful f ace, Or sweet Jonathan, the most 

126 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Lords by adding to the series of kings, popes and princes of 
his time the words : 

"Helas ! et le bon roy d'Espaigne 
Duquel je ne scay pas le nom." * 

However, the wistfulness of remembrance and the thought 
of frailty in itself do not satisfy the need of expressing, with 
violence, the shudder caused by death. The medieval soul 
demands a more concrete embodiment of the perishable : 
that of the putrefying corpse. 

Ascetic meditation had, in all ages, dwelt on dust and 
worms. The treatises on the contempt of the world had, 
long since, evoked all the horrors of decomposition, but it is 
only towards the end of the fourteenth century that pictorial 
art, in its turn, seizes upon this motif. To render the horrible 
details of decomposition, a realistic force of expression was 
required, to which painting and sculpture only attained 
towards 1400. At the same time, the motif spread from 
ecclesiastical to popular literature. Until far into the six- 
teenth century, tombs are adorned with hideous images of a 
naked corpse with clenched hands and rigid feet, gaping 
mouth and bowels crawling with worms. The imagination 
of those times relished these horrors, without ever looking 
one stage further, to see how corruption perishes in its turn, 
and flowers grow where it lay. 

A thought which so strongly attaches to the earthly side 
of death can hardly be called truly pious. It would rather 
seem a kind of spasmodic reaction against an excessive sensu- 
ality. In exhibiting the horrors awaiting all human beauty, 
already lurking below the surface of corporeal charms, these 
preachers of contempt for the world express, indeed, a very 
materialistic sentiment, namely, that all beauty and all happi- 
ness are worthless because they are bound to end soon. Re- 
nunciation founded on disgust does not spring from Christian 

It is noteworthy that the pious exhortations to think of 
death and the profane exhortations to make the most of 
youth almost meet. A painting in the monastery of the 
Oelestines at Avignon, now destroyed, attributed by tradition 

1 Alas I and the good king of Spain, Whose name I do not know. 

The Vision of Death 127 

to the founder, King Ren6 himself, represented the body of a 
dead woman, standing, enveloped in a shroud, with her head 
dressed and worms gnawing her bowels. In the inscription 
at the foot of the picture the first lines read : 

" Une fois SUP toute femme belle 
Mais par la mort suis devemi telle, 
Ma chair estoit tres belle, fraische et tendre, 
Or, est-elle toute tournSe en cendre. 
Mon corps estoit tres plaisant et tres gent, 1 
Je me souloye souvent vestir de soye, 
Or en droict fault que toute nue je soys. 
Fourre'e estois de gris et de menu vair, 
En grand palais me logeois a mon vueil, 
Or suis loge"e en ce petit cercueil. 
Ma chaznbre estoit de beaux tapis erne's, 
Or est d'aragnes ma fosse environn6e." a 

Here the memento mori still predominates. It tends im- 
perceptibly to change into the quite worldly complaint of 
the woman who sees her charms fade, as in the following 
lines of the Parement et TriumpJie des Dames by Olivier de la 

" Ces doulx regards, ces yeulx faiz pour plaisance, 
Pensez y bien, ilz perdront leur clart6, 
Nez et sourcilz, la bouche d'eloquence 
Se pourriront . . * 

Se vous vivez le droit cours de nature 
Dont LX ans est pour ung bien grant nombre, 
Vostre beaulte" changera en laydure, 
Vostre saute 1 en maladie obscure, 
Et ne ferez en ce monde que encombre. 
Se fille avez, vous luy serez ung umbre, 
Celle sera requise et demande'e, 
Et de chascun la mere habandonne." * 

*It seems that two lines are missing after the lines 5 and 8. 

1 Once I was beautiful above all women But by death I became like this, 
My flesh was very beautiful, fresh and soft, Now it is altogether turned to 
ashes. My body was very pleasing and very pretty, I used frequently to 
dress in silk, Now I must rightly be quite nude. I was dressed in grey for 
and miniver, I lived in a great palace as I wished, Now I am lodged in this 
little coffin. My room was adorned with fine tapestry, Now my grave is 
enveloped by cobwebs. 

* These sweet looks, these eyes made for pleasance, Remember, they 
will lose their lustre, Nose and eyelashes, the eloquent mouth Will putrefy. 
... If you live your natural lifetime, Of which sixty years is a great 

128 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

All pious purpose has disappeared in the ballads of Villon, 
where the old courtesan, " la belle heaulmiere," calls to mind 
her irresistible beauty of former times and is deeply grieved 
at its sad decline. 

** Qu'est devenu ce front poly, 
Ces cheveulx blons, sourcils voultiz, 
Grant entroeil, le regart joly, 
Dont prenoie les plus soubtilz ; 
Ce beau nez droit, grant ne petiz, 
Ces petites joinctes oreilles, 
Menton f ourchu, cler vis traictiz 
Et ces belles levies venneilles ? 

Le front ride 1 , les cheveux gris, 

Les sourcilz cheuz, les yeuls estains. . . ." l 

This inability to free oneself from the attachment to matter 
manifests itself in yet other forms. A result of the same 
sentiment is to be found in the extreme importance ascribed 
in the Middle Ages to the fact that the bodies of certain saints 
had never decayed that of Saint Rosa of Viterbo, for ex- 
ample. The Assumption of the Holy Virgin exempting her 
body from earthly corruption was on that account regarded 
as the most precious of all graces. On various occasions 
attempts were made to retard decomposition. The features 
of the corpse of Pierre de Luxembourg were touched up with 
paint to preserve them intact until the burial. The body of 
a heretic preacher of the sect of the Turlupins, who died in 
prison, before sentence was passed, was preserved in lime 
for a fortnight, that it might be burned at the same time 
with a living heretical woman. 

The importance attached to being buried in the soil of one's 
own country gave rise to usages which the Church had to 

deal, Your beauty will change into ugliness, Your health into obscure malady, 
And you -will only be in the way here below. If you have a daughter, you will 
be a shadow to her, She will be in request and asked for, And the mother 
will be abandoned by alL 

* What has become of this smooth forehead, Fair hair, curving eyelashes, 
Large space between the eyes; pretty looks, Wherewith I caught the most 
subtle ones That fine straight nose, neither large nor small, These tiny ears 
close to the head, The dimpled chin, well-shaped bright face, And those 
beautiful vermilion lips ? * . . The forehead wrinkled, hair grey, The 
eyelashes come off, lack-lustre eyes. . . . 

The Vision of Death 129 

interdict strictly as being contrary to the Christian religion. 
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when a prince or a 
person of rank died far from his country, the body was often 
cut up and boiled so as to extract the bones, which were sent 
home in a chest, whereas the rest was interred, not without 
ceremony, however, on the spot. Emperors, kings and bishops 
have undergone this strange operation. Pope Boniface VIII 
forbade it as detestandae feritatis abusus, guam ex guodam more 
horribili nonnulli fideles improvide prosequuntur. 1 Yet his 
successors sometimes granted dispensations. Numbers of 
Englishmen who fell in France in the Hundred Years' War 
enjoyed this privilege, notably Edward of York and the earl 
of Suffolk, who died at Agincourt ; Henry V himself ; William 
Glasdale, who perished at Orleans at the time of its relief ; 
a nephew of Sir John Fastolfe, and others. 

At the close of the Middle Ages the whole vision of death 
may be summed up in the word macabre, in its modern mean- 
ing. Of course, this meaning is the outcome of a long process. 
But the sentiment it embodies, of something gruesome and 
dismal, is precisely the conception of death which arose during 
the last centuries of the Middle Ages. This bizarre word 
appeared in French in the fourteenth century, under the form 
macabre, and, whatever may be its etymology, as a proper 
name. A line of the poet Jean Le Fevre, " Je fis de Macabr6 
la dance," which may be dated 1376, remains the birth- 
certificate of the word for us. 

Towards 1400 the conception of death in art and literature 
took a spectral and fantastic shape. A new and vivid shudder 
was added to the great primitive horror of death. The 
macabre vision arose from deep psychological strata of fear ; 
religious thought at once reduced it to a means of moral 
exhortation. As such it was a great cultural idea, till in its 
turn it went out of fashion, lingering on in epitaphs and 
symbols in village cemeteries. 

The idea of the death-dance is the central point of a whole 
group of connected conceptions. The priority belongs to the 
motif of the three dead and three living men, which is found 

1 An abuse of abominable savagery, practised by some of the faithful 
in a horrible way and inconsiderately. 


130 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

in French literature from the thirteenth century onward. 
Three young noblemen suddenly meet three hideous dead 
men, who tell them of their past grandeur and warn them 
of their own near end. Art soon took hold of this suggestive 
theme. We can see it still in the striking frescoes of the 
Gampo santo of Pisa. The sculpture of the portal of the church 
of the Innocents at Paris, which the duke of Berry had carved 
in 1408, but which has not been preserved, represented the 
same subject. Miniature painting and woodcuts spread it 

The theme of the three dead and three living men 
connects the horrible motif of putrefaction with that of the 
death-dance. This theme, too, seems to have originated in 
France, but it is unknown whether the pictorial representation 
preceded the scenic or the reverse. The thesis of Monsieur 
Emile M&le, according to which the sculptural and pictorial 
motifs of the fifteenth century were supposed as a rule to be 
derived from dramatic representations, has not been able to 
keep its ground, on critical examination. It may be, however, 
that we should make an exception in favour of the death- 
dance. Anyhow, the Dance of the Dead has been acted as 
well as painted and engraved. The duke of Burgundy had 
it performed in his mansion at Bruges in 1449. If we could 
form an idea of the effect produced by such a dance, with 
vague, lights and shadows gliding over the moving figures, 
we should no doubt be better able to understand the horror 
inspired by the subject, than we are by the aid of the pictures 
of Guyot Marchant or Holbein. 

The woodcuts with which the Parisian printer, Guyot 
Marchant, ornamented the first edition of the Danse Macabre 
in 1485 were, very probably, imitated from the most celebrated 
of these painted death-dances, namely, that which, since 1424, 
covered the walls of the cloister of the churchyard of the 
Innocents at Paris. The stanzas printed by Marchant were 
those written under these mural paintings ; perhaps they 
even hail back to the lost poetry of Jean Le Fevre, who in 
his turn seems to have followed a Latin model. The wood- 
cuts of 1485 can give but a feeble impression of the paintings 
of the Innocents, of which they are not exact copies, as the 
costumes prove. To have a notion of the effect of these 

TTie Vision of Death 131 

frescoes, one should rather look at the mural paintings of the 
church of La Chaise-Dieu, where the unfinished condition of 
the work heightens the spectral effect. 

The dancing person whom we see coming back forty times 
to lead away the living, originally does not represent Death 
itself, but a corpse : the living man such as he will presently 
be. In the stanzas the dancer is called " the dead man " 
or " the dead woman." It is a dance of the dead and not of 
Death ; the researches of Monsieur G6d6on Huet have made 
it probable that the primitive subject was a roundabout dance 
of dead people, come forth from their graves, a theme which 
Goethe revived in his Totentanz. The indefatigable dancer is 
the living man himself in his future shape, a frightful double 
of his person. " It is yourself," said the horrible vision to 
each of the spectators. It is only towards the end of the 
century that the figure of the great dancer, of a corpse with 
hollow and fleshless body, becomes a skeleton, as Holbein 
depicts it. Death in person has then replaced the individual 
dead man. 

While it reminded the spectators of the frailty and the 
vanity of earthly things, the death-dance at the same time 
preached social equality as the Middle Ages understood it, 
Death levelling, the various ranks and professions. At first 
only men appeared in the picture. The success of his publi- 
cation, however, suggested to Guyot the idea of a dance 
macabre of women. Martial d'Auvergne wrote the poetry ; 
an unknown artist, without equalling his model, completed 
the pictures by a series of feminine figures dragged along by 
a corpse. Now it was impossible to enumerate forty dignities 
and professions of women. After the queen, the abbess, the 
nun, the saleswoman, the nurse, and a few others, it was neces- 
sary to fall back on the different states of feminine life : the 
virgin, the beloved, the bride, the woman newly married, the 
woman with child. And here the sensual note reappears, to 
which we referred above. In lamenting the frailty of the lives 
of women, it is still the briefness of joy that is deplored, and 
with the grave tone of the memento mori is mixed the regret 
for lost beauty. 

Nothing betrays more clearly the excessive fear of death 
felt in the Middle Ages than the popular belief, then widely 

132 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

spread, according to which Lazarus, after his resurrection, 
lived in continual misery and horror at the thought that he 
should have again to pass through the gate of death. If 
the just had so much to fear, how could the sinner soothe 
himself ? And then what motif was more poignant than the 
calling up of the agony of death ? It appeared under two 
traditional forms : the Ars mariendi and the Quator hominum 
Twvissima, that is, the four last experiences awaiting man, 
of which death was the first. These two subjects were largely 
propagated in the fifteenth century by the printing-press and 
by engravings. The Art of Dying, as well as the Last Four 
Things, comprised a description of the agony of death, in which 
it is easy to recognize a model supplied by the ecclesiastical 
literature of former centuries. 

Ghastellain, in a long-winded poem, Le Pas de la Mort, has 
assembled all the above motifs; he gives successively the 
image of putrefaction the lament : Where are the great ones 
of the earth ? an outline of a death-dance and the art of 
dying. Being prolix and heavy, he needs a great many lines 
to express what Villon presents in half a stanza. But in com- 
paring them we recognize their common model. Chastellain 
writes : 

"H n'a xnembre ne faeture 

Qui ne sente sa pouireture. 

Avant que 1'esperit soit hors, 

Le COBUT qui veult crevier au corps 

Haulee et soiilieve la poitrine 

Qui so veult joindre a son eschine. 

La face est tainte et apalie, 

Et les yeux treillies en la teste. 

La parole luy est faillie, 

Oar la langue au palais se lie. 

Le poulx tressault jet sy halette. 

Les os desjoindent a tons lez ; 

n n'a nerf qu'au rompre ne tende." 1 

1 There is not a limb nor a form, Which does not smell of putrefaction. 
Before the soul is outside, The heart which wants to burst in the body Baises 
and lifts the chest Which nearly touches the backbone. The face is dis- 
coloured and pale, And the eyes veiled in the head. Speech fails him, For the 
tongue cleaves to the palate. The pulse trembles and he pants. . . . The 
bones are disjointed on all sides ; There is not a tendon which does not stretch 
as to burst. 

The Vision of Death 133 

And Villon : 

" La mort le fait fremir, pallir, 
Le nez courber, les values tendre, 
Le col enfler, la chair mollir, 
Joinctes et nerfs croistre et estendre. . . ." 1 

And again the sensual thought mingles with it : 

" Corps femenin, qui tant es teadre, 
Poly, souef, si precieux, 
Te f auldra il ces maulx attendre ? 
Oy, ou tout vif aller es cietdx." 2 

Nowhere else were all the images tending to evoke the 
horror of death assembled so strikingly as in the churchyard 
of the Innocents at Paris. There the medieval soul, fond of 
a religious shudder, could take its fill of the horrible. Above 
all other saints, the remembrance of the saints of that spot, 
and of their bloody and pitiful martyrdom, was fitted to 
awake the crude compassion which was dear to the epoch. 
The fifteenth century honoured the Holy Innocents with 
special veneration. Louis XI presented to the church "a 
whole Innocent," encased in a crystal shrine. The cemetery 
was preferred to every other place of burial. A bishop of 
Paris had a little of the earth of the churchyard of the Inno- 
cents put into his grave, as he could not be laid there. The 
poor and the rich were interred without distinction. They 
did not rest there long, for the cemetery was used so much, 
twenty parishes having a right of burial there, that it was 
necessary, in order to make room, to dig up the bones and 
sell the tombstones after a very short time. It was believed 
that in this earth a human body was decomposed to the bone 
in nine days. Skulls and bones were heaped up in charnel- 
houses along the cloisters enclosing the ground on three sides, 
and lay there open to the eye by thousands, preaching to all 
the lesson of equality. The noble Boucicaut, among others, 
had contributed to the construction of these "fine charnel- 
houses." Under the cloisters the death-dance exhibited its 

1 Death makes him shudder and turn pale, The .nose to curve, the veins 
to swell, The neck to inflate, the flesh to soften, Joints and tendons to grow 
and swell 

1 female body, which is so soft, Smooth, suave, precious, Do these evils 
await you ? Yes, or you must go to heaven quite alive. 

134 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

images and its stanzas. No place was better stated to the 
simian figure of grinning death, dragging along pope and 
emperor, monk and fool. The duke of Berry, who wished 
to be buried there, had the history of the three dead and the 
three living men carved at the portal of the church. A century 
later, this exhibition of funeral symbols was completed by a 
large statue of Death, now in the Louvre, and the only remnant 
of it all. 

Such was the place which the Parisians of the fifteenth 
century frequented as a sort of lugubrious counterpart of the 
Palais Royal of 1789. Day after day, crowds of people walked 
under the cloisters, looking at the figures and reading the 
simple verses, which reminded them of the approaching end. 
In spite of the incessant burials and exhumations going on 
there, it was a public lounge and a rendezvous. Shops were 
established before the charnel-houses and prostitutes strolled 
under the cloisters. A female recluse was immured on one 
of the sides of the church. Friars came to preach and proces- 
sions were drawn up there. A procession of children only 
(12,500 strong, thinks the Burgher of Paris) assembled there, 
with tapers in their hands, to carry an Lmocent to Notre 
Dame and back to the churchyard. Even feasts were given 
there. To such an extent had the horrible become familiar. 

The desire to invent a visible image of all that appertained 
to death entailed the neglecting of all those aspects of it 
which were not suited to direct representation. Thus the 
cruder conceptions of death, and these only, impressed them- 
selves continually on the minds. The macabre vision does 
not represent the emotions of tenderness or of consolation. 
The elegiac note is wanting altogether. At bottom the 
macabre sentiment is self-seeking and earthly. It is hardly 
the absence of the departed dear ones that is deplored ; it 
is the fear of one's own death, and this only seen as the worst 
of evils. Neither the conception of death the consoler, nor 
that of rest long wished for, of the end of suffering, of the 
task performed or interrupted, have a share in the funeral 
sentiment of that epoch. The soul of the Middle Ages did 
not know the " divine depth of sorrow." Or, rather, it knew 
it only in connection with the Passion of Christ. 

The Vision, of Death 135 

In all these sombre lamentations about death the accents 
of true tenderness are extremely rare. They could, how- 
ever, hardly be wanting in relation to the death of children. 
And, indeed, Martial d'Auvergne, in his death-dance of women, 
makes the little girl, when led away by death, say to her 
mother : " Take good care of my doll, my knuckle-bones and 
my fine dress." But this touching note is only heard excep- 
tionally. The literature of the epoch knew child-life so little ! 
When Antoine de la Salle, in Le Beconfort de Madame du 
Fresne, wishes to console a mother for the death of her twelve- 
years-old son, he can think of nothing better than citing a 
still more cruel loss : the heart-rending case of a boy given 
as a hostage and put to death. To overcome grief, the only 
advice he can offer is to abstain from all earthly attachments. 
A doctrinaire and dry consolation ! La Salle, however, adds a 
second short story. It is a version of the popular tale of the 
dead child, who came back to beg its mother to weep no more, 
that its shroud might dry. And here suddenly from this 
simple story not of his own invention there arises a poetical 
tenderness and beneficent wisdom, which we look for in vain 
in the thousands of voices repeating in various tones the 
awful memento won. Folk-tale and folk-song, no doubt, in 
these ages preserved many sentiments which higher literature 
hardly knew. 

The dominant thought, as expressed in the literature, both 
ecclesiastical and lay, of that period, hardly knew anything 
with regard to death but these two extremes : lamentation 
about the briefness of all earthly glory, and jubilation over 
the salvation of the soul. All that lay between pity, resig- 
nation, longing, consolation remained unexpressed and was, 
so to say, absorbed by the too much accentuated andl 
too vivid representation of Death hideous and threatening. 
Living emotion stiffens amid the abused imagery of skeletons 
and worms. 


Towards the end of the Middle Ages two factors dominate 
religious life : the extreme saturation of the religious atmo- 
sphere, and a marked tendency of thought to embody itself 
in images. 

Individual and social life, in all their manifestations, are 
imbued with the conceptions of faith. There is not an object 
nor an action, however trivial, that is not constantly cor- 
related with Christ or salvation. All thinking tends to religious 
interpretation of individual things ; there is an enormous 
unfolding of religion in daily life. This spiritual wakef ulness, 
however, results in a dangerous state of tension, for the pre- 
supposed transcendental feelings are sometimes dormant, and 
whenever this is the case, all that is meant to stimulate spiritual 
consciousness is reduced to appalling commonplace profanity, 
to a startling worldliness in other-worldly guise. Only saints 
are capable of an attitude of mind in which the transcendental 
faculties are never in abeyance. 

The spirit of the Middle Ages, still plastic and naive, longs 
to give concrete shape to every conception. Every thought 
seeks expression in an image, but in this image it solidifies and 
becomes rigid. By this tendency to embodiment in visible 
forms all holy concepts are constantly exposed to the danger 
of hardening into mere externalism. For in assuming a 
definite figurative shape thought loses its ethereal and vague 
qualities, and pious feeling is apt to resolve itself in the 

Even in the case of a sublime mystic, like Henry Suso, the 
craving for hallowing every action of daily life verges in our 
eyes on the ridiculous. He is sublime when, following the 
usages of profane love, he celebrates New Year's Day and 
May Day by offering a wreath and a song to his betrothed, 


Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 137 

Eternal Wisdom, or when, out of reverence for the Holy Virgin, 
he renders homage to all womankind and walks in the mud to 
let a beggar woman pass. But what are we to think of what 
follows ? At table Suso eats three-quarters of an apple in the 
name of the Trinity and the remaining quarter in commemora- 
tion of " the love with which the heavenly Mother gave her 
tender child Jesus an apple to eat " ; and for this reason he 
eats the last quarter with the paring, as little boys do not peel 
their apples. After Christmas he does not eat it, for then the 
infant Jesus was too young to eat apples. He drinks in five 
draughts because of the five wounds of the Lord, but as blood 
and water flowed from the side of Christ, he takes his last 
draught twice. This is, indeed, pushing the sanctification of 
life to extremes. 

In so far as it concerns individual piety, this tendency to 
apply religious conceptions to all things and at all times is 
a deep source of saintly life. As a cultural phenomenon this 
same tendency harbours grave dangers. Religion penetrating 
all relations in life means a constant blending of the spheres 
of holy and of prof ane thought. Holy things will become too 
common to be deeply felt. The endless growth of observances, 
images, religious interpretations, signifies an augmentation in 
quantity at which serious divines grew alarmed, as they feared 
the quality would deteriorate proportionately. The warning 
which we find recurring in all reformist writings of the time 
of the schism and of the councils is the Church is being over- 

Pierre d' Ailly, in condemning the novelties which were inces- 
santly introduced into the liturgy and the sphere of belief, is less 
concerned about the piety of their character than about the 
steady increase itself. The signs of the ever-ready divine grace 
multiplied endlessly ; a host of special benedictions sprang up 
side by side with the sacraments ; in addition to relics we find 
amulets ; the bizarre gallery of saints became ever more numer- 
ous and variegated. However emphatically divines insisted 
upon the difference between sacraments and sawamentalia, 
the people would still confound them. Gerson tells how he 
met a man at Auxerre, who maintained that All Fools' Day 
was as sacred as the day of the Virgin's Conception. Nicolas 
de Clemanges wrote a treatise, De novis festivitatibus non 

138 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

instituendis, in which he denounced the apocryphal nature 
of some among these new institutions. Pierre d'Ailly, in De 
Reformatime, deplores the ever-increasing number of churches, 
of festivals, of saints, of holy-days ; he protests against the 
multitude of images and paintings, the prolixity of the Service, 
against the introduction of new hymns and prayers, against the 
augmentation of vigils and fasts. In short, what alarms him 
is the evil of superfluity. 

There are too many religious orders, says d'Ailly, and this 
leads to a diversity of usages, to exclusiveness and rivalry, to 
pride and vanity. In particular he desired to impose restric- 
tions on the mendicant orders, whose social utility he questions : 
they live to the detriment of the inmates of leper houses and 
hospitals, and other really poor and wretched people, who are 
truly entitled to beg (ac aliis vere pauperibus et miserabiUbus 
indigentibus quibus convenit jus et verus titulus mendicandi). 
Let the sellers of indulgences be banished from the Church, 
which they soil with their lies and make ridiculous. Convents 
are built on all sides, but sufficient funds are lacking. Where 
is this to lead 1 

Pierre d'Ailly does not question the holy and pious character 
of all these practices in themselves, he only deplores their 
endless multiplication ; he sees the Church weighed down under 
the load of particulars. 

Religious customs tended to multiply in an almost mechanical 
way. A special office was instituted for every detail of the 
worship of the Virgin Mary. There were particular masses, 
afterwards abolished by the Church, in honour of the piety 
of Mary, of her seven sorrows, of all her festivals taken col- 
lectively, of her sisters the two other Marys of the arch- 
angel Gabriel, of all the saints of our Lord's genealogy. A 
curious example of this spontaneous accretion of religious 
usage is found in the weekly observance of Innocents' Day. 
The 28th of December, the day of the massacre at Bethlehem, 
was taken to be ill-omened. This belief was the origin of a 
custom, widely spread during the fifteenth century, of consider- 
ing as a black-letter day, all the year through, the day of the 
week on which the preceding Innocents' Day fell. Conse- 
quently, there was one day in every week on which people 
abstained from setting out upon a journey and beginning a 

Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 139 

new task, and this day was called Innocents' Day, like the 
festival itself. Lotos XI observed this usage scrupulously. 
The coronation of Edward IV of England was repeated, as it 
had taken place on a Sunday, because the 28th of December 
of the previous year had been a Sunday too. Ren6 de Lorraine 
had to give up his plan of fighting a battle on the 17th of 
October, 1476, as his lansquenets refused to encounter the 
enemy " on Innocents' Day. 9 * 

This belief, of which we find some traces appearing in Eng- 
land as late as the eighteenth century, called forth a treatise 
from Gerson against superstition in general. His penetrating 
mind had realized some of the danger with which these excres- 
cences of the creed menaced the purity of religious thought. 
He was aware of their psychological basis ; according to him, 
these beliefs proceed ex sola hominum phantasiatione et melan- 
cholica imaginatione ; it is a disorder of the imagination caused 
by some lesion of the brain, which in its turn is due to diabolic 

The Church was constantly on her guard lest dogmatic 
truth should be confounded with this mass of facile beliefs, and 
lest the exuberance of popular fancy should degrade God. But 
was she able to stand against this strong need of giving a con- 
crete form to all the emotions accompanying religious thought ? 
It was an irresistible tendency to reduce the infinite to the 
finite, to disintegrate all mystery. The highest mysteries of 
the creed became covered with a crust of superficial piety. 
Even the profound faith in the eucharist expands into childish 
beliefs f or instance, that one cannot go blind or have a stroke 
of apoplexy on a day on which one has heard mass, or that one 
does not grow older during the time spent in attending mass. 
While herself offering so much food to the popular imagination, 
the Church could not claim to keep that imagination within 
the limits of a healthy and vigorous piety. 

In this respect the case of Gerson is characteristic. He 
composed a treatise, Contra vanam curiositatem, by wMch he 
means the spirit of research which desires to scrutinize the 
secrets of nature. But whilst protesting against it, he himself 
becomes guilty of a curiosity which to us seems out of place 
and deplorable. Gerson was the great promoter of the adora- 
tion of Saint Joseph. His veneration for this saint makes 

140 The Waning of the Middk Ages 

desirous of learning all that concerns Mm. He routs out 
all particulars of the married life of Joseph : his continence, 
his age, the way in which he learned of the Virgin's pregnancy. 
He is indignant at the caricature of a drudging and ridiculous 
Joseph, which the arts were inclined to make of him. In 
another passage Gerson indulges in a speculation on the bodily 
constitution of Saint John the Baptist : Semen igitur materiale 
ex qua corpus compaginandum erat, nee durum nimis nee rursus 
fluidum abundantius fuit. 

Whether the Virgin had taken an active part in the super- 
natural conception, or, again, whether the body of Christ would 
have decomposed, if it had not been for the resurrection, were 
what the popular preacher Olivier Maillard called " beautiful 
theological questions" to discuss before his auditors. The 
mixture of theological and embryological speculation to which 
the controversy about the immaculate conception of the 
Virgin gave rise shocked the minds of that period so little 
that grave divines did not scruple to treat the subject from 
the pulpit. 

This familiarity with sacred things is, on the one hand, a sign 
of deep and ingenuous faith ; on the other, it entails irreverence 
whenever mental contact with the infinite fails. Curiosity, 
ingenuous though it be, leads to profanation. In the fifteenth 
century people used to keep statuettes of the Virgin, of which 
the body opened and showed the Trinity within. The inven- 
tory of the treasure of the dukes of Burgundy makes mention 
of one made of gold inlaid with gems. Gerson saw one in the 
Carmelite monastery at Paris ; he blames the brethren for it, 
not, however, because such a coarse picture of the miracle 
shocked him as irreverent, but because of the heresy of repre- 
senting the Trinity as the fruit of Mary. 

All life was saturated with religion to such an extent that the 
people were in constant danger of losing sight of the distinction 
between things spiritual and things temporal. If, on the one 
hand, ail details of ordinary life may be raised to a sacred level, 
on the other hand, all that is holy sinks to the commonplace, 
by the fact of being blended with everyday life. In the Middle 
Ages the demarcation of the sphere of religious thought and 
that of worldly concerns was nearly obliterated. It occasion- 
ally happened that indulgences figured among the prizes of 

Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 141 

a lottery. When a prince was making a solemn entry, the 
altars at the corners of the streets, loaded with the precious 
reliquaries of the town and served by prelates, might be seen 
alternating with dumb shows of pagan goddesses or comic 

Nothing is more characteristic in this respect than the fact 
of there being hardly any difference between the musical 
character of profane and sacred melodies. Till late in the 
sixteenth century profane melodies might be used indiscrimi- 
nately for sacred use, and sacred for profane. It is notorious 
that Guillaume Dufay and others composed masses to the 
theme of love-songs, such as " Tant je me deduis," l " Se la face 
ay pale," 2 " L'omme arme." 8 

There was a constant interchange of religious and profane 
terms. No one felt offended by hearing the Day of Judgment 
compared to a settling of accounts, as in the verses formerly 
written over the door of the audit office at Lille. 

"Lors ouvrira, au son de buysine 
Sa g&n&ale et grant chambre des comptes." 4 

A tournament, on the other hand, is called " des armes 
grantdisime pardon " (the great indulgence conferred by arms) 
as if it were a pilgrimage. By a chance coincidence the words 
mysterium and ministerium were blended in French into the form 
" mistere," and this homonymy must have helped to efface 
the true sense of the word " mystery " in everyday parlance, 
because even the most commonplace things might be called 

While religious symbolism represented the realities of nature 
and history as symbols or emblems of salvation, on the other 
hand religious metaphors were borrowed to express profane 
sentiments. People in the Middle Ages, standing in awe of 
royalty, do not shrink from using the language of adoration 
in praising princes. In the lawsuit about the murder of 
Louis of Orleans, the counsel for the defence makes the shade of 
the duke say to his son : " Look at my wounds and observe that 

1 So much I enjoy myself. 
8 If. my face is pale. * The armed man. 

*Then to the sound of the trumpet God shall open His general and grand 
audit office. 

142 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

five of them are particularly cruel and mortal." The bishop 
of Chalons, Jean Germain, in his Liber de virtutibus Philippi 
ducis Burgundiae, in his turn does not scruple to compare the 
victim of Montereau to the Lamb. The Emperor Frederick 
III, when sending his son Maximilian to the Low Countries 
to marry Mary of Burgundy, is compared by Molinet to God 
the Father. The same author makes the people of Brussels 
say, when they wept with tenderness on seeing the emperor 
entering their town with Maximilian and Philip le Beau: 
" Behold the image of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and 
the Holy Ghost." He offers a wreath of flowers to Mary of 
Burgundy, a worthy image of Our Lady, " secluse la virginit6." * 
" Non point que je veuille d6ifier les. princes ! " a Molinet 

Although we may consider such f ormulse of adulation empty 
phrases, they show none the less the depreciation of sacred 
imagery resulting from its hackneyed use. We can hardly 
blame a court poet, when Gerson himself ascribes to the royal 
auditors of his sermons guardian angels of a higher rank in 
the celestial hierarchy than those of other men. 

The step from familiarity to irreverence is taken when 
religious terms are applied to erotic relations. The subject 
has been dealt with above. The author of the Quinze Joyes 
de Mwriage chose his title to accord with the joys of the Virgin. 
The defender of the Roman de la Rose used sacred terms to 
designate the partes corporis irihonestas et peccata immunda 
atgue turpia. No instance of this dangerous association of 
religious with amatory sentiments could be more striking than 
the Madonna ascribed to Foucquet, making part of a diptych 
which was formerly preserved at Melun and is now partly at 
Antwerp and partly at Berlin ; Antwerp possessing the Madonna 
and Berlin the panel representing the donor, Etienne Chevalier, 
the king's treasurer, together with Saint Stephen. In the 
seventeenth century Denis Godefroy noted down a tradition, 
then already old, according to which the Madonna had the 
features of Agnes Sorel, the royal mistress, for whom Chevalier 
felt a passion that he did not trouble to conceal. However 
this may be, the Madonna is, in fact, represented here according 
to the canons of contemporary fashion : there is the bulging 
1 Save the virginity. Not that I want to deify princes. 


Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 143 

shaven forehead, the rounded breasts, placed high and wide 
apart, the high and slender waist. The bizarre inscrutable ex- 
pression of the Madonna's face, the red and blue cherubim 
surrounding her, all contribute to give this painting an air of 
decadent impiety in spite of the stalwart figure of the donor. 
Godefroy observed on the large frame of blue velvet E's done 
in pearls linked by love-knots of gold and silver thread. 
There is a flavour of blasphemous boldness about the whole, 
unsurpassed by any artist of the Eenaissance. 

The irreverence of daily religious practice was almost un- 
bounded. Choristers, when chanting mass, did not scruple to 
sing the words of the profane songs that had served as a theme 
for the composition : taisez-moi, rouges nez. 3 - 

A startling piece of impudence is recorded of the father of 
the Frisian humanist Bodolph, Agricola, who received the 
news that his concubine had given birth to a son on the very 
day when he was elected abbot. " To-day I have twice 
become a father. God's blessing on it ! " said he. 

At the end of the fourteenth century people took the in- 
creasing irreverence to be an evil of recent date, which, indeed, 
is a common phenomenon at all times. Deschamps deplores 
it in the following lines : 

" On souloit estre ou temps pass6 
En l'<glise benignement, 
A genoux en hixmilit6 
Delez 1'autel moult closement, 
Tout nu le chief piteusement, 
Maiz an jour d'uy, si come beste, 
On vient a Pautel bien souvent 
Chaperon et chapel en teste." * 

On festal days, says Nicolas de Clemanges, few people go 
to mass. They do not stay till the end, and are content with 
touching the holy water, bowing before Our Lady, or kissing the 
image of some saint. If they wait for the elevation of the Host, 
they pride themselves upon it, as if they had conferred a 

* "Kiss me," "Bed noses." 

* la bygone times people used to be Gentle in church, On their knees in 
humility Close beside the altar, With meekly uncovered head, But at present, 
like beasts, They too often come to the altar With hood and hat on their 

144 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

benefit on Christ. At matins and vespers the priest and his 
assistant are the only persons present. The squire of the village 
makes the priest wait to begin mass till he and his wife have 
risen and dressed. The most sacred festivals, even Christmas 
night, says Gerson, are passed in debauchery, playing at 
cards, swearing and blaspheming. When the people are 
admonished, they plead the example of the nobility and the 
clergy, who behave in like manner with impunity. Vigils 
likewise, says Clemanges, are kept with lascivious songs and 
dances, even in church ; priests set the example by dicing as they 
watch. It may be said that moralists paint things in too dark 
colours ; but in the accounts of Strassburg we find a yearly 
gift of 1,100 litres of wine granted by the council to those who 
" watched in prayer " in church during the night of Saint 

Denis the Carthusian wrote a treatise, De modo agendi pro- 
cessiones, at the request of an alderman, who asked him how one 
might remedy the dissoluteness and debauchery to which the 
annual procession, in which a greatly venerated relic was borne, 
gave rise. " How are we to put a stop to this ? ' ' asks the alder- 
man. " You may be sure that the town council will not easily 
be persuaded to abolish it, for the procession brings large 
profits to the town, because of all the people who have to Jbe 
fed and lodged. Besides, custom will have it so." "Alas, yes," 
sighs Denis ; " he knows too well how processions were disgraced 
by ribaldry , mockery and drinking." A most vivid picture of 
this evil is found in Ohastellain's description of the degradation 
into which the procession of the citizens of Ghent, with the 
shrine of Saint Lievin, to Houthem, had fallen. Formerly, 
he says, the notabilities were in the habit of carrying the holy 
body " with great and deep solemnity and reverence " ; at 
present there is only "a mob of roughs, and boys of bad 
character " ; they carry it singing and yelling, " with a hundred 
thousand gibes, and all are drunk." They are armed, " and 
commit many offences where they pass, as if they were let 
loose and unchained ; that day everything appears to be given 
up to them under the pretext of the body they carry." 

We have already mentioned how much disturbance was 
caused during church services by people vying with each other 
in politeness. The usage of making a trysting-place of the 

Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 145 

church by young men and young women was so universal that 
only moralists were scandalized by it. The virtuous Christine 
de Pisan makes a lover say in all simplicity : 

"Se souvent vais ou moustier, 
C'est tout pour veoir la belle 
Fresche comme rose nouvelle." l 

The Church suffered more serious profanation than the little 
love services of a young man who offered his fair one the 
" pax," or knelt by her side. According to the preacher 
Menot, prostitutes had the effrontery to come there in search 
of customers. Gerson tells that even in the churches and 
on festival days obscene pictures were sold tanquam idola 
Selphegor, which corrupted the young, while sermons were 
ineffective to remedy this evil. 

As to pilgrimages, moralists and satirists are of one mind ; 
people often go " pour folle plaisance." The Chevalier de la 
Tour Landry naively classes them with profane pleasures, and 
he entitles one of his chapters, " Of those who are fond of going 
to jousts and on pilgrimages." 

On festal days, exclaims Nicolas de Clemanges, people go 
to visit distant churches, not so much to redeem a pledge of 
pilgrimage as to give themselves up to pleasure. Pilgrimages 
are the occasions of all kinds of debauchery ; procuresses are 
always found there, people come for amorous purposes. It is 
a common incident in the Quinze Joyes de Mariage ; the young 
wife, who wants a change, makes her husband believe that the 
baby is ill, because she has not yet accomplished her vow of 
pilgrimage, made during her confinement. The marriage of 
Charles VI with Isabella of Bavaria was preceded by a pil- 
grimage. It is far from surprising that the serious followers 
of the devotio modema called the utility of pilgrimages in 
question. Those who often go on pilgrimages, says Thomas k 
Kempis, rarely become saints. One of his friends, IFrederick 
of Heilo, wrote a special treatise, Contra peregrinantes. 

The excesses and abuses resulting from an extreme fami- 
liarity with things holy, as well as the insolent mingling of 
pleasure with religion, are generally characteristic of periods 

1 If I of ten go to church, It is all for seeing the fair one Fresh as a new-blown 


146 TJie Waning of the Middle Ages 

of unshaken faith and of a deeply religious culture. The same 
people who in their daily life mechanically follow the routine 
of a rather degraded sort of worship will be capable of rising 
suddenly, at the ardent word of a preaching monk, to unparal- 
leled heights of religious emotion. Even the stupid sin of 
blasphemy has its roots in a profound faith. It is a sort of 
perverted act of faith, affirming the omnipresence of God and 
His intervention in the minutest concerns. Only the idea of 
really daring Heaven gives blasphemy its sinful charm. As 
soon as an oath loses its character of an invocation of God, 
the habit of swearing changes its nature and becomes mere 
coarseness. At the end of the Middle Ages blasphemy is 
still a sort of daring diversion which belongs to the nobility. 
" What ! " says the nobleman to the peasant in a treatise 
by Gerson, "you give your soul to the devil, you deny God 
without being noble ? " Deschamps, on his part, notices 
that the habit of swearing tends to descend to people of low 

** Si ch6tif n'y a qtd ne die : 
Je renie Dieu et sa mdre." x 

People make a pastime of coining new and ingenious oaths, 
says Gerson : he who excels in this impious art is honoured as 
a master. Deschamps tells us that all Stance swore first after 
the Gascon and the English fashion, next after the Breton, 
and finally after the Burgundian. He composed two ballads 
in succession made up of all the oaths then in vogue strung 
together, and ended with a pious phrase. The Burgundian 
oath was the worst of alL It was, Je renie Dieu (I deny 
God), which was softened down to Je renie de boUes (boots). 
The Burgundians had the reputation of being abominable 
swearers ; for the rest, says Gerson, the whole of France, for 
all her Christianity, suffers more than any other country from 
the effects of this horrible sin, which causes pestilence, war and 
famine. Even monks were guilty of mild swearing. Gerson 
and d'Ailly expressly call upon the authorities to combat the 
evil by renewing the strict regulations everywhere, but im- 
posing light penalties which may be really exacted. And a 
royal decree of 1397, in fact, re-established the old ones of 1269 
1 There is none so mean but says, I deny God and His mother. 

Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 147 

and 1347, but unfortunately also renewed the old penalties 
of lip-slitting and cutting out of tongues, which bore witness, 
it is true, to a holy horror of blasphemy, but which it was 
not possible to enforce. In the margin of the register con- 
taining the ordinance, someone has noted : " At present, 1411, 
all these oaths are in general use throughout the kingdom 
without being punished." 

Gerson, with his long experience as a confessor, knew the 
psychological nature of the sin of blasphemy very well. On 
the one hand, he says, there are the habitual swearers, who, 
though culpable, are not perjurers, as it is not their intention 
to take an oath. On the other, we find young men of a pure 
and simple nature who are irresistibly tempted to blaspheme 
and to deny God. Their case reminds us of John Bunyan's, 
whose disease took the form of " a propensity to utter blas- 
phemy, and especially to renounce his share in the benefits of 
the redemption." Gerson counsels these young men to give 
themselves up less to the contemplation of God and the saints, 
as they lack the mental strength required. 

It is impossible to draw the line of demarcation between an 
ingenuous familiarity and conscious infidelity. As early as 
the fifteenth century people liked to show themselves esprits 
forts and to deride piety in others. The word "papelard," 
meaning a hypocrite, was in frequent use with lay writers of the 
time. " De jeune angelot vieux diable " (a young saint makes 
an old devil), said the proverb, or, in solemn Latin metre, 
Angelicus juvenis aenibus saihanizat in annis. " It is by such 
sayings," Gerson exclaims, "that youth is perverted. A 
brazen face, scurrilous language and curses, immodest looks 
and gestures, are praised in children. Well, what is to be 
expected in old age of a sathanizing youth ? " 

The people, he says, do not know how to steer a middle 
course between overt unbelief and the foolish credulity, of 
which the clergy themselves set the example. They give 
credence to all revelations and prophecies, which are often but 
fancies of diseased people or lunatics, and yet when a serious 
divine, who has been honoured by genuine revelations, is 
occasionally mistaken, he is called impostor and " papelard," 
and the people henceforth refuse to listen to any divine because 
all are considered hypocrites* 

148 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

We not unfrequentiy find individual expressions of avowed 
unbelief. "Beaux seigneurs," says Captain Betisac to his 
comrades when about to die, " I have attended to my spiritual 
concerns and, in my conscience, I believe I have greatly 
angered God, having for a long time already erred against the 
faith, and I cannot believe a word about the Trinity, nor that 
the Son of God has humbled Himself to such an extent as to 
come down from Heaven into the carnal body of a woman ; and 
I believe and say that when we die there is no such thing as a 
soul. ... I have held this opinion ever since I became self- 
conscious, and I shall hold it till the end." The provost of 
Paris, Hugues Aubriot, is a violent hater of the clergy ; he does 
not believe in the sacrament of the altar, he makes a mock of it ; 
he does not keep Easter, he does not go to confession. Jacques 
du Clercq relates that several noblemen, in full possession of 
their faculties, refused extreme unction. Perhaps we should 
regard these isolated cases of unbelief less as wilful heresy 
than as a spontaneous reaction against the incessant and 
pressing call of the faith, arising from a culture overcharged 
with religious images and concepts. In any case, they should 
not be confounded either with the literary and superficial 
paganism of the Renaissance, nor with the prudent epicurean- 
ism of some aristocratic circles from the thirteenth century 
downward, nor, above all, with the passionate negation of 
ignorant heretics who had passed the boundary-line between 
mysticism and pantheism. 

The naive religious conscience of the multitude had no need 
of intellectual proofs in matters of faith. The mere presence 
of a visible image of things holy sufficed to establish their 
truth. No doubts intervened between the sight of all those 
pictures and statues the persons of the Trinity, the flames 
of hell, the innumerable saints and belief in their reality. 
All these conceptions became matters of faith in the most 
direct manner ; they passed straight from the state of images 
to that of convictions, taking root in the mind as pictures 
clearly outlined and vividly coloured, possessing all the reality 
claimed for them by the Church, and even a little more. 
* Now, when faith is too directly connected with a pictured 
representation of doctrine, it runs the risk of no longer making 

Eeligious Thought Crystallizing into Images 149 

qualitative distinctions between the nature and the degree of 
sanctity of the different elements of religion. The image by 
itself does not teach the faithful that one should adore God and 
only venerate the saints. Its psychological function is limited 
to creating a deep conviction of reality and a lively feeling of 
respect. It therefore became the task of the Church to warn 
incessantly against want of discrimination in this respect, and 
to preserve the purity of doctrine by explaining precisely 
what the image stood for. In no other sphere was the danger 
of luxuriance of religious thought caused by a vivid imagina- 
tion more obvious. 

Now, the Church did not fail to teach that all honours 
rendered to the saints, to relics, to holy places, should have 
God for their object. Although the prohibition of images in 
the second commandment of the Decalogue was abrogated by 
the new law, or limited to God the Father alone, the Church 
purposed, nevertheless, to maintain intact the principle of non 
adorabis ea neque coles : Images were only meant to show simple- 
minded people what to believe. They are the books of the 
illiterate, says Clemanges ; a thought which Villon has expressed 
in the touching lines which he puts into his mother's mouth : 

" Femme je suis pourette et ancienne, 
Qui riens ne scai ; oncques lettre ne leuz ; 
AU moustier voy dont suis paroissienne 
Paradis paint, ou sont harpes et luz, 
Et ung enf er oft dampnez sont boulluz : 
L'ung me fait paour, Pantre joye et liesse ...'** 

The medieval Church was, however, rather heedless of the 
danger of a deterioration of the faith caused by the popular 
imagination roaming unchecked in the sphere of hagiology. 
An abundance of pictorial fancy, after all, furnished to the 
simple mind quite as much matter for deviating from pure 
doctrine as any personal interpretation of Holy Scripture. It 
is remarkable that the Church, so scrupulous in dogmatic 
matters, should have been so confiding and indulgent towards 
those who, sinning out of ignorance, rendered more homage 

1 1 am a poor old woman who knows nothing ; I never could zead. In 
my parish church 1 see Paradise painted, where are harps and lutes, And a 
hell, where the damned are boiled. The one frightens me, the other brings 
joy and mirth. 

150 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

to images than was lawful. It suffices, says Gerson, that they 
meant to do as the Church requires. 

Thus towards the end of the Middle Ages an ultra-realistic 
conception of all that related to the saints may be noticed in the 
popular faith. The saints had become so real and such familiar 
characters of current religion that they became bound up with 
all the more superficial religious impulses. While profound 
devotion still centred on Christ and His mother, quite a host 
of artless beliefs and fancies clustered about the saints. Every- 
thing contributed to make them familiar and life-like. They 
were dressed like the people themselves. Every day one met 
" Messires " Saint Roch and Saint James in the persons of 
living plague patients and pilgrims. Down to the Renaissance 
the costume of the saints always followed the fashion of the 
times. Only then did Sacred Art, by arraying the saints in 
classical draperies, withdraw them from the popular imag- 
ination and place them in a sphere where the fancy of the 
multitude could no longer contaminate the doctrine in its 

The distinctly corporeal conception of the saints was accen- 
tuated by the veneration of their relics, not only permitted by 
the Church but forming an integral part of religion. It was 
inevitable that this pious attachment to material things should 
draw all hagiolatry into a sphere of crude and primitive ideas, 
and lead to surprising extremes. In the matter of relics the 
deep and straightforward faith of the Middle Ages was never 
afraid of disillusionment or profanation through handling holy 
things coarsely. The spirit of the fifteenth century did not 
differ much from that of the Umbrian peasants, who, about 
the year 1000, wished to kill Saint Romuald, the hermit, in 
order to make sure of his precious bones ; or of the monks of 
Fossanuova, who, after Saint Thomas Aquinas had died in 
their monastery, in their fear of losing the relic, did not shrink 
from decapitating, boiling and preserving the body. During 
the lying in state of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, in 1231, a 
crowd of worshippers came and cut or tore strips of the linen 
enveloping her face ; they cut off the hair, the nails, even the 
nipples. In 1392, King Charles VI of France, on the occasion 
of a solemn feast, was seen to distribute ribs of his ancestor. 
Saint Louis ; to Pierre d'Ailly and to his uncles Berry and 

Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 151 

Burgundy he gave entire ribs ; to the prelates one bone to divide 
between them, which they proceeded to do after the meal. 

It may well be that this too corporeal and familiar aspect, 
this too clearly outlined shape, of the saints has been the very 
reason why they occupy so little space in the sphere of visions 
and supernatural experience. The whole domain of ghost- 
seeing, signs, spectres and apparitions, so crowded in the 
Middle Ages, lies mainly apart from the veneration of the saints. 
Of course, there are exceptions, such as Saint Michael, Saint 
ELatherine and Saint Margaret appearing to Joan of Arc ; 
and other instances might be added. But, generally speaking, 
popular phantasmagoria is full of angels, devils, shades of the 
dead, white women, but not of saints. Stories of apparitions 
of particular saints are, as a rule, suspect of having already 
undergone some ecclesiastical or literary interpretation. To 
the agitated beholder a phantom has no name and hardly a 
shape. In the famous vision of Frankenthal, in 1446, the young 
shepherd sees fourteen cherubim, all alike, who tell bin* they 
are the fourteen " Holy Martyrs," to whom Christian icono- 
graphy attributed such distinct and marked appearances. 
Where a primitive superstition does attach to the veneration 
of some saint, it retains something of the vague and formless 
character that is essential to superstition, as in the case of 
Saint Bertulph at Ghent, who can be heard rapping the sides 
of his coffin in S. Peter's abbey " moult dru et moult fort " 
(very frequently and very loudly) as a warning of impending 

The saint, with his clearly outlined figure, his well-known 
attributes and features as they were painted or carved in the 
churches, was wholly lacking in mystery. He did not inspire 
terror as do vague phantoms and the haunting unknown. The 
dread of the supernatural is due to the undefined character of 
its phenomena. As soon as they assume a clear-cut shape they 
are no longer horrible. The familiar figures of the saints pro- 
duced the same sort of reassuring effect as the sight of a police- 
man in a foreign city. The complex of ideas connected with 
the saints constituted, so to say, a neutral zone of calm and 
domestic piety, between the ecstasy of contemplation and of the 
love of Christ on the one hand, and the horrors of demonomania 
on the other. It is perhaps not too bold to assert that the 

152 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

veneration of the saints, by draining off an overflow of religious 
effusion and of holy fear, acted on the exuberant piety of the 
Middle Ages as a salutary sedative. 

The veneration of the saints has its place among the more 
outward manifestations of faith. It is subject to the influences 
of popular fancy rather than of theology, and they sometimes 
deprive it of its dignity. The special cult of Saint Joseph 
towards the end of the Middle Ages is characteristic in this 
respect. It may be looked upon as the counterpart of the 
passionate adoration of the Virgin. The curiosity with which 
Joseph was regarded is a sort of reaction from the fervent cult 
of Mary. The figure of the Virgin is exalted more and more 
and that of Joseph becomes more and more of a caricature. 
Art portrays him as a clown dressed in rags ; as such he appears 
in the diptych by Melchior Broederlam at Dijon. Literature, 
which is always more explicit than the graphic arts, achieves 
the feat of making him altogether ridiculous. Instead of 
admiring Joseph as the man most highly favoured of all, 
Deschamps represents him as the type of the drudging husband. 

**VoT3s qui servez a fennne et a enfans 
Aiez Joseph toiidis en remembrance ; 
Fennne servit toujo-urs tristes, dolans, 
Et Jhesu Grist garda en son enf ance ; 
A pie trotoit, son fardel star sa lance ; 
En plusieurs lieux est figure* ainsi, 
Lez -on mulct, pour tear faire plaisance, 
Et si n'ot oncq feste en ce monde ci." I 

And again, still more grossly: 

<c Qu'ot Joseph de povret6 
De durt 
De maleurte' 
Quant Dieux nasqui ! 
Maintefois Pa comport6 
Et monte" 
Par bonte* 
Avec sa mere autressi, 

1 You who serve a wife and children Always bear Joseph in mind ; He 
served his wife, gloomily and mournfully, And he guarded Jesus Christ in 
his infancy ; He went on foot with his bundle slung on his staff ; In several 
places he is pictured thus, Beside a mule to give them pleasure, And so he 
had never any amusement in this world. 

Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 153 

Sur sa mule les ravi : 

Je le vi 

Paint ainsi; 

En Egipte en est al<. 

"Le bonhomme est painture 1 
Tout Iass6, 
Et troussS 

D'une cote et d'un barry: 
Un baston au coul pos6, 
Vieil, us6 
Et rus& 

Feste n'a en ce monde cy, 
Mais de lui 
Va le cri : 
C'est Joseph le rassot<." x 

This shows how familiarity led to irreverence of thought. 
Saint Joseph remained a comic type, in spite of the very special 
reverence paid to him. Doctor Eck, Luther's adversary, had 
to insist that he should not be brought on the stage, or at least 
that he should not be made to cook the porridge, " ne ecclesia 
Dei irrideatur." The union of Joseph and Mary always 
remained the object of a deplorable curiosity, in which pro- 
fane speculation mingled with sincere piety. The Chevalier 
de la Tour Landry, a man of prosaic mind, explains it to himself 
in the following manner : " God wished that she should marry 
that saintly man Joseph, who was old and upright, for God 
wished to be born in wedlock, to comply with the current legal 
requirements, to avoid gossip." 

An unpublished work of the fifteenth century a represents the 
mystic marriage of the soul with the celestial spouse as if it 
were a middle-class wedding. " If it pleases you," says Jesus 
to the Father, " I shall marry and shall have a large bevy of 
children and relations." The Father fears a misalliance, but 

* What poverty Joseph suffered What -hardships What misery When God 
was born ! Many a time he has carried Mm, And placed him In his good- 
ness With his mother, too. On his mule, and took them with hfrn I saw hi 
Painted thus ; He went into Egypt. 

The good man is painted Quite exhausted, And dressed in A frock and a 
striped garment, A stick across his shoulder, Old, spent And broken. For 
frim there was no amusement in tibia world. But of him People sayThat is 
Joseph, the fool 

*Le Livre de Cravnte Amowreuse, by Jean Berthelemy, Bihliothdqoe 
Rationale, MS. fran9ais, 1875. 

154 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the Angel succeeds in persuading him that the betrothed-elect 
is worthy of the Son ; on which the Father gives his consent 
in these terms : 

"Prens la, car elle est plaisant 
Four bien amer son doulx amant ; 
Or prens de nos biens largement, 
Et luy en donne habondaxnment." * 

There is no doubt of the seriously devout intention of this 
treatise. It is only an instance of the degree of triviality 
entailed by unbridled exuberance of fancy. 

Every saint, by the possession of a distinct and vivid out- 
ward shape, had his own marked individuality, quite contrary 
to the angels, who, with the exception of the three famous 
archangels, acquired no definite appearance. This individual 
character of each saint was still more strongly accentuated by 
the special functions attributed to many of them. Now this 
specialization of the kind of aid given by the various saints 
was apt to introduce a mechanical element into the veneration 
paid to them. If, for instance, Saint Roch is specially 
invoked against the plague, almost inevitably too much 
stress came to be laid on his part in the healing, and the 
idea required by sound doctrine, that the saint wrought the 
cure only by means of his intercession with God, came in 
danger of being lost sight of. This was especially so in the 
case of the "Holy Martyrs" (les saints auxiHaires), whose 
number is usually given as fourteen, and sometimes as five, 
eight, ten, fifteen. Their veneration arose and spread towards 
the end of the Middle Ages. 

" Hz sont cinq sains, en la genealogie, 
Et cinq sainctes, a qoi Dieu octria 
Henignexnent a la fin de leur vie, 
Que qtticonques de cuer les requeira 
En tons perils, que Dieu essaucera 
Leurs prieres, pour quelconque mesaise. 
Saiges est done qoi ces cinq servira, 
Jorges, Denis, Christofle, Gille et Blaise." a 

1 Take her, for she is pleasing and fit To love her sweet bridegroom ; Now 
take plenty of our possessions, And give them to her in abundance. 

1 There are five saints in the genealogy, And five female saints to whom God 
granted Benignsntly at the end of their lives, That whosoever shall invoke 

Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 155 

The Church had sanctioned the popular belief expressed by 
Deschamps in these verses by instituting an office of the Four- 
teen Auxiliary Saints. The binding character of their inter- 
cession is clearly there expressed : " O God, who hast distin- 
guished Thy chosen saints, George, etc., etc., with special 
privileges before all others, that all those who in their need 
invoke their help, shall obtain the salutary fulfilment of their 
prayer, according to the promise of Thy grace." So there had 
been a formal delegation of divine omnipotence. The people 
could, therefore, not be blamed if, with regard to theseprivileged 
saints it forgot the pure doctrine a little. The instantaneous 
effect of prayer addressed to them contributed still more to 
obscure their part as intercessors ; they seemed to be exercising 
divine power by virtue of a power of attorney. Hence it is 
very natural that the Church abolished this special office of the 
Fourteen Auxiliary Saints after the Council of Trent. The 
extraordinary function attributed to them had given rise to 
the grossest superstition, such as the belief that it sufficed to 
have looked at a Saint Christopher, painted or carved, to be 
protected for the rest of the day from a fatal end. This 
explains the countless number of the saints' images at the 
entrances of churches. 

As for the reason why this group was singled out among all 
the saints, it should be noticed that the greater number of them 
appear in art with some very striking attribute. Saint Acha- 
tius wore a crown of thorns ; Saint Giles was accompanied by 
a hind, Saint George by a dragon ; Saint Christopher was of 
gigantic stature ; Saint Blaise was represented in a den of wild 
beasts ; Saint Cyriac with a chained devil ; Saint Denis carry- 
ing his head under his arm ; Saint Erasmus being disembowelled 
by means of a windlass ; Saint Eustace with a stag carrying a 
cross between its antlers ; Saint Pantaleon with a lion ; Saint 
Vitus in a cauldron ; Saint Barbara with her tower ; Saint 
Katherine with her wheel and sword ; Saint Margaret with a 
dragon. It may well be that the special favour with which 
the Fourteen Auxiliary Saints were regarded was due, at least 
partially, to the very impressive character of their images. 

their help with all his heart la all dangers, that He will hear their prayers, 
la aU disorders whatsoever. He therefore is wise who serves these five, 
George, Denis, Christopher, Giles and Blaise. 

156 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

The names of several saints were inseparably bound up with 
divers disorders, and even served to designate them. Thus 
various cutaneous diseases were called Saint Anthony's evil. 
Gout went by the name of Saint Maur's evil. The terrors of the 
plague called for more than one saintly protector-; Saint Sebas- 
tian, Saint Roch, Saint Giles, Saint Christopher, Saint Valen- 
tine, Saint Adrian, were all honoured in this capacity by offices, 
processions and fraternities. Now here lurked another menace 
to the purity of the faith. As soon as the thought of the 
disease, charged with feelings of horror and fear, presented 
itself to the mind, the thought of the saint sprang up at the 
same instant. How easily, then, did the saint himself become 
the object of this fear, so that to him was ascribed the heavenly 
wrath that unchained the scourge. Instead of unfathomable 
divine justice, it was the anger of the saint which seemed the 
cause of the evil and required to be appeased. Since he healed 
the evil, why should he not be its author ? On these lines the 
transition from Christian ethic to heathen magic was only too 
easy. The Church could not be held responsible, unless we are 
to blame her carelessness regarding the adulteration of the 
pure doctrine in the minds of the ignorant. 

There are numerous testimonies to show that the people 
sometimes really regarded certain saints as the authors of 
disorders, though it would be hardly fair to consider as such 
those oaths which almost attributed to Saint Anthony the part 
of an evil fire-demon. " Que Saint Antoine me arde " (May 
Saint Anthony burn me ! ), " Saint Antoine arde le tripot," 
" Saint Antoine arde la monture " (Saint Anthony burn the 
brothel ! Saint Anthony burn the beast ! ) these are lines 
by Coquillaxfe. So also Deschamps makes some poor fellow 

" Saint Antoine me vent trop drier 
Son mal, le feu ou corps me boute ; " x 

and thus apostrophizes a gouty beggar : " You cannot walk ? 
AH the better, you save the toll : Saint Mor ne te fera fremir " 
(Saint Maur will not make you tremble). 
Robert Gaguin, who was not at all hostile to the veneration 

1 Saint Anthony sells me his evil all too dear, He stokes the fire in my 

Religious TTiought Crystallizing into Images 157 

of the saints, in his De validorum per Franciam mendicantium 
varia astucia, describes beggars in these terms : " One falls on 
the ground expectorating malodorous spittle and attributes 
his condition to Saint John. Others are covered with ulcers 
through the fault of Saint Fiacrius, the hermit. You, 
Damian, prevent them from making water, Saint Anthony 
burns their joints, Saint Pius makes them lame and para- 

In one of his Colloquies Erasmus makes fun of this belief. 
One of the interlocutors asks whether in Heaven the saints 
are more malevolent than they were on earth. " Yes," answers 
the other, " in the glory of Paradise the saints do not choose 
to be insulted. Who was sweeter than Saint Corneille, more 
compassionate than Saint Anthony, more patient than Saint 
John the Baptist, during their lives ? And now what horrible 
maladies they send if they are not properly honoured ! " 
Rabelais states that the lower class of preachers themselves 
represented Saint Sebastian to their congregation as the author 
of the plague and Saint Eutropius of dropsy. Henri Estienne 
has written of the same superstitions in the like manner. That 
they existed is thus clearly established. 

The emotional constituents of the veneration of the saints 
had fastened so firmly on the forms and colours of their images 
that mere aesthetic perception was constantly threatening to 
obliterate the religious element. The vivid impression pre- 
sented by the aspect of the images with their pious or ecstatic 
looks, rich gilding, and sumptuous apparel, all admirably 
reproduced by a very realistic art, left hardly any room for 
doctrinal reflection. Effusions of piety went out ardently 
towards those glorious beings, without a thought being given 
to the limits fixed by the Church. In the popular imagination 
the saints were living and were as gods. There is nothing 
surprising, therefore, in the fact that strict pietists like the 
Brethren of the Common Life and the Windesheim canons saw 
a certain danger to popular piety in the development of the 
veneration of the saints. It is very remarkable, however, that 
the same idea occurs to a man like Eustache Deschamps, a 
superficial poet and a commonplace mind, and for that very- 
reason so faithful a mirror of the general aspirations of his 

158 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

"Ne faictes pas les dieux d'argent, 
D'or, de fust, de pierre ou d'arain, 
Qui font ydolatrer la gent. . . . 

Car Pouvrage est forme plaisant ; 

Leiir painture dont je me plain, 

La beaute* de Tor reluisant, 

Font croire a maint peuple incertain 

Que ce soient dieu pour certain, 

Et servent par pensees foles 

Telz ymages qni font caroles 

Es moustiers ou trop en mettons ; 

C'est tresmal fait ; a brief paroles, 

Telz simulacres n'aourons. 

Prince, un Dieu croions settlement 
Et aourons parfaictement 
Aux champs, partout, car c'est raisons, 
Non pas faulz dieux, fer n'ayment, 
Pierres qui n'ont entendement : 
Telz simulacres n'aourons." l 

Perhaps we may consider the diligent propagation of the 
cult of guardian angels towards the end of the Middle Ages 
as a sort of unconscious reaction against the motley crowd of 
popular hagiology. Too large a part of the living faith had 
crystallized in the veneration of the saints, and thus there 
arose a craving for something more spiritual as an object of 
reverence and a source of protection. In addressing itself to the 
angel, vaguely conceived and almost formless, piety restored 
contact with the supernatural and with mystery. Once more 
it is Jean Gerson, the indefatigable worker for the purity of 
faith, whom we find perpetually recommending the cult of 
the guardian angel. But here also he had to combat unbridled 
curiosity, which threatened to submerge piety under a mass 
of commonplace details. And it was just in connection with 
this subject of angels, which was more or less unbroken ground, 

1 Do not make gods of silver, Of gold, of wood, of stone or of bronze, That 
lead people to idolatry. . . . Because the work has a pleasant shape; Their 
colouring of which I complain, The beauty of gfrmfng gold, Make many ignorant 
people believe That these are God] for certain, And they serve by foolish 
thoughts Such images as stand about la churches where they place too many 
oftkemThatisveryffldone;m^ortI^usi^ . . . 

Prince, let us only believe in one God And let us adore him to perfection 
In the fields, everywhere, for this is right, No false gods, of iron or of stone, 
Stones which have no understanding : Let us not adore such counterfeits. 

Religious Thought Crystallizing into Images 159 

that numbers of delicate questions obtruded themselves. Do 
they never leave us ? Do they know beforehand whether 
we shall be saved or lost ? Had Christ a guardian angel ? 
Will the Antichrist have one ? Can the angel speak to our 
soul without visions ? Do the angels lead us to good as devils 
lead us to evil ? Leave these subtle speculations to divines, 
concludes Qerson ; let the faithful keep to simple and whole- 
some worship. 

A hundred years after Gerson wrote, the Eeformation 
attacked the cult of the saints, and nowhere in the whole 
contested area did it meet with less resistance. In strong 
contrast with the belief in witchcraft and demonology, which 
fully maintained their ground in Protestant countries, both 
among the clergy and the laity, the saints fell without a blow 
being struck in their defence. This was possibly due to the 
fact that nearly everything connected with the saints had 
become caput mortuum. Piety had depleted itself in the 
image, the legend, the office. All its contents had been so 
completely expressed that mystic awe had evaporated. The 
cult of the saints was no longer rooted in the domain of the 
unimaginable. In the case of demonology, these roots re- 
mained as terribly strong as ever. 

When, therefore, Catholic Reform had to re-establish the 
cult of the saints, its first task was to prune it ; to cut down the 
whole luxuriant growth of medieval imagination and establish 
severer discipline, so as to prevent a reflorescence. 


In studying the history of religious life, we must beware 
of drawing the lines of demarcation too sharply. When we 
see side by side the most striking contrasts of passionate 
piety and mocking indifference, it is so easy to explain them 
by opposing, as if they made up distinct groups, the worldly 
to the devout, the intellectuals to the ignorant, the reformers 
to the conservatives. But, in so doing, we fail to take suffi- 
cient account of the marvellous complexity of the human 
soul and of the forms of culture. To explain the astonishing 
contrasts of religious life towards the end of the Middle Ages, 
we must start with the recognition of a general lack of balance 
in the religious temper, rendering both individuals and masses 
liable to violent contradictions and to sudden changes. 

The general aspect presented by religious life in France 
towards the end of the Middle Ages is that of a very mechanical 
and frequently very lax practice, chequered by spasmodic 
effusions of ardent piety. France was a stranger to that special 
form of pietism which sequesters itself in small circles of 
fervent devotees, such as we find springing up in the Nether- 
lands : the " devotio moderna," dominated by the figure of 
Thomas a Kempis. Still, the religious needs which gave birth 
to this movement were not wanting in France, only the 
devotees did not form a special organization. They found a 
refuge in the existing orders, or they remained in secular 
life, without being distinguished from the mass of believers. 
Perhaps the Latin soul endures more easily than that of 
Northern peoples the conflicts with which life in the world 
confronts the pious. 

Of all the contradictions which religious life of the period 
presents, perhaps the most insoluble is that of an avowed 
contempt of the clergy, a contempt seen as an undercurrent 


Types of Religious Life 161 

throughout the Middle Ages, side by side with the very great 
respect shown for the sanctity of the sacerdotal office. The 
soul of the masses, not yet completely Christianized, had 
never altogether forgotten the aversion felt by the savage 
for the man who may not fight and must remain chaste. 
The feudal pride of the knight, the champion of courage and 
of love, was at one, in this, with the primitive instinct of the 
people. The worldliness of the higher ranks of the clergy 
and the deterioration of the lower grades did the rest. Hence 
it was that nobles, burghers and villeins had for a long time 
past been feeding their hatred with spiteful jests at the expense 
of the incontinent monk and the guzzling priest. Hatred is 
the right word to use in this context, for hatred it was, latent, 
but general and persistent. The people never wearied of 
hearing the vices of the clergy arraigned. A preacher who 
inveighed against the ecclesiastical state was sure of being 
applauded. As soon as a homilist broaches this subject, says 
Bernardino of Siena, his hearers forget all the rest; there 
is no more effective means of reviving attention when the 
congregation is dropping off to sleep, or suffering from heat or 
cold. Everybody instantly becomes attentive and cheerful. 

Contempt and gibes are levelled especially at the mendicant 
orders. The types of unworthy priests in the Cent Nouvelles 
Nouvelles, like the starving chaplain who reads mass for three 
doits, or the confessor pledged to absolve the family of every- 
thing every year, in return for his board and lodging, are all 
of them mendicant friars. In a series of New Year's wishes 
Molinet rhymes thus : 

"PrioiLs Dieu que les Jacobins 
Puissent manger les Augustins, 
Et les Cannes soient pendus 
Des cordes des Freres Menus." 1 

At the same time, the restoration of the mendicant orders 
caused a revival of popular preaching, which gave rise to those 
vehement outbursts of fervour and penitence which stamped 
so powerfully the religious life of the fifteenth century. 

There is in this special hatred for the begging friars an 

1 Let us pray God that the Jacobins May eat the Augustinians, And that 
the Carmelites may be hanged With the cords of the Minorites. 


162 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

indication of a most important change of ideas. The formal 
and dogmatic conception of poverty as extolled by Saint 
Ifrancis of Assisi, and as observed by the mendicant orders, 
was no longer in harmony with the social sentiment which 
was just arising. People were beginning to regard poverty as 
a social evil instead of an apostolic virtue. Pierre d'Ailly 
opposed to the mendicant orders the " true poor " vere 
pawperes. England, which, earlier than other nations, became 
alive to the economic aspect of things, gave, towards the end 
of the fourteenth century, the first expression to the senti- 
ment of the sanctity of productive labour in that strangely 
fantastic and touching poem, The Vision of William con- 
cerning Piers Plowman. 

Still, this general abuse of priests and monks goes hand 
in hand with a profound veneration for their sacred function. 
Ghillebert de Lannoy saw a priest at Rotterdam appease a 
tumult by raising the Corpus Domini. 

The sudden transitions and the violent contrasts of the 
religious life of the ignorant masses reappear in that of cul- 
tured individuals. Often enlightenment comes like a thunder- 
clap, as it did in the case of Saint Francis suddenly hearing 
the words of the Gospel as a compulsory command. A knight 
hears the baptismal ritual read: he has perhaps heard it 
twenty times before, but suddenly the miraculous virtue of 
these words pierces into his soul, and he promises himself 
henceforth to chase away the devil by the mere recollection 
of the baptism. Jean de Bueil is on the point of witnessing 
a duel, the adversaries are both going to swear to their good 
right on the Host. Suddenly the captain, seized by the 
thought that one of them must needs forswear himself and 
will be lost irrevocably, exclaims : " Do not swear ; only fight 
for a wager of 500 crowns, without taking an oath." 

As for the great lords, the basic unsoundness of their life 
of arrogant pomp and disordered enjoyment contributed to 
give a spasmodic character to their piety. They are devout 
by starts, for life is far too distracting. Charles V of Erance 
sometimes gives up the chase at the most exciting moments 
to hear mass. Ann of Burgundy, the wife of Bedford, now 
scandalizes the Parisians by splashing a procession by her mad 
riding, now leaves a court fete at midnight to attend the 

Types of Religious Life 163 

matins of the Celestines. She brought upon herself a pre- 
mature death by visiting the sick of the Hotel Dieu. 

Among the princes and the lords of the fifteenth century, 
more than one presents the type of an almost inconceivable 
mixture of devotion and debauchery. Louis of Orleans, an 
insane lover of luxury and pleasure, addicted even to the sin 
of necromancy, has his cell in the common dormitory of the 
Celestines, where he shares the privations and duties of 
monastic life, rising at midnight and sometimes hearing five 
or six masses a day. 

The coexistence in one person of devotion and worldli- 
ness is displayed in a striking fashion in Philip the Good. 
The duke, famous for his " moult belle compagnie '* of bas- 
tards, his extravagant feasts, his grasping policy, and for a 
pride not less violent than his temper, is at the same time 
strictly devout. He was in the habit of remaining in his 
oratory for a long time after mass, and living on bread and 
water four days a week, as well as on all the vigils of Our 
Lady and the apostles. He is often still fasting at four o'clock 
in the afternoon. He gives alms on a great scale and in 
secret. After the surprise of Luxemburg, he remains en- 
grossed in his hours and special prayers of thanksgiving so 
long that his escort, awaiting him on horseback, grow im- 
patient, for the fight was not yet quite over. On being 
warned of the danger, the duke replies : " If God has granted 
me victory, He will keep it for me." 

Gaston Phbus, count of Foix, King Rene, Charles of 
Orleans, represent so many different types of a very worldly 
and often frivolous temperament, coupled with a devotional 
spirit which one shrinks from stigmatizing as hypocrisy or 
bigotry. It has rather to be regarded as a kind of reconcilia- 
tion, hardly conceivable to the modern mind, between two 
moral extremes. Its possibility in the Middle Ages depends 
on the absolute dualism of the two conceptions, which then 
dominated all thinking and living. 

Men of the fifteenth century often couple with austere 
devotion the love of bizarre splendour. The craving to 
decorate faith with the magnificence of forms and colours is 
displayed in other forms besides works of religious art; it 
is sometimes found in the forms of spiritual life itself. When 

164 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Philippe de Mezieres plans his Order of the Passion, which 
was to save Christendom, he imagines a whole phantas- 
magoria of colours. The knights, according to their ranks, will 
be dressed in red, green, scarlet and azure, with red crosses 
and hoods of the same colour. The grand-master will be all 
in white. If he saw but little of this splendour, as his order 
was never established, he was at least able to satisfy his 
artistic taste in the monastery of the Celestines at Paris, 
which was the refuge of his last years. If the rules of the 
order, which he followed as a lay-brother, were very severe, 
the convent-church, on the other hand, a mausoleum of the 
princes of the time, was most sumptuous, all sparkling with 
gold and precious stones ; it was reputed the most beautiful 
of Paris. 

It is but a step from luxurious piety to theatrical displays 
of hyperbolic humility. Olivier de la Marche remembered 
to have seen in his youth the entry of Jacques de Bourbon, 
the titular king of Naples, who had renounced the world 
because of the exhortations of Saint Colette. The king, 
miserably dressed, was carried in a sort of hand-barrow, " not 
differing from the barrows in which dung and ordure are usually 
carried." An elegant cortege followed closely. " And I have 
heard it recounted and said-' says La Marche "that in 
all the towns where he came, he made similar entries out of 

The minute directions given by a number of saintly persons 
concerning their burial bear witness to the same excessive 
humility. The blessed Pierre Thomas, improving upon the 
example of Saint Francis of Assisi, leaves orders to wrap hm? 
up in a sack, with a cord round his neck, and so place him on 
the ground to die. " Bury me," he says, " at the entrance of 
the choir, that every one may walk over my body, even dogs and 
goats." Philippe de M6zi$res, his disciple and friend, tries to 
go even further in fantastic humility. Tn his dying hour a 
heavy iron chain is to be placed round his neck. When he 
has given up the ghost, he is to be dragged by his feet, naked, 
into the choir, where he is to remain on the ground, his arms 
crossed, tied by three ropes to a plank. Thus "this fine 
treasure for the worms " is to wait till people come to carry 
it to thegrave. The plank is to take the place of the "sump- 

Types of Religious Life 165 

tuous coffin, ornamented with his vain and worldly coat of 
arms, which would have been displayed at the interment of the 
unhappy pilgrim, if God had so much hated him that he had 
let him die at the court of princes of this world." Dragged 
along once more, his " carrion " is to be thrown, quite naked, 
into the grave. 

One is not surprised to hear that this lover of precise specifi- 
cation made several wills. In the later ones details of this 
kind are wanting ; and at his death, which occurred in 1405, 
he was honourably buried in the frock of the Celestines, and 
two epitaphs, probably of his own composition, were carved 
on his tombstone. 

The ideal of sanctity has always been incapable of much 
variation. The fifteenth century, in this respect, brings no 
new aspiration. Consequently, the Renaissance exercised 
hardly any influence on the conception of saintly life. The 
saint and the mystic remain almost wholly untouched by 
the changing times. The types of saints of the Counter- 
Reformation are still those of the later Middle Ages, who in 
their turn did not essentially differ from those of the preced- 
ing centuries. Both before and after the great turning of the 
tide, two types of saints stand out conspicuously : the men 
of fiery speech and energetic action, like Ignatius de Loyola, 
Francis Xavier, Charles Borromeo, who belong to the same 
class as Bernardino of Siena, John Capistrano and the blessed 
Vincent Ferrer, in earlier times; and the men absorbed in 
tranquil rapture, or practising extravagant humility, the poor 
in spirit, like Saint Francis of Paula and the blessed Pierre 
of Luxemburg in the fifteenth century, and Aloysius Gonzaga 
in the sixteenth. 

It would not be unreasonable to compare to the romanticism 
of chivalry, as an element of medieval thought, a romanticism 
of saintliness, in the sense of a tendency to give the colours 
of fancy and the accents of enthusiasm to an ideal form of 
virtue and of duty. It is remarkable that this romanticism 
of saintliness always aims far more at miracles and excesses 
of humility and of asceticism, than at brilliant achievements 
in the service of religious policy. The Church has some- 
times canonized the great men of action who have revived 
or purified religious culture, but popular imagination has been 

166 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

more impressed, in all ages, by the supernatural and by 
irrational excess. 

It is not without interest to note some traits showing us 
the attitude of the aristocracy, refined and fastidious and 
engrossed in the chivalrous ideas, towards the ideal of saintly 
life. The princely families of France have produced later 
saints than Saint Louis. Charles of Blois, descended, by his 
mother, from the house of Valois, found himself charged, by 
his marriage with the heiress of Brittany, with a war of suc- 
cession, which filled the greater part of his life. On marry- 
ing Jeanne de Penthievre, he had promised to adopt the arms 
and the battle-cry of the duchy, which meant : to fight Jean 
de Montfort, the pretender supported by England. The 
count of Blois waged the war like the best of knights and 
captains of his time. He passed nine years in captivity in 
England, and perished at Aurai in 1364, battling side by side 
with Bertrand du Guesclin and Beaumanoir. 

Now this prince, whose career was altogether military, had 
led, from his youth onward, the life of an ascetic. As a 
child he plunged into the study of edifying books, a taste 
which his father did his best to moderate, judging it un- 
suitable to a future warrior. Later he used to sleep on straw 
near the conjugal bed. After his death he was found to have 
worn a hair-shirt under his armour. He confessed every 
evening, saying that no Christian ought to go to sleep in the 
state of sin. As a prisoner in London he was in the habit of 
entering the cemeteries to kneel down and say the de pro- 
fundis. The Breton squire whom he asks to say the responses 
refused, saying: "No; there lie those who have killed my 
parents and friends and have burnt their houses." On being 
released, he resolved to undertake a pilgrimage, barefooted, in 
the snow, from La Boche-Derrien, where he had been captured, 
to the shrine of Saint Yves at Tr^guier. The people, hearing 
this, covered the road with straw and blankets, but the count 
made a detour and hurt his feet, so that for weeks he was 
unable to walk. 

Directly after his death his royal relations, especially his 
son-in-law, Louis d'Anjou, a son of the king, took steps to 
have him canonized. The proceedings, which took place at 
Angers in 1371, ended in his beatification. 

Types of Religious Life 167 

If we are to trust Froissart, this Charles of Blois would 
seem to have had a bastard. "There was killed in good 
style the aforesaid Lord Charles of Blois, with his face to the 
enemy, and a bastard son of his called Jehans de Blois, and 
several other knights and squires of Brittany." Was Froissart 
mistaken ? Or are we to suppose that the mingling of piety 
and sensuality, which is so evident in the figures of Louis 
of Orleans and of Philip the Good, reappears in him in a still 
more astonishing degree ? 

No such question arises in the case of the blessed Pierre 
de Luxembourg, another ascetic sprung from court circles. 
This scion of the house of Luxemburg, which in its several 
branches held the imperial dignity and a preponderant place 
at the courts of France and Burgundy, is a striking representa- 
tive of the type called by William James " the under-witted 
saint,*' a narrow mind, which can only live in a carefully 
isolated sphere of devotion. He died in his eighteenth year, 
in 1387, having been loaded from his childhood with ecclesias- 
tical dignities, being bishop of Metz at fifteen and a cardinal 
soon after. His personality as it disengages itself from the 
narratives of the witnesses in the proceedings for his canoni- 
zation is almost pitiful. He is of a consumptive disposition 
and has overgrown his strength. Even as a child he was 
wholly given up to austerity and devotion. He reprimands 
his brother when he laughs, because the Gospel does tell us 
that the Lord wept, but not that he laughed. " Sweet, 
courteous and debonair " says Froissart " virgin as to the 
body, a very great giver of alms. The greater part of the day 
and the night he spent in prayer. And in all his life there was 
nothing but humility." At first his noble parents tried to 
dissuade him from a life of religion. When he said he wished 
to go forth and preach, he was told : " You are much too tall, 
everybody would recognize you at once. You could not endure 
the cold, and as to preaching the crusade, how could you do 
that ? " "I see,' ' said Pierre and here the very recesses of his 
narrow mind seem lighted up for a moment " I see very 
well, that you want to lead me from the right road to the 
bad ; but assuredly, if I once enter on it, I shall do so much 
that the whole world will talk of me." 

When once his ascetic aspirations had overcome all attempts 

168 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

to extirpate them, his parents were clearly proud of having 
such a young saint in the family. Imagine, amidst the un- 
bridled luxury of the courts of Berry and Burgundy, this sickly 
boy, horribly dirty and covered with vermin, as the witnesses 
attest. He is ever occupied with his sins and notes them 
down every day in a pocket-book. If he is prevented from 
doing this by a journey or some other reason, he makes up 
for this neglect by writing for hours. At night he is seen 
writing up or reading his pocket-books by the light of a candle. 
He rises at midnight and awakes the chaplains in order to 
confess ; sometimes he knocks in vain they turn a deaf ear 
to his nocturnal call. If he obtains a hearing, he reads out 
his lists of sins from his little scraps. Towards the end of his 
life, he is shriven twice a day and will not allow his confessor 
to leave him for a moment. After his death a whole chest 
was found filled with these little lists of sins. 

The Luxembourgs and their friends immediately took steps 
to get him canonized. The request was made at Avignon by 
the king himself, and supported both by the University of 
Paris and the Chapter of Notre Dame. The greatest lords of 
France appeared as witnesses at the trial in 1389 : Andr6 de 
Luxembourg, Louis de Bourbon, Enguerrand de Coucy. 
Though the canonization was not obtained because of the 
pope's negligence (the beatification only took place in 1527), 
the veneration of Pierre de Luxembourg was at once established, 
and miracles multiplied at Avignon, on the spot where he 
lay buried. The king founded a Celestine monastery there 
after the model of the one at Paris, which was the favourite 
sanctuary of the high nobility, and which Pierre had also 
frequented in his youth. The foundation-stone was laid by 
the dukes of Orleans, Berry and Burgundy. 

There is another case which may serve to illustrate the 
intercourse of princes with saints : Saint Francis of Paula at 
the court of Louis XI. The very peculiar type of piety 
which this king presents is too well known to be described 
here at large. Louis XI, " who bought the grace of God and 
of the Virgin Mary for more money than ever king did," dis- 
plays all the qualities of the crudest fetishism. His passion 
for relics, pilgrimages and processions seems to us almost 
totally devoid of really pious sentiment, and even of respect. 

Types of Religious Life 169 

He used to handle the holy objects as if they were expensive 
medicines. At the approach of death he sent to all parts of 
the world for extraordinary relics. The pope sent hi the 
corporal of Saint Peter. The Great Turk actually offered hi 
a collection of relics which were still at Constantinople. On 
the table beside his bed was the " Sainte Ampoule, 39 the 
vase in which the holy oil for coronation was kept, and which 
had never left Reims before. According to Commines, the 
king wanted to try its miraculous virtue by having his whole 
body anointed. The cross of Saint Laud was specially sent 
for from Angers to take an oath upon, for Louis made a 
difference between oaths taken on one relic and on another. 
These are traits reminding us of the Merovingian times. 

In him the fervent venerator of relics blends with the 
collector of curiosities. He corresponds with Lorenzo de 
Medici about the ring of Saint Zanobi and about an Agnus Dei, 
that is to say, one of these figures cut out of the fibrous trunk 
of an Asiatic fern, which were also called Agnus Scythicus, 
or Tartarian lamb, and to which rare medicinal virtues were 
attributed. At Plessis les Tours the holy persons, summoned 
thither to say prayers for the king, rub shoulders with musicians 
of all sorts. "At that time the king had a great number 
of players of deep-toned and sweet instruments brought to 
him, whom he lodged at Saint-Cosme, near Tours, where they 
assembled, as many as a hundred and twenty, among whom 
there were many shepherds from the country of Poitou. 
Who often played before the king's mansion (but they did 
not see him), that the king might enjoy the aforesaid instru- 
ments as a pleasure and pastime and to prevent him from 
sleeping. And, on the other hand, he also sent for a great 
number of male and female bigots and devout people like 
hermits and saintly creatures, to pray God incessantly to 
allow that he should not die and that He might let him live 

Saint Francis of Paula, the Calabrian hermit, who surpassed 
the Minorite friars in humility by founding the order of the 
Minims, was literally a purchase of the royal collector. After 
having failed with the king of Naples, Louis's diplomacy 
succeeded, by the pope's intervention, in securing the miracu- 
lous man. A noble escort bore him from Italy, sorely against 

170 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

his mil. His ferocious asceticism reminds us of the barbarous 
saints of the tenth century, Saint Nil and Saint Romuald. 
He flies at the sight of a woman. Since his youth he has 
never touched a piece of money. He sleeps upright or in 
a leaning position ; he lets his hair and beard grow. He does 
not eat animal food and accepts only roots. The king, who 
is -already ill, took pains to procure the proper food for his 
rare saint. "Monsieur de Genas, I beg you to send me 
lemons and sweet oranges, and muscatel pears, and parsnips, 1 
and it is for the holy man who eats neither flesh nor fish ; 
and you will do me a very great pleasure." At court he was 
known only as "the holy man," so that Commines appears 
not to have known his name, although he often saw him. 
The mockers and suspicious persons also called fa' "holy 
man." The king himself, at the instigation of Jacques Coitier, 
his physician, begun by setting spies on the man of God and 
by putting him to the proof. Commines is prudently reserved 
about him. Although declaring that he had never seen a man 
" of such saintly life, nor one in whom the Holy Spirit seemed 
more to speak through his mouth," he concludes : " He is 
still alive, so that he may well change, for the better or for 
the worse, so that I shall be silent, as many mocked at the 
arrival of this hermit, whom they called * holy man. 9 " It 
is noteworthy that learned theologians like Jan Standonck 
and Jean Quentin, having come from Paris to speak to Tnm 
about the founding of a monastery of Minims at Paris, went 
back full of admiration. 

It is a significant fact that the princes of the fifteenth 
century often ask the advice of great visionaries and extrava- 
gant ascetics in political matters. Thus Saint Colette is con- 
sulted by Philip the Good and by his mother, Marguerite of 
Bavaria, and acts as an intermediary in the controversies 
between the houses of ITranee, Savoy and Burgundy. Her 
canonization was demanded with pious insistence by the house 
of Burgundy. 

More important still was the public part played by Denis 
the Carthusian. He also was frequently in touch with the 
house of Burgundy. Obsessed by the fear of imminent 

1 Perhaps the king wrote by mistake, pastenarguea for postiquea = water* 

Types of Eeligious Life 171 

catastrophes, such as the conquest of Rome by the Turks, he 
urges the duke to undertake a crusade. He dedicates to H 
a treatise on princely government. He advises the duke of 
Guelders in the conflict with his son. Numbers of noblemen, 
clerks and burghers come to consult him in his cell at Rure- 
monde, where he is constantly engaged in resolving doubts, 
difficulties and questions of conscience. 

Denys le Chartreux, or of Rickel, is the most complete 
type of religious enthusiast at the end of the Middle Ages. 
His mental range and many-sided energy are hardly con- 
ceivable. To mystic transports, ferocious asceticism, continual 
visions and revelations he unites immense activity as a theo- 
logical writer. His works fill forty-five quarto volumes. All 
medieval divinity meets in "him as the rivers of a continent 
flow together in an estuary. Qui Dianysium, legit nihil non 
legit, 3 - said sixteenth-century theology. He sums up, he con- 
cludes, but he does not create. All that his great predecessors 
have thought is reproduced by him in a simple and easy style. 
He wrote all his books himself, and revised, corrected, sub- 
divided and illuminated them. At the end of his life, he 
deliberately laid down his pen. Ad securae taciturnitatis yor- 
tum me transferre intended 

He never knew repose. Every day he recites the psalter 
almost entirely, and, at any rate, half. He prays continually, 
while dressing or while engaged in any other occupation. 
When others go to sleep again after matins, he remains awake. 
Big and strong, he exposes his body with impunity to all 
kinds of privations. I have a head of iron, he would say, 
and a stomach of brass. He feeds, for choice, on tainted 

The enormous amount of theological meditation and specu- 
lation which he achieved, was not the fruit of a peaceful 
and balanced life of study ; it was carried out in the midst 
of intense emotions and violent shocks. Visions and revela- 
tions are with >>i ordinary experiences. Ecstasies come to 
frrm on ail sorts of occasions, especially when he hears music, 
sometimes in the midst of noble company, who are listening 
to his wise advice. As a child he rose when the moon was 

1 He who reads Denis reads everything. 

I am now going to enter the haven of secure taciturnity. 

172 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

shining brightly, thinking it was time to go to school. He 
is a stammerer. He sees the room of a dying woman full 
of demons who knock the stick out of his hand. He constantly 
converses with the dead. When asked if he often sees appari- 
tions of deceased persons, he answers : " yes, hundreds of 
times." Although constantly occupied with his supernatural 
experiences, he does not like to speak about them, and is 
ashamed of the ecstasies which earned him among the laudatory 
surnames of the great theologians that of Doctor ecstaticus. 

The great figure of Denis the Carthusian no more escaped 
suspicion and raillery than the miracle-worker of Louis XI. 
The slander and abuse of the world pursued him all his life. 
The mental attitude of the fifteenth century towards the 
highest religious manifestations of the age is made up equally 
of enthusiasm and distrust* 



Ever since the gentle mysticism of Saint Bernard, in the 
twelfth century, had started the strain of pathetic tenderness 
about the Passion of Christ, the religious sensibility of the 
medieval soul had been increasing. The mind was saturated 
with the concepts of Christ and the cross. In early childhood 
the image of the cross was implanted on the sensitive heart, so 
grand and forbidding as to overshadow all other affections by 
its gloom. When Jean Gerson was a child, his father one day 
stood with his back against a wall, his arms outspread, saying : 
cc Thus, child, was your God crucified, who made and saved 
you." This image of his father, he tells us, remained engraved 
on his mind, expanding as he grew older, even in his old age, 
and he blessed his pious father for it, who had died on the day 
of the Exaltation of the Cross. Saint Colette, when four years 
old, every day heard her mother in prayer lament and weep 
about the Passion, sharing the pain of contumely, blows, and 
torments. This recollection fixed itself in the supersensitive 
heart of Colette with such intensity, that she felt, all her life 
through, the most severe oppression of heart every day at the 
hour of the crucifixion ; and at the reading of the Passion she 
suffered more than a woman in childbed. 

A preacher sometimes paused to stand in silence, with his 
arms extended in the form of the cross, for a quarter of an 

The soul is so imbued with the conception of the Passion that 
the most remote analogy suffices to make the chord of the 
memory of Christ vibrate. A poor nun carrying wood to the 
kitchen imagines she carries the cross ; a blind woman doing 
the washing takes the tub for the manger and the washhouse 
for the stable* 


174 The Waning of (he Middle Ages 

This extreme religious sensibility shows itself by copious 
weeping. Devotion, says Denis the Carthusian, is a sort of 
tenderness of heart, which easily moves to tears of piety. We 
should pray God to have " the daily baptism of tears." They 
are the wings of prayer and, according to Saint Bernard, the 
wine of angels. We should give ourselves up to the grace of 
meritorious tears, get ready for them and let ourselves be 
carried away by them all the year round, but especially during 
Lent, so that we may say with the psalmist : Fuerunt mihi 
lacrimaemeae panis die ac nocte. 1 Sometimes they come so 
easily, that we pray sobbing and groaning. If they do not 
come, we should not force them ; we should then content our- 
selves with the tears of the heart. In the presence of others 
we should avoid these signs of extraordinary devotion. 

Vincent Ferrer shed so many tears every time he con- 
secrated the Host that the whole congregation also wept, in- 
somuch that a general wailing was heard as if in the house of 
one dead. 

Popular devotion in France did not take a special form as 
we notice in the Netherlands, where it was standardized, so to 
say, in the pietistic movement of the Brethren of the Common 
Life and the regular canons of the Congregation of Windesheim. 
This was the circle whence proceeded the " Imitation of Christ." 
The regulations which the Dutch devout bound themselves to 
obey, gave their piety a conventional form and preserved them 
from dangerous excesses of fervour. French devotion, although 
very similar, kept more of its passionate and spasmodic charac- 
ter, and led more easily to fantastic aberrations, in those cases 
where it did not speedily wear itself out. 

Nowhere do we notice its character better than in the writings 
of Gerson. The chancellor of the university was the great dog- 
matic and moral censor of his time. H^s prudent, scrupulous, 
slightly academic mind was admirably fitted to distinguish 
between true piety and exaggerated religious manifestations. 
This was, indeed, his favourite occupation. Benevolent, sincere 
and pure, he had that meticulous carefulness in point of good 
style and form which so often reminds us of his modest origin 
in the case of a man who has raised himself by his own talents 
from humble circumstances to an aristocratic mentality. He 
*My tears have been my meat day and night. 

Religious Sensibility and Eeligious Imagination 175 

was a born psychologist and had a fine sense of style, which 
is near akin to the craving for orthodoxy. 

At the Council of Constance, Gerson defended the Dutch 
Brethren of the Common Life against whom a Dominican of 
Groningen brought a charge of heresy. He was, nevertheless, 
fully aware of the dangers threatening the Church from a too 
exuberant popular devotion. It may therefore appear strange 
that he often disapproved of manifestations of piety in his 
own country, which reappear in that very " devotio moderna " 
of the Netherlands, over which he threw the mantle of his 
authority. The explanation is that the devout in France had 
no safe sheepf old of organization and of discipline to keep them 
within the limits of what the Church could tolerate. 

The world, said Gerson, is approaching its end, and, like an 
old dotard, is exposed to all sorts of fancies, dreams and illu- 
sions which lead many a one to stray outside the pathway of 
truth. Mysticism is brought into the streets. Many people 
take to it, without suitable direction, and indulge in too rigid 
fasts, too protracted vigils, and too abundant tears, all of 
which disturb their brains. In vain they are advised to be 
moderate and to take heed lest they fall into the devil's snares. 
At Arras, he tells us, he visited a woman who won the admira- 
tion of the multitude by going completely without food during 
several consecutive days, against her husband's wishes. He 
talked to her and only found in her a vain and arrogant obsti- 
nacy ; for, after her fasts, she ate with insatiable voracity. Her 
face betrayed imminent insanity. He also cites the case of 
an epileptic woman who thought that each twinge of pain in 
her corns was a sign that a soul descended to hell. 

Gerson set little store by visions and revelations which were 
recent and universally spoken of, including even those of 
Bridget of Sweden and Catherine of Siena. He had heard so 
many stories of this sort that he had lost all belief in them* 
Someone or other would always be asserting that it had been 
revealed to him that he would be pope. A certain man, in 
particular, believed himself predestined, first, to become pope, 
then to be the Antichrist, so that he had thought of killing 
himself in order to save Christendom from such an evil. 

There is nothing more dangerous, says Gefson, than ignorant 
devotion. The poor devout, learning that the heart of Mary 

176 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

exulted in her God, strain themselves to exult also ; they call 
up all sorts of images without being able to distinguish between 
truth and delusion, and they take them all for miraculous 
proofs of their excellent devotion. 

Contemplative life has great dangers, he continues ; it has 
made numbers of people melancholy or mad. Gerson perceived 
the connection between fasting and hallucinations, and had a 
glimpse of the role played by fasting in the practice of magic. 

Now, where was a man of Gerson's psychological subtlety to 
draw the line of demarcation in the manifestations of piety, 
between what is holy and laudable and what is inadmissible ? 
The dogmatic point of view did not meet the case. It was easy 
for him, a theologian by profession, to point out deviations 
from dogma. But he felt that, as regards manifestations of 
piety, considerations of an ethical sort should guide our judg- 
ment, that it was a question of degree and of taste. There is 
no virtue, says Gerson, which is more neglected in these miser- 
able times of schism than discretion. 

The Church in the Middle Ages tolerated many religious 
extravagances, provided they did not lead up to novelties of 
a revolutionary sort, in morals or in doctrine. So long as it 
spent itself in hyperbolic fancies or in ecstasies, superabundant 
emotion was not a source of danger. Thus, many saints were 
conspicuous for their fanatical reverence for virginity, taking 
the form of a horror of all that relates to sex. Saint Colette 
is an instance of this. She is a typical representative of what 
has been called by William James the theopathic condition. 
Her supersensibility is extreme. She can endure neither the 
light nor the heat of fire, only the light of candles. She has 
an immoderate horror of flies, ants and slugs, and of all dirt 
and stenches of all kinds. Her abomination of sexual functions 
inspires her with repugnance for those saints who have passed 
through the matrimonial state, and leads her to oppose the 
admission of non-virginal persons to her congregation. The 
Church has ever praised such a disposition, judging it to be 
edifying and meritorious. 

On the other hand, the same sentiment became dangerous, 
as soon as the fanatics of chastity, not content with shutting 
themselves up in their own sphere of purity, wanted to apply 
their principles to ecclesiastical and social life. The Church was 

Eeligious Sensibility and Religious Imagination 177 

repeatedly obliged to disown the violent assailants of the validity 
of the sacraments administered by priests living in fornication, 
for the double reason that sound catholic doctrine has always 
separated the sacredness of the office from the personal dignity 
of the bearer, and that she knew herself to be not strong enough 
to uproot the evil. Jean de Varennes had been a learned 
divine and a celebrated preacher. Chaplain to the youthful 
Cardinal of Luxemburg at Avignon, he seemed destined for 
the highest ecclesiastical career, when he suddenly threw up 
all his benefices, with the exception of a canonry of Notre Dame 
of Reims, gave up the great style of his life and went to Saint 
Li6, his birthplace, where he began to lead a saintly life and 
to preach. " And he was much visited by people who came 
to see him from all countries on account of the simple, very 
noble and most honest life he led." Soon he is called " the 
holy man of Saint Lie " ; he is regarded as a future pope, 
a miraculous being, a messenger of God. All France talks 
of him. 

Now, in the person of Jean de Varennes the passion of sexual 
purity assumes a revolutionary aspect. He reduces all the 
evils of the Church to the one evil of lust. EPa extremist 
programme for the re-establishment of chastity is not aimed 
only at the clergy. As to fornicating priests, he denies the 
efficacy of the sacraments they administer : an ancient and 
redoubtable thesis which the Church had encountered more 
than once. According to him, it was not permissible for a 
priest to live in the same house with his sister or with an 
elderly woman. Moreover, he attacks immorality in general, 
He ascribes twenty-three different sins to the matrimonial state. 
He demands that adultery shall be punished according to the 
Ancient Law ; Christ Himself would have ordered the stoning 
of the adulterous woman, if He had been sure of her fault. 
He asserts that no woman in France is chaste, and that no 
bastard can live a good life and be saved. In his vehement 
indignation he preaches resistance to the ecclesiastical autho- 
rities, to the archbishop of Reims in particular. " A wolf, a 
wolf ! " he cried to the people, who understood but too well 
who the wolf was, and repeated joyously : " Hahay, aus leus, 
mes bones gens, aus leus." The archbishop had Jean de 
Varennes locked up in a horrible prison* 


178 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

This severity towards all revolutionary tendencies of a doc- 
trinal kind contrasts with the indulgence shown by the Church 
for the extravagances of religious imagination, notably for ultra- 
sensuous fancies about divine love. It required the psycho- 
logical perspicacity of a Gerson to be aware that there also the 
Faith was menaced by a moral and doctrinal danger. 

The spiritual state called dulcedo Dei, the sweetness of the 
delights of the love of Christ, was towards the end of the Middle 
Ages one of the most active elements of religious life. The 
followers of the " devotio moderna " in the Netherlands had 
systematized it, and thereby made it more or less innocuous. 
Gerson, who distrusted it, has analysed it in his treatise, De 
diversis didboli tentati<mibu, and elsewhere. " The day," he 
said, " would be too short if I were to enumerate the innumer- 
able follies of the loving, nay, the raving, amantium, immo et 
amentium" He knew the peril by experience. For he can 
have only meant himself when he described the case of one of 
his acquaintances who had carried on a spiritual friendship with 
a nun, at first without any trace of carnal inclination, and with- 
out suspecting any sin, till a separation revealed to hi the 
amorous nature of this relation. So that he drew the inference 
from it, Amor spiritualis facile labitur in nudum carnalem 
owiorew, 1 and considered himself warned. 

The devil, he says, sometimes inspires us with feelings of 
immense and marvellous sweetness which is very like devotion, 
so that we make the quest of this delight our object and want 
to love God only to attain it. Many have deceived themselves 
by immoderately cultivating such feelings ; they have taken 
the mad excitement of their hearts for divine ardour, and were 
thus miserably led astray. Others strive to attain insensibility 
or complete passiveness, to become a perfect tool for God. 

It is this sensation of absolute annihilation of the individual, 
tasted by the mystics of all times, which Gerson, as a supporter 
of a moderate and prudent mysticism, could not tolerate. A 
female visionary told him that in the contemplation of God her 
mind had been annihilated, really annihilated, and then created 
anew. ** How do you know ? " he asked her. " I experienced 
it," she had answered. The logical absurdity of this reply had 
sufficed trim to prove the reprehensible nature of these fancies. 
1 Spiritual love easily falls into sheer carnal love. 

Religious Sensibility and Religious Imagination 179 

It was dangerous to let such sensations express themselves by 
explicit formulas ; the Church could only tolerate them in the 
form of images. Catherine of Siena might say that her heart 
had been changed into the heart of Christ. But Marguerite 
Porete, an adherent of the sect of the Brethren of the Free 
Spirit, who also believed that her soul had been annihilated in 
God, was burnt at Paris. 

What the Church dreaded above all in the idea of the anni- 
hilation of the personality was the consequence, accepted by 
the extremist mystics of all religions, that the soul absorbed 
in God, and therefore, having no will, can no longer sin, even 
in following its carnal appetites. How many poor ignorant 
people had been dragged by such doctrines into the most abom- 
inable licence. Every time Gerson touches the question of the 
dangers of spiritual love, he remembers the excesses of the 
Begards and of the Turlupins ; he fears a truly satanic impiety, 
like that of the nobleman he mentions as having confessed to 
a Carthusian that the sin of lust did not prevent him from 
loving God ; on the contrary, it inflamed "him to seek for and 
taste more eagerly the sweetness of divine love. 

So long as the transports of mysticism were translated into 
passionate imaginings of a symbolic nature, however vivid 
their colours might be, they caused but a relative danger. On 
becoming crystallized in images, they lost some of their noxious- 
ness. In this way the exuberant imagery of the time, to a 
certain extent, diverted the most dangerous tendencies of the 
religious life of the epoch, however bizarre it may appear to 
us. Jan Brugman, a popular Dutch preacher, might with im- 
punity compare Jesus, taking human form, to a drunkard, who 
forgets himself, sees no danger, who gives away all he has. " Oh, 
was He not truly drunk, when love urged Him to descend from 
the highest heavens to this lowest valley of the earth ? " He 
sees Him in heaven, going about to pour out drinks for the 
prophets, " and they drank till they were fit to burst, and 
David with his harp, leaped before the table, jttst as if he were 
the Lord's fool." 

Not only the grotesque Brugman, the serene Ruysbroeck, too, 
likes to represent divine love under the image of drunkenness. 
Hunger also served as a figure to express the relations of the 
soul with Christ. Buysbroeck, in The Adornment of the Spiritual 

180 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Marriage, says : " Here begins an eternal hunger which is never 
appeased ; it is an inner craving and hankering of the loving 
power and the created spirit for an uncreated good. . , . 
Those that experience it are the poorest of men ; for they are 
eager and greedy and they have an insatiable hunger. What- 
ever they eat and drink, they never become satiated by it, 
for this hunger is eternal." The metaphor may be inverted, 
so that the hunger is Christ's, as in The Mirror of Eternal 
Salvation. " Has hunger is immensely great ; He consumes us 
entirely to the bottom, for He is a greedy glutton with a vora- 
cious hunger ; He devours even the marrow of our bones. . . . 
First He prepares His repast and in His love He burns up all our 
sins and our faults. Next, when we are purified and roasted 
by the fire of love, He opens his mouth like a voracious being 
who wishes to swallow all." 

A little insistence on the details of the metaphor will make 
it ridiculous. " You will eat Him," says Le Livre de Crainte 
Amoureuse of Jean Berthelemy, in speaking of the Eucharist, 
" roasted at the fire, well baked, not at all overdone or burnt. 
For just as the Easter lamb was properly baked and roasted 
between two fires of wood or of charcoal, thus was gentle Jesus 
on Good Friday placed on the spit of the worthy cross, and 
tied between the two fires of His very fearful death and passion, 
and of the very ardent charity and love which He felt for our 
souls and our salvation ; He was, as it were, roasted and slowly 
baked to save us." 

The infusion of divine grace is described under the image of 
the absorption of food, and also of being bathed. A nun feels 
quite deluged in the blood of Christ and faints. All the red 
and warm blood of the five wounds flowed through the mouth 
of Saint Henry Suso into his heart. Catherine of Siena drunk 
from the wound in His side. Others drunk of the Virgin's 
milk, like Saint Bernard, Henry Suso, Alain de la Roche. 

The Breton, Alain de la Roche, a Dominican, born about 1428, 
is a very typical representative of this religious imagery, both 
ultra-concrete and ultra-fantastic. He was the zealous pro- 
moter of the use of the rosary, with a view to which he founded 
the Universal Brotherhood of the Psalter of Our Lady. The 
description of his numerous visions is characterized at the same 
time by an excess of sexual imagination and by the absence of 

Religious Sensibility and Religious Imagination 181 

all genuine emotion. The passionate tone which, in the grand 
mystics, makes these too sensuous images of hunger and thirst, 
of blood and voluptuousness, bearable, is altogether lacking. 
The symbolism of spiritual love has become "with him a mere 
mechanical process. It is the decadence of the medieval spirit. 
We shall return to it shortly. 

Now, whereas the celestial symbolism of Alain de la Roche 
seems artificial, his infernal visions are characterized by a 
hideous actuality. He sees the animals which represent the 
various sins equipped with horrible genitals, and emitting tor- 
rents of fire which obscure the earth with their smoke. He 
sees the prostitute of apostasy giving birth to apostates, now 
devouring them and vomiting them forth, now kissing them 
and petting them like a mother. 

This is the reverse side of the suave fancies of spiritual love. 
Human imagination contained, as the inevitable complement of 
the sweetness of celestial visions, a black mass of demonological 
conceptions which also sought expression in language of ardent 
sensuality. Alain de la Roche forms the link between the placid 
and gentle pietism of the " devotio moderna " and the darkest 
horror produced by the medieval spirit on the wane: the 
delusion of witchcraft, at that time fully developed into a fatally 
consistent system of theological zeal and judicial severity. A 
faithful friend of the regulars of Windesheim and the Brethren 
of the Common Life, in whose house he died at Zwolle in 1475, 
he was at the same time the preceptor of Jacob Sprenger, a 
Dominican like himself, not only one of the two authors of the 
Malleus maUfoxtrum, but also the propagator in Germany of 
the Brotherhood of the Rosary, founded by Alain. 


Thus religious emotion always tended to be transmuted into 
images. Mystery seemed to become graspable by the mind 
when invested with a perceptible form. The need of adoring 
the ineffable in visible shapes was continually creating ever 
new figures. In the fourteenth century, the cross and the lamb 
no longer sufficed for the effusions of overflowing love offered 
to Jesus ; to these is added the adoration of the name of Jesus, 
which occasionally threatens to eclipse even that of the cross. 
Henry Suso tattoos the name of Jesus over his heart and com- 
pares himself to the lover who wears the name of his beloved 
embroidered on his coat. Bernardino of Siena, at the end of 
a moving sermon, lights two candles and shows the multitude 
a board a yard in length, bearing on an azure ground the name 
Jesus in golden letters, surrounded by the sun's rays. The 
people filling the church kneel down and weep with emotion. 
The custom spreads, especially with the Franciscan preachers. 
Denis the Carthusian is represented in art holding such a board 
in his uplifted hands. The sun as a crest above the arms of 
Geneva is derived from this usage. The ecclesiastical authori- 
ties regarded the matter with suspicion ; there was some talk 
of superstition and of idolatry ; there were tumults for and 
against ; Bernardino was summoned before the curia, and the 
usage was forbidden by Pope Martin V. About the same time 
a very similar form of adoring Christ under a visible sign was 
successfully introduced into the ritual, namely, that of the 
monstrance. To this also the Church objected at first ; the 
use of the monstrance was originally forbidden except during 
the week of the Corpus Christi. In taking, instead of the 
original form of a tower, that of a radiant sun, the monstrance 
became very like the board, bearing Jesus* name, of which the 
Church disapproved. 


Symbolism in its Decline 183 

The abundance of images in which religious thought threat- 
ened to dissolve itself would have only produced a chaotic 
phantasmagoria, if symbolic conception had not worked it 
all into a vast system, where every figure had its place. 

Of no great truth was the medieval mind more conscious 
than of Saint Paul's phrase : Videmus nunc per speculum in 
aenigmate, tune autem facie ad faci&m. 1 The Middle Ages never 
forgot that all things would be absurd, if their meaning were 
exhausted in their function and their place in the phenomenal 
world, if by their essence they did not reach into a world 
beyond this. This idea of a deeper significance in ordinary 
things is familiar to us as well, independently of religious 
convictions : as an indefinite feeling which may be called up 
at any moment, by the sound of raindrops on the leaves or 
by the lamplight on a table. Such sensations may take the 
form of a morbid oppression, so that all things seem to be 
charged with a menace or a riddle which we must solve at 
any cost. Or they may be experienced as a source of tran- 
quillity and assurance, by filling us with the sense that our 
own life, too, is involved in this hidden meaning of the world. 
The more this perception converges upon the absolute One, 
whence all things emanate, the sooner it will tend to pass 
from the insight of a lucid moment to a permanent and for- 
mulated conviction. " By cultivating the continuous sense 
of our connection with the power that made things as they 
are, we are tempered more towardly for their reception* 
The outward face of nature need not alter, but the expressions 
of meaning in it alter. It was dead and is alive again. It is 
like the difference between looking on a person without love, 
or upon the same person with love. . . . When we see all 
things in God, and refer aU things to Him, we read in common 
matters superior expressions of meaning." * 

Here, then, is the psychological foundation from which sym- 
bolism arises. In God nothing is empty of sense: nihil 
vacuum neque sine signo apud Dewm> said Saint Irenseus. 
So the conviction of a transcendental meaning in all things 
seeks to formulate itself. About the figure of the Divinity 
a majestic system of correlated figures crystallizes, which afl 

1 For now we see through a glass darkly ; but then face to face. 

2 W. James: Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 474. 

184 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

have reference to Trim, because all things derive their mean- 
ing from Him. The world unfolds itself like a vast whole of 
symbols, like a cathedral of ideas. It is the most richly 
xythmical conception of the world, a polyphonous expression 
of eternal harmony. 

In the Middle Ages tlie symbolist attitude was much more 
in evidence than the causal or the genetic attitude. Not 
that this latter mode of conceiving the world, as a process of 
evolution, was wholly absent. Medieval thought, too, sought 
to understand things by means of their origin. But, destitute 
of experimental methods, and neglecting even observation 
and analysis, it was reduced, in order to state genetic relations, 
to abstract deduction. All notions of one thing proceeding 
from another took the naive form of procreation or ramifi- 
cation. The image of a tree or a pedigree sufficed to represent 
any relations of origin and cause. An arbor de origine juris 
et Ugum, for example, classified all law in the form of a tree 
with numerous branches. Owing to its primitive methods, 
the evolutionist thought of the Middle Ages was bound to 
remain schematic, arbitrary and sterile* 

Prom the causal point of view, symbolism appears as a 
sort of short-circuit of thought. Instead of looking for the 
relation between two things by following the hidden detours of 
their causal connections, thought makes a leap and discovers 
their relation, not in a connection of cause or effects, but in 
a connection of signification or finality. Such a connection 
will at once appear convincing, provided only that the two 
things have an essential quality in common which can be 
referred to a general value. Expressed in terms of experi- 
mental psychology : all mental association based on a casual 
similitude whatever will immediately set up the idea of an 
essential and mystic connection. This may well seem a rather 
meagre mental function. Moreover, it reveals itself as a very 
primitive function, when envisaged from an ethnological point 
of view. Primitive thought is characterized by a general 
feebleness of perception of the exact demarcation between 
different concepts, so that it tends to incorporate into the 
notion of a definite something all the notions connected with 
it by any relation or similitude whatsoever. With this 
tendency the symbolizing function is closely related. 

Symbolism in its Decline 185 

It is, however, possible to view symbolism in a more favour- 
able light by abandoning for a while the point of view of 
modern science. Symbolism will lose this appearance of 
arbitrariness and abortiveness when we take into account 
the fact that it is indissolubly linked up with the conception 
of the world which was called Realism in the Middle Ages, 
and which modern philosophy prefers to call, though less 
correctly, Platonic Idealism. 

Symbolic assimilation founded on common properties pre- 
supposes the idea that these properties are essential to things. 
The vision of white and red roses blooming among thorns at 
once calls up a symbolic assimilation in the medieval mind : 
for example, that of virgins and martyrs, shining with glory, 
in the midst of their persecutors. The assimilation is produced 
because the attributes are the same : the beauty, the tender- 
ness, the purity, the colours of the roses, are also those of the 
virgins, their red colour that of the blood of the martyrs. 
But this similarity will only have a mystic meaning if the 
middle-term connecting the two terms of the symbolic concept 
expresses an essentiality common to both ; in other words, 
if redness and whiteness are something more than names 
for a physical difference based on quantity, if they are con- 
ceived as essences, as realities. The mind of the savage, of 
the child, and of the poet never sees them otherwise. 

Now, beauty, tenderness, whiteness, being realities, are also 
entities ; consequently all that is beautiful, tender or white 
must have a common essence, the same reason of existence, 
the same significance before God. 

In pointing out these very strong Ifafca between symbolism 
and realism (in the scholastic sense), we should be careful 
not to think too much of the quarrel about the universals* 
We know very well that the realism which declared unvoer- 
salia ante rem, and attributed essentiality and pre-existence to 
general ideas, did not dominate medieval thought without a 
struggle. Undoubtedly there were also nominalists. But it 
does not seem too bold to affirm that radical nominalism has 
never been anything but a reaction, an opposition, a counter- 
current vainly disputing the ground with the fundamental 
tendencies of the medieval spirit* As philosophical formula, 
realism and nominalism had early made each other the neces- 

186 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

sary concessions. The new nominalism of the fourteenth 
century, that of the Occamites or Moderns, merely removed 
certain inconveniences of an extreme realism, which it left 
intact by relegating the domain of faith to a world beyond 
the philosophical speculations of reason. 

Now, it is in the domain of faith that realism obtains, and 
here it is to be considered rather as the mental attitude of 
a whole age than as a philosophic opinion. In this larger 
sense it may be considered inherent in the civilization of the 
Middle Ages and as dominating all expressions of thought 
and of the imagination. Undoubtedly Neo-Platonism strongly 
influenced medieval theology, but was not the sole cause 
of the general " realist " trend of thought. Every primitive 
mind is realist, in the medieval sense, independently of all 
philosophic influence. To such a mentality everything that 
receives a name becomes an entity and takes a shape which 
projects itself on the heavens. This shape, in the majority 
of cases, will be the human shape. 

All realism, in the medieval sense, leads to anthropomor- 
phism. Having attributed a real existence to an idea, the 
mind wants to see this idea alive, and can only effect this by 
personifying it. In this way allegory is born. It is not the 
same thing as symbolism. Symbolism expresses a mysterious 
connection between two ideas, allegory gives a visible form 
to the conception of such a connection. Symbolism is a very 
profound function of the mind, allegory is a superficial one. 
It aids symbolic thought to express itself, but endangers it 
at the same time by substituting a figure for a living idea. 
The force of the symbol is easily lost in the allegory. 

So allegory in itself implies from the outset normalizing, 
projecting on a surface, crystallizing. Moreover, medieval 
literature had taken it in as a waif of decadent Antiquity. 
Martianus Capella and Frudentius had been the models. Alle- 
gory seldom loses an air of elderliness and pedantry. Still, 
the use of it supplied a very earnest craving of the medieval 
mind. How else can we explain the preference which this 
form enjoyed so long ? 

These three modes of thought together realism, symbol- 
ism and personification have illuminated the medieval mind 
with a flood of light. The ethic and aesthetic value of the 

Symbolism in its Decline 187 

symbolical interpretation of the world was inestimable. Em- 
bracing all nature and all history, symbolism gave a conception 
of the world, of a still more rigorous unity than that which 
modern science can offer. Symbolism's image of the world 
is distinguished by impeccable order, architectonic structure, 
hierarchic subordination. For each symbolic connection im- 
plies a difference of rank or sanctity : two things of equal 
value are hardly capable of a symbolic relationship with each 
other, unless they are both connected with some third thing 
of a higher order. 

Symbolist thought permits of an infinity of relations be- 
tween things. Each thing may denote a number of distinct 
ideas by its different special qualities, and a quality may also 
have several symbolic meanings. The highest conceptions 
have symbols by the thousand. Nothing is too humble to 
represent and to glorify the sublime. The walnut signifies 
Christ ; the sweet kernel is His divine nature, the green and 
pulpy outer peel is His humanity, the wooden shell between 
is the cross. Thus all things raise the thoughts to the 
eternal ; being thought of as symbols of the highest, in a 
constant gradation, they are all transfused by the glory of 
divine majesty. Every precious stone, besides its natural 
splendour, sparkles with the brilliance of its symbolic values. 
The assimilation of roses and virginity is much more than a 
poetic comparison, for it reveals their common essence. As 
each notion arises in the mind the logic of symbolism creates 
a harmony of ideas. The special quality of each of them is 
lost in this ideal harmony and the rigour of rational concep- 
tion is tempered by the presentment of some mystic unity. 

A consistent concord reigns between all the spiritual domains. 
The Old Testament is the prefiguration of the New, profane 
history reflects the one and the other. About each idea other 
ideas group themselves, forming symmetrical figures, as in a 
kaleidoscope. Eventually all symbols group themselves about 
the central mystery of the Eucharist ; here there is more 
than symbolic similitude, there is identity : the Host is Christ 
and the priest in eating it becomes truly the sepulchre of the 

The world, objectionable in itself, became acceptable by 
its symbolic purport. For every object, each common trade 

188 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

had a mystical relation with the most holy, which ennobled 
it. Bonaventura identified the handicrafts symbolically with 
the eternal generation and incarnation of the Word, and with 
the covenant between God and the soul. Even profane love 
is attached by symbolic connection to divine love. In 
this way all individual suffering is but the shadow of 
divine suffering, and all virtue is as a partial realization of 
absolute goodness. Symbolism, in thus detaching personal 
suffering and virtue from the sphere of the individual in order 
to raise them to that of the universal, constituted a salutary 
counterpoise to the strong religious individualism, bent on 
personal salvation, which is characteristic of the Middle Ages. 

Religious symbolism offered one cultural advantage more. 
To the letter of formulated dogma, rigid and explicit in itself, 
the flowering imagery of symbols formed, as it were, a musical 
accompaniment, which by its perfect harmony allowed the 
mind to transcend the deficiencies of logical expression. 

Symbolism opened up all the wealth of religious conceptions 
to art, to be expressed in forms full of colour and melody, 
and yet vague and implicit, so that by these the profoundest 
intuitions might soar towards the ineffable. 

In the later Middle Ages the decline of this mode of thought 
had already long set in. The representation of the Universe in 
a grand system of symbolical relations had long been complete. 
Still, the symbolizing habit maintained itself, adding ever 
new figures that were like petrified flowers. Symbolism at all 
times shows a tendency to become mechanical. Once accepted 
as a principle, it becomes a product, not of poetical enthusiasm 
only, but of subtle reasoning as well, and as such it grows to 
be a parasite clinging to thought, causing it to degenerate. 

Symbolic assimilation is often only based on an equality 
of number. An immense perspective of ideal series of relation- 
ships is opened up in this way, but they amount to nothing 
more than arithmetical exercises. Thus the twelve months 
signified the apostles, the four seasons the evangelists, the 
year Christ. A regular cluster was formed of systems of 
seven. With the seven virtues correspond the seven supplica- 
tions of the Lord's Prayer, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, 
the seven beatitudes and the seven penitential psalms. All 
these groups of seven are again connected with the seven 

Symbolism in its Decline 189 

moments of the Passion and the seven sacraments. Each of 
them is opposed to one of the seven deadly sins, which are 
represented by seven animals and followed by seven diseases. 

A director of consciences like Gerson, from whom these 
examples are borrowed, is inclined to lay the stress on the 
moral and practical value of these symbolisms. In a vision- 
ary like Alain de la Roche the aesthetic element prevails. His 
symbolic speculations are very highly elaborated and some- 
what factitious. In order to obtain a system in which the 
numbers fifteen and ten enter, representing the cycles of 150 
Aves and of 15 Paters, which he prescribed to his Brotherhood 
of the Rosary, he adds the eleven celestial spheres and the four 
elements and then multiplies by the ten categories (substance, 
quality, etc.). As the product he obtained 150 natural habits. 
In the same way the multiplication of the ten commandments 
by fifteen virtues gives 150 moral habits. To arrive at the 
figure of fifteen virtues, he counts, besides the three theolo- 
gical virtues and the four cardinal virtues, seven capital 
virtues, which makes fourteen ; there remain two other virtues : 
religion and penitence ; that makes sixteen, which is one too 
many; but as temperance of the cardinal series is identical 
with abstinence of the capital series, we finally obtain the 
number fifteen. Each of these fifteen virtues is a queen 
having her nuptial bed in one of the divisions of the Pater 
Noster. Each of the words of the Ave signifies one of the 
fifteen perfections of the Virgin, and at the same time a pre- 
cious stone, and is able to drive away a sin, or the animal which 
represents that sin. They represent other things as well : the 
branches of a tree which carries all the blessed ones ; the steps 
of a staircase. To quote but two examples : the word Ave 
signifies the innocence of the Virgin and the diamond ; it drives 
away pride, or the lion, which represents pride. The word 
Maria denotes her wisdom and the carbuncle ; it drives away 
envy, symbolized by a black dog. 

Sometimes Alain gets a little entangled in his very compli- 
cated system of symbolisms. 

Symbolism was, in fact, played out. Finding symbols and 
allegories had become a meaningless intellectual pastime, 
shallow f ancifulness resting on a single analogy. The sanctity 
of the object still gives it some small spiritual value- As 

190 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

soon as the craze of symbolism spreads to profane or simply 
moral matters, decadence is manifest. Froissart, in Li Orloge 
amoureus, compares all the details of love to the various parts 
of a timepiece. Chastellain and Molinet vie with each other 
in political symbolism. The three estates represent the 
qualities of the Virgin. The seven electors of the Empire 
signify the virtues ; the five towns of Artois and Hainault, 
which in 1477 remained faithful to the house of Burgundy, 
are the five wise virgins. In reality this is symbolism turned 
upside down ; it uses things of the higher order as symbols 
of things of the lower order, for these authors in effect raise 
terrestrial things to the higher level by employing sacred 
conceptions merely to adorn them. 

The Donatus moralisatus, sometimes, but erroneously, 
ascribed to Gerson, mixed up Latin grammar with theology : 
the noun-substantive is the man, the pronoun means that he 
is a sinner. The lowest grade of this kind of mental activity 
is represented by works like Le Parement et TriumpJie des 
Dames of Olivier de la Marche, in which each article of female 
costume symbolizes a virtue a theme also developed by 

"De la pantouffle ne nous vient quo saute" 
Et tout prouffit sans griefve maladie, 
Pour luy dormer tiltre d'auctoritS 
Je luy donne le nom d'humiliteV * 

In the same way shoes mean care and diligence, stockings 
perseverance, the garter resolution, etc. 

It is clear that to the men of the fifteenth century this 
genre did not appear so silly as it does to us, otherwise they 
would not have cultivated it with so much gusto. We are 
thus led to conclude that, to the mind of the declining Middle 
Ages, symbolism and allegory had not yet lost all their living 
significance. The tendency to symbolize and to personify 
was so spontaneous that nearly every thought, of itself, took a 
figurative shape. Every idea being considered as an entity, 
and every quality as an essence, they were at once invested 
by the imagination with a personal form. Denis the Carthu- 
sian, in his revelations, sees the Church in fully as personal a 

1 The slipper only gives us health And all profit -without serious illness* 
To giye it a title to authority I give it the name of humility. 

Symbolism in its Decline 191 

shape as when it was represented in an allegory on the stage. 
One of his revelations deals with the future reformation of the 
Church, such as fifteenth-century theology was hoping for : 
a Church cleansed from the evils that stained it. The spiritual 
beauty of this purified Church was revealed to his vision in 
the form of a superb and precious garment, with marvellous 
colours and ornaments. Another time he sees the persecuted 
Church : ugly, anaemic, enfeebled. God warns hi that the 
Church is going to speak, and Denis then hears the inner voice 
as though it proceeded from the person of the Church quasi 
ex persona Ecclesiae. The figurative form that thinking 
assumes here is so direct and so sufficient to evoke the desired 
associations, that no need is felt to explain the allegory in 
detail. The idea of a splendid garment is fully adequate to 
express spiritual purity ; thought here has resolved itself into 
an image, just as it can resolve itself into a melody. 

Let us recall once more the allegorical personages of the 
Roman de la Rose. To us it requires an effort to picture to 
ourselves Bel-Accueil, Doulce Mercy, Humble Requests. To 
the men of the Middle Ages, on the other hand, these figures 
had a very vivid aesthetic and sentimental value, which put 
them almost on a level with those divinities which the Romans 
conceived out of abstractions, like Pavor and Pallor, Con- 
cordia, etc. To the minds of the declining Middle Ages, Doux 
Penser, Honte, Souvenirs, and the rest, were endowed with a 
quasi-divine existence. Otherwise the Roman de la Rose 
would have been unreadable. One of the figures passed even 
from its original meaning to still more concrete signification : 
Danger in amorous parlance meant the jealous husband. 

Allegory is often called in to express a thought of particular 
importance. Thus the bishop of Chalons, wishing to address 
a very serious political remonstrance to Philip the Good, gives 
it an allegorical form and presents it to the duke at Hesdin 
on Saint Andrew's Day, 1437. "Haultesse de Signourie," 
chased out of the Empire, having first fled to France, next to 
the court of Burgundy, is inconsolable, and complains of being 
harrowed there, too, by " Carelessness of the prince, Feebleness 
of counsel, Envy of servants, Exaction of the subjects/* to 
drive away which it will be necessary to oppose " Vigilance 
of the prince," etc., to them. In short, the whole political 

192 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

argument has taken the form of a tableau vivant instead of a 
newspaper leader, as it would take with us. Evidently this 
was the way to create an impression, and it follows that alle- 
gory still had a suggestive force which we find it very hard 
to realize. 

The " Burgher of Paris " in his diary is a prosaic man, who 
takes little trouble to ornament his style. Nevertheless, when 
he comes to the most horrible events he has to relate, that is 
to say, to the Burgundian murders in Paris, in June, 141 8, he 
at once rises to allegory. " Then arose the goddess of Discord, 
who lived in the tower of Evil Counsel, and awoke Wrath, the 
mad woman, and Covetousness and Rage and Vengeance, and 
they took up arms of all sorts and cast out Reason, Justice, 
Remembrance of God and Moderation most shamefully." His 
narrative of the atrocities committed is entirely composed in 
the symbolic fashion. "Then Madness the enraged, and 
Murder and Slaughter killed, cut down, put to death, massacred 
all they found in the prisons . . . and Covetousness tucked 
up her skirts into her belt with Rapine, her daughter, and 
Larceny, her son. . . . Afterwards the aforesaid people went 
by the guidance of their goddesses, that is to say, Wrath, 
Covetousness and Vengeance, who led them through all the 
public prisons of Paris, etc." 

Why does the author use allegory here ? To give his narra- 
tive a more solemn tone than the one he uses for the daily 
events which he generally notes down in his diary. He feels 
the necessity of regarding these atrocious events as something 
more than the crimes of a few individual malefactors ; allegory 
is his way of expressing his sense of tragedy. 

It is just when allegory chafes us most that it fully reveals 
its dominion over the medieval mind. We can bear it more or 
less in a tableau vivant where conventional figures are draped 
in a fantastical and unreal apparel. The fifteenth century 
dresses up its allegorical figures, as well as its saints, in the 
costume of the time and has the faculty of creating new person- 
ages for each thought it wants to express. To tell the moral 
tale of a giddy young man, who is led to ruin by the life at 
court, Charles de Rochefort, in L'Abuze en Court, invents a 
whole new series of personages, like those of the Rose, and these 
dim creations, Fol cuidier, Folle bombance (Foolish credulity, 

Symbolism in its Decline 193 

Foolish show), and the rest, are represented in the miniatures 
illustrating the work like noblemen of the age. Time himself 
does not require a beard or a scythe, and appears in doublets 
and hose. The very commonplace aspect of these allegories 
is precisely what shows their vitality. 

We can understand that a human shape is ascribed to 
virtues or to sentiments, but the spirit of the Middle Ages does 
not hesitate to extend this process to notions which, to us, 
have nothing personal. The personification of Lent was a 
widely known type from 1300 onward. We find it in the 
poem, La Bataille de Karesme et de CJiarnage, a theme which 
Peter Breughel was to take up much later and illustrate with 
his mad fancy. A current proverb said : Quaresme fait $es 
flans la nuit de Pasques^ In certain towns of North Germany 
a doll, called Lent, was suspended in the choir of the church 
and taken down during mass on the Wednesday before Easter. 

Was there a difference between the idea which people formed 
of saints and that of purely symbolic personages ? Undoubt- 
edly, the former were acknowledged by the Church, they had a 
historical character and statues of wood and stone, but the 
latter were in touch with living fancy, and, after all, we may 
ask ourselves if to popular imagination Bel-Accueil or Faux 
Semblant did not appear as real as Saint Barbara and Saint 

On the other hand, there is no real contrast between medieval 
allegory and Renaissance mythology. There is rather a fusion. 
The mythological figures are older than the Renaissance. 
Venus and Fortune, for instance, had never completely died, 
and allegory, on the other hand, kept its vogue for a long time 
after the fifteenth century, nowhere stronger than in English 
literature. In the poetry of Froissart, Doux Semblant, Refus, 
Dangier and Escondit are seen contending, as it were, with 
mythological figures like Atropos, dotho, Lachesis. At first 
the latter are less vivid and coloured than the allegories ; they 
are dull and shadowy and there is nothing classic about them. 
Gradually Renaissance sentiment brings about a complete 
change. The Olympians and the nymphs get the better of 
the allegorical personages, who fade away, in proportion as 
the poetic glory of Antiquity is more intensely felt. 

1 Lent bakes his cakes on Easter-night. 


194 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Symbolism, with its servant allegory, ultimately became an 
intellectual pastime. The symbolic mentality was an obstacle 
to the development of causal thought, as causal and genetic 
relations must needs look insignificant by the side of symbolic 
connections. Thus the sacred symbolism of the two luminaries 
and the two swords for a long time barred the road to historic 
and juridical criticism of papal authority. For the symbolizing 
of Papacy and Empire as the Sun and the Moon, or as the two 
swords brought by the Disciples, was to the medieval mind 
far more than a striking comparison ; it revealed the mystic 
foundation of the two powers, and established directly the 
precedence of Saint Peter. Dante, in order to investigate the 
historical foundation of the pope's primacy, had first to deny 
the appropriateness of the symbolism. 

The time was not distant when people were bound to awake 
to the dangers of symbolism; when arbitrary and futile 
allegories would become distasteful and be rejected as tram- 
mels of thought. Luther branded them in an invective which 
is aimed at the greatest lights of scholastic theology : Bona- 
ventura, Guillaume Durand, Gerson and Denis the Carthusian. 
" These allegorical studies," he exclaims, " are the work of 
people who have too much leisure. Do you think I should find 
it difficult to play at allegory-making about any created thing 
whatsoever ? Who is so feeble-witted that he could not try 
his hand at it ? " 

Symbolism was a defective translation into images of secret 
connections dimly felt, such as music reveals to us. Videmus 
nunc per speculum in aenigmate. The human -mind felt that 
it was face to face with an enigma, but none the less it kept on 
trying to discern the figures in the glass, explaining images by 
yet other images. Symbolism was like a second mirror held up 
to that of the phenomenal world itself. 


All that was thinkable had taken image-shape : conception 
had become almost entirely dependent on imagination. Now, 
a too systematic idealism (this is what realism meant in the 
Middle Ages) gives a certain rigidity to the conception of the 
world. Ideas, being conceived as entities and of importance 
only by virtue of their relation with the Absolute, easily range 
themselves as so many fixed stars on the firmament of thought. 
Once defined, they only lend themselves to classification, sub- 
division and distinction according to purely deductive norms. 
Apart from the rules of logic, there is never a corrective at hand 
to indicate a mistake in the classification, and this causes the 
mind to be deluded as to the value of its own operations and 
the certainty of the system. 

If the medieval mind wants to know the nature or the 
reason of a thing, it neither looks into it, to analyse its struc- 
ture, nor behind it, to inquire into its origin, but looks up to 
heaven, where it shines as an idea. Whether the question 
involved is political, social or moral, the first step taken is 
always to reduce it to its universal principle. Even quite 
trifling and ordinary things are regarded in this light. Thus 
a point is debated in the University of Paris : May examination 
fees be levied for intermediate degrees ? The chancellor 
thinks so ; Pierre d'Ailly intervenes to defend the opposite 
view. Now, he does not start from arguments based on law 
or tradition, but from an application of the text : Eadix 
omnium malorum cupiditas, 1 and so he sets himself to prove 
by an entirely scholastic exposition that the aforesaid exac- 
tion is simoniacal, heretical, and contrary to natural and 
divine law. This is what so often disappoints and wearies us 
moderns in reading medieval demonstrations : they are directed 

1 The root of all evil is covetousness. 

196 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

heavenwards, and lose themselves from the very start in 
moral generalities and Scriptural cases. 

This profound and systematic idealism betrays itself every- 
where. There is an ideal and clearly defined conception of 
every trade, dignity or estate, to which the individual who 
belongs to it has to conform as best he may. Denis the Carthu- 
sian, in a series of treatises, De vita et regimine episcoporum^ 
archidiacanorum, etc., etc., pointed out to all bishops, 
canons, priests, scholars, princes, nobles, knights, merchants, 
husbands, widows, girls, friars the ideal form of their pro- 
fessional duties, and the way to sanctify their calling or con- 
dition by living up to that ideal. His exposition of moral 
precepts, however, remains abstract and general ; he never 
brings us into contact with the realities of the occupations 
or walks in life of which he speaks. 

This tendency to reduce all things to a general type has been 
considered a fundamental weakness in the mentality of the 
Middle Ages, owing to which the power to discern and describe 
individual traits was never attained. Starting from this 
premise, the well-known summary of the Renaissance as the 
coming of individualism would be justified. But at bottom 
this antithesis is inexact and misleading. Whatever the 
faculty of seeing specific traits may have been in the Middle 
Ages, it must be noted that men disregarded the individual 
qualities and fine distinctions of things, deliberately and of 
set purpose, in order always to bring them under some general 
principle. This mental tendency is a result of their profound 
idealism. People feel an imperious need of always and especi- 
ally seeing the general sense, the connection with the absolute, 
the moral ideality, the ultimate significance of a thing. What 
is important is the impersonal. The mind is not in search 
of individual realities, but of models, examples, norms. 

Every notion concerning the world or life had its fixed place 
in a vast hierarchic system of ideas, in which it is linked with 
ideas of a higher and more general order, on which it depends 
like a vassal on his lord. The proper business of the medieval 
mind is discrimination, displaying severally all concepts as 
if they were so many substantial things. Hence the faculty 
of detaching a conception from the ideal complex to which 
it belongs in order to regard it as a thing by itself. When 

The Effects of Realism 197 

Foulques de Toulouse is "blamed for giving an alms to an Albi- 
gensian woman, he answers : " I do not give it to the heretic, but 
to the poor woman." Margaret of Scotland, queen of France, 
having kissed Alain Chartier, the poet, whom she found asleep, 
exculpates herself in these terms : " I did not kiss the man, 
but the precious mouth whence have issued and gone forth so 
many good words and virtuous sayings." It is the same turn 
of mind which, in the field of high theological speculation, 
distinguishes in God between an antecedent will, desiring the 
salvation of all, and a consequent will, extending only to the 

Without the brake of empirical observation, the habit of 
always subordinating and subdividing becomes automatic 
and sterile, mere numbering, and nothing else. No subject 
lent itself better to it than the category of virtues and of sins. 
Every sin has its fixed number of causes, species, noxious 
effects. There are, according to Denis the Carthusian, twelve 
follies, deceiving the sinner ; each of them is illustrated, fixed 
and represented by Scripture texts and by symbols, so that 
the whole argument displays itself like a church portal orna- 
mented with sculptures. The enormity of sin should be con- 
sidered from seven points of view : that of God, that of the 
sinner, of matter, of circumstances, of the intention, of the 
nature of the sin and of its consequences. Next, every one 
of these seven points is subdivided, in its turn, into eight, or 
into fourteen. There are six infirmities of the mind which 
incline us to sin, etc. This systematizing of morality has 
its striking analogies in the sacred books of Buddhism. 

Now, this everlasting classification, this anatomy of sin, 
would be apt to weaken the consciousness of sin which it 
should enhance, if it were not attended with an effort of the 
imagination directed to the gravity of the fault and the horrors 
of the chastisements. All moral conceptions are exaggerated, 
overcharged to excess, because they are always placed in 
direct connection with divine majesty. In every sin, even the 
least, the universe is concerned. No human soul can be 
fully conscious of the enormity of sin. All the saints and the 
just, the celestial spheres, the elements, the lower creatures 
and inanimate objects, cry for vengeance on the sinner. Denis 
strives to over-stimulate the fear of sin and of hell by detailed 

198 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

descriptions and terrifying images. Dante has touched with 
beauty the darkness of hell : Farinata and Ugolino are heroic, 
and Lucifer is majestic. But this monk, devoid of all poetic 
grace, draws a picture of devouring torment and nothing 
more ; his very dullness makes the horror of it. " Let us 
imagine," he says, " a white-hot oven, and in this oven a naked 
man, never to be released from such a torment. Does not 
the mere sight of it appear insupportable ? How miserable 
this man would seem to us ! Let us think how he would sprawl 
in the oven, how he would yell and roar : in short, how he 
would live, and what would be his agony and his sorrow when 
he understood that this unbearable punishment was never to 

The horrible cold, the loathsome worms, the stench, hunger 
and thirst, the darkness, the chains, the unspeakable filth, 
the endless cries, the sight of the demons, Denis calls up all 
this before us like a nightmare. Still more oppressive is the 
insistence on psychic suffering : the mourning, the fear, the 
empty feeling of everlasting separation from God; the inex- 
pressible hatred of God, the .envy of the bliss of the elect ; 
the confusion of all sorts of errors and delusions in the brain. 
And the thought that this is to last in all eternity is by ingen- 
ious comparisons wrought up to the fever-point of horror. 

The treatise De quatuor Jtominum novissimis, from which 
these details are borrowed, was the customary reading during 
meal-time at the convent of Windesheim. A truly bitter 
condiment ! But medieval man always preferred drastic 
treatment. He was like an invalid who has been treated too 
long with heroic medicines, only the most powerful stimulants 
produced an effect on him. In order to make some virtue 
shine in all its splendour, the Middle Ages present it in an 
exaggerated form, which a sedater moralist would perhaps 
regard as a caricature. Saint Giles praying God not to allow 
his wound caused by an arrow to heal is their pattern of 
patience. Temperance finds its models in saints who always 
mix ashes with their food, chastity in those who tested their 
virtue by sleeping beside a woman. If it is not some extra- 
vagant act, it is the extreme youth of the saint which marks 
him out as a model, Saint Nicholas refusing his mother's millr 
on feast-days, or Saint Quirieus (a martyr, either three years 

The Effects of Realism 199 

or nine months old) refusing to be consoled by the prefect, 
and thrown into the abyss. 

Here, again, it is the dominant idealism which makes people 
only relish the excellence of virtue in an extra strong dose. 
Virtue is conceived as an idea ; its beauty shines more brightly 
in the hyperbolic perfection of its essence than in the imper- 
fect practice of everyday life. 

Nothing shows better the primitive character of the hyper- 
idealist mentality, called realism in the Middle Ages, than the 
tendency to ascribe a sort of substantiality to abstract con- 
cepts. Though philosophic realism did never admit these 
materialist tendencies, and strove to avoid such consequences, 
it cannot be denied that medieval thought frequently yielded 
to the inclination to pass from pure idealism to a sort of magic 
idealism, in which the abstract tends to become concrete. 
Here the ties which bind the Middle Ages to a very remote 
cultural past are very clearly displayed. 

It was about 1300 that the doctrine of the treasure of the 
works of supererogation of Christ and the saints took a fixed 
form. The idea itself of such a treasure, the common pos- 
session of all the faithful, in so far as they are members of the 
mystic body of Christ, which is the Church, was by that time 
very ancient. But the way in which it was applied, in the 
sense that the superabundant good works constitute an in- 
exhaustible reserve, which the Church can dispose of by retail, 
does not appear before the thirteenth century. Alexandra 
de Hales was the first to use the word thesaurus in the technical 
sense, which it has kept ever since. The doctrine did not fail 
to excite resistance. In the end, however, it prevailed and 
was officially formulated in 1343 in the bull Unigeniftis of 
Clement VI. There the treasure has altogether the form of 
a capital confided by Christ to Saint Peter, and still increas- 
ing every day. For, in proportion as men are more drawn 
to justice by the distribution of this treasure, the merits, 
of which it is composed, will go on accumulating. 

The material conception of ethical categories made itself 
felt more with regard to sin than to virtue. The Church, it 
is true, has always explicitly taught that sin is not a thing or 
an entity. But how could it have prevented the error, when 
everything concurred to insinuate it into men's minds ? The 

200 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

primitive instinct which see sins as stuff which soils or corrupts, 
which one should, therefore, wash away, or destroy, was 
strengthened by the extreme systematizing of sin, by their 
figurative representation, and even by the penitentiary tech- 
nique of the Church itself. In vain did Denis the Carthusian 
remind the people that it was but for the sake of comparison 
that he calls sin a fever, a cold and corrupted humour popular 
thought undoubtedly lost sight of the restrictions of dog- 
matists. The terminology of the law, less anxious than theo- 
logy as to doctrinal purity, did not hesitate, in England, to 
connect with felony the notion of a corruption of the blood : 
this is the realistic conception in its spontaneous form. 

On one special point the dogma itself demanded this per- 
fectly realist conception : that is to say, with regard to the 
blood of the Redeemer. The faithful are bound to conceive 
it as absolutely material. A drop of the precious blood, said 
Saint Bernard, would have sufficed to save the world, but it was 
shed abundantly, as Saint Thomas Aquinas expresses it in a 
hymn : 

"Pie Pelicane, Jesu domine, 
Mo iTnmnndnm munda tuo sanguine, 
Gurus una stilla salvum f acere 
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere." x 

1 Pious pelican, Lord Jesus, cleanse me, impure one, by your blood, of which 
one drop can save all the world from all iniquity. 

Compare Marlowe's Fawtus : " See, where Christ's blood streams in 
the firmament I One drop of blood will save me." 



The imagination was continually striving, and in vain, to 
express the ineffable by giving it shape and figure. To call 
up the absolute, recourse is always had to the terminology of 
extension in space, and the effort always fails. From the 
pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite onward, mystic authors have 
piled up terms of immensity and infinity. It is always 
infinite extension which has to serve for rendering the eternal 
accessible to reason. Mystics exert themselves to find sug- 
gestive images. Imagine, says Denis the Carthusian, a moun- 
tain of sand, as large as the universe ; that every hundred 
thousand years a grain be taken from it. The mountain will 
disappear at last. But after such an inconceivable space of 
time the sufferings of hell will not have diminished, and will 
not be nearer to the end than when the first grain was removed. 
And yet, if the damned knew that they would be set free when 
the mountain had disappeared, it would be a great consola- 
tion to them. 

If, to inculcate fear and horror, the imagination disposed 
of resources of appalling wealth, the expression of celestial 
joys, on the other hand, always remained extremely primitive 
and monotonous. Human language cannot provide a vision 
of absolute bliss. It has at its disposal only inadequate super- 
latives, which can do nothing but strengthen the idea arith- 
metically. What was the use of producing terms of height, 
or extension, or the inexhaustible ? People never could pro- 
gress beyond imagery, the reduction of the infinite to the 
finite, and the consequent weakening of the feeling of the 
absolute. Every sensation in expressing itself lost a little 
of its immediate force, every attribute ascribed to God robbed 
Him of a little of His majesty. 


202 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Thus begins the tremendous struggle of the spirit which 
yearns to rise above all imagery. It is the same at all epochs 
and with all races. Mystics, it has been said, have neither 
birthday nor native land. But the support of imagination 
cannot be given up all at once. The insufficiency of all modes 
of expression is gradually accepted. First the brilliant 
imagery of symbolism is abandoned, and the too concrete 
formulas of dogma are avoided. But still the contemplation 
of the absolute Being ever remains linked up with notions 
of extension or of light. Next these notions change into 
their negative opposites silence, the void, obscurity. And 
as these latter formless conceptions, too, in their turn, prove 
insufficient, a constant joining of each to its contrary is tried. 
Finally, nothing remains to express the idea of divinity but 
pure negation. 

Of course, these successive stages in the abandoning of 
imagery have not actually followed in strict chronological 
order. All had been reached already by Denis the Areopagite. 
In the following passage of Denis the Carthusian we find the 
greater number of these modes of expression united. In a 
revelationhe hears the voiceof God who is angry. " On hearing 
this answer the monk, collected within himself, and finding 
himself as transported into a region of Immense light, most 
sweetly, in an intense tranquillity, by a secret call without 
external sound invoked the most secret and truly hidden, the 
incomprehensible God : most over-lovable God, Thou in 
Thyself art the light and the region of light, in which Thy 
elect sweetly come to rest, repose, sleep. Thou art like a 
desert most over-vast, even and intraversable, where the 
truly pious heart, entirely purified of all individual affection, 
illumined from on high and inflamed by sacred ardour, 
deviates without erring and errs without deviating, happily 
fails and unfailingly convalesces." 

We here find first the image of light, next that of sleep, 
then that of the desert, and, lastly, the opposites which cancel 
one another. The mystic imagination found a very im- 
pressive concept in adding to the image of the desert, that 
is to say, extension of surface that of the abyss, or exten- 
sion of depth. The sensation of giddiness is added to the 
feeling of infinite space. The German mystics, as well as 

Religious Thought beyond the Limits of Imagination 203 

Ruysbroeck, have made a very plastic use of this striking 

Master Eckhart spoke of "the abyss without mode and 
without form of the silent and waste divinity." The fruition 
of bliss, says Ruysbroeck, " is so immense that God Himself is 
as swallowed up with all the blessed ... in an absence of 
modes, which is a not-knowing, and in an eternal loss of self." 
And elsewhere : " The seventh degree, which follows next . . . 
is attained when, beyond all knowledge and all knowing, 
we discover in ourselves a bottomless not-knowing ; when 
beyond all names given to God and to creatures, we come to 
expire and pass over in eternal namelessness, where we lose 
ourselves . . . and when we contemplate all these blessed 
spirits which are essentially sunken away, merged and lost 
in their super-essence, in an unknown darkness without mode." 

Always the hopeless attempt to dispense with images and 
to attain " the state of void, that is mere absence of images," 
which only God can give. " He deprives us of all images and 
brings us back to the initial state where we find only wild and 
waste absoluteness, void of all form or image, for ever corre- 
sponding with eternity." 

The contemplation of God, says Denis the Carthusian, is 
more adequately rendered by negations than by affirmations. 
" For, when I say : Gk>d is goodness, essence, life, I seem to 
indicate what God is, as if what He is had anything in com- 
mon with, or any resemblance to, a creature, whereas it is 
certain, that He is incomprehensible and unknown, inscrut- 
able and ineffable, and separated from all He works by an 
immeasurable and wholly incomparable difference and ex- 
cellence." It is for this reason that the " uniting wisdom " was 
called by the Areopagite : unreasonable, insane and foolish. 

But whether Denis or Ruysbroeck speak of light changed 
into darkness (a motif inspired by the Old Testament and 
which the pseudo-Areopagite had developed), or again of 
ignorance, forlonxness or of death, they never get beyond 

Without metaphors it is impossible to express a single 
thought. All effort to rise above images is doomed to fail. To 
speak of our most ardent aspirations only in negative terms does 
not satisfy the cravings of the heart, and where philosophy 

204 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

no longer finds expression, poetry comes in again. Mysticism 
has always rediscovered the road from the giddy heights of 
sublime contemplation to the flowery meadows of symbolism. 
The sweet lyricism of the older ITrench mystics, Saint Bernard 
and the Victorines, will always come to the aid of the seer, 
when all the resources of expression have been exhausted. In 
the transports of ecstasy the colours and figures of allegory 
reappear. Henry Suso sees his betrothed, Eternal Wisdom : 
" She soared high above him in a sky with clouds, she was 
bright like the morning star and shone like the radiant sun ; 
her crown was eternity, her robe beatitude, her speech sweet- 
ness, her kiss absolute delight ; she was remote and near, high 
aloft and below ; she was present and yet hidden ; she let her- 
self be approached and yet no one could grasp her." 

The Church has always feared the excesses of mysticism, 
and with reason. For the fire of contemplative rapture, con- 
suming all forms and images, must needs burn all formulas, 
concepts, dogmas, and sacraments too. However, the very 
nature of mystic transport implied a safeguard for the Church. 
To be uplifted to the clarity of ecstasy, to wander on the solitary 
heights of contemplation stripped of forms and images, tasting 
union with the only and absolute principle, was to the mystic 
never more than the rare grace of a single moment. He had 
to come down from the mountain-tops. The extremists, it 
is true, with their following of " enfants perdus," did deviate 
into pantheism and eccentricities* The others, however 
and it is among these that we find the great mystics never 
lost their way back to the Church awaiting them with its wise 
and economic system of mysteries fixed in the liturgy. It 
offered to everybody the means to get into touch at a given 
moment with the divine principle in all security and without 
danger of individual extravagances. It economized mystic 
energy, and that is why it has always outlived unbridled 
mysticism and the dangers it compassed. 

" Unitive wisdom is unreasonable, insane and foolish." The 
path of the mystic leading into the infinite leads to uncon- 
sciousness. By denying all positive connection between the 
Deity and all that has form and a name, the operation of 
transcendency is really abolished: "All creatures" says 
Eckhart " are mere nothing ; I do not say that they are little 

Eeligious Thought beyond the Limits of Imagination 205 

or aught : they are nothing. That which has no entity, is 
not. All creatures have no being, for their being depends 
on the presence of God." Intensive mysticism signifies return 
to a pre-intellectual mental life. All that is culture is obliter- 
ated and annulled. 

If, notwithstanding, mysticism has, at all times, borne 
abundant fruit for civilization, it is because it always rises 
by degrees, and because in its initial stages it is a powerful 
element of spiritual development. Contemplation demands 
a severe culture of moral perfection as a preparatory condition. 
The gentleness, the curbing of desires, the simplicity, the 
temperance, the laboriousness practised in mystical circles, 
create about them an atmosphere of peace and of pious fervour. 
All the great mystics have praised humble labour and charity. 
In the Netherlands these concomitant features of mysticism 
moralism, pietism became the essence of a very important 
spiritual movement. From the preparatory phases of in- 
tensive mysticism of the few issued the extensive mysticism 
of the "devotio moderna" of the many. Instead of the 
solitary ecstasy of the blessed moment conies a constant and 
collective habit of earnestness and fervour, cultivated by 
simple townspeople in the friendly intercourse of their Frater- 
houses and Windesheim convents. Theirs was mysticism by 
retail. They had "only received a spark." But in their 
midst the spirit lived which gave the world the work in which 
the soul of the declining Middle Ages found its most fruit- 
ful expression for the times to come : The Imitation, of Jesus 
Christ. Thomas & Kempis was no theologian and no human- 
ist, no philosopher and no poet, and hardly even a true mystic. 
Yet he wrote the book which was to console the ages. Per- 
haps here the abundant imagination of the medieval mind 
was conquered in the highest sense. 

Thomas & Kempis leads us back to everyday life. 


Tlie specific forms of the thought of an epoch should not 
only be studied as they reveal themselves in theological and 
philosophic speculations, or in the conceptions of creeds, but 
also as they appear in practical wisdom and everyday life. 
We may even say that the true character of the spirit of an 
age is better revealed in its mode of regarding and expressing 
trivial and commonplace things than in the high manifestations 
of philosophy and science. For all scholarly speculation, at 
least in Europe, is affiliated in a very complicated way to 
Greek, Hebrew, even Babylonian and Egyptian origins, whereas 
in everyday life the spirit of a race or of an epoch expresses 
itself naively and spontaneously. 

The mental habits and forms characteristic of the high 
speculation of the Middle Ages nearly all reappear in the 
domain of ordinary life. Here, too, as we might expect, primi- 
tive idealism, which the schools called realism, is at the bottom 
of all mental activity. To take every idea by itself, to give 
it its formula, to treat it as an entity, next to combine the 
ideas, to classify them, to arrange them in hierarchic systems, 
always to build cathedrals with them, such, in practical life 
also, is the way in which the medieval mind proceeds. 

All that acquires a fixed place in life is considered as having 
a reason for existence in the divine scheme. The most com- 
monplace customs share this honour with the most exalted 
things. A very plain instance of this may be found in the 
treatment of rules of court etiquette, which we have touched 
upon already in another connection. Ali&ior de Poitiers and 
Olivier de la Marche considered them wise laws, judiciously 
instituted by ancient kings and binding for all centuries to 
come. Alienor speaks of them as of sacred monuments of 
the wisdom of ages : " And then I have heard it said by the 


The Forms of Thought and Practical Life 207 

ancients who knew . . ." etc. She sees with sorrow signs of 
decline. For a good many years the ladies of Flanders have 
been putting the bed of a woman newly delivered of a child 
before the fibre, " at which people mocked a good deal," because 
formerly this was never done. What are we coming to ? 
" But at present everybody does what he pleases : because of 
which we may well be afraid that all will go badly." La 
Marche gravely asks the following question : Why has the 
"fruit-master," also the "wax-department" (le mestier de 
la cire), that is to say, illumination, among his attributes ? 
He answers, not less gravely : Because wax is extracted from 
flowers whence the fruit comes too : " so that this matter is 
very well ordained thus." 

In matters of utility or of ceremony medieval authority 
creates a special organ for every function, because it regards 
the function as an idea and considers it as an actual thing. 
The " grand sergeanty " of the king of England comprised a 
dignitary whose office it was to hold the king's head when he 
crossed the Channel and was suffering with sea-sickness. A 
certain John Baker held this office in 1442, and after his death 
it passed to his two daughters. 

Of the same nature is the custom, very ancient and very 
primitive, of giving a proper name to inanimate objects. We 
witnessed a revival of this usage when the big guns during the , 
late war got names. During the Middle Ages it was much 
more frequent. Like the swords of the heroes in the chansons 
de geste, the stone mortars in the wars of the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries had names of their own: "Le Chien 
d*0r!6ans, la Gringade, la Bourgeoise, Dulle Grriete." A few 
very celebrated diamonds are still known by proper names : 
this, too, is a survival of a widely spread custom. Several 
jewels of Charles the Bold had their names : " le sancy, les trois 
freres, la hote, la balle de Flandres." If, at the present time, 
ships still have names, but bells and most houses have not, 
the reason lies in the fact that the ship preserves a sort of 
personality, also expressed in the English usage of making 
ships feminine. In the Middle Ages this tendency to personify 
things was much stronger ; every house and every bell had 
its name. 

In the minds of the Middle Ages every event, every case, 

208 The Waning of the Middk Ages 

fictitious or historic, tends to crystallize, to become a parable, 
an example, a proof, in order to be applied as a standing 
instance of a general moral truth. In the same way every 
utterance becomes a dictum, a maxim, a text. For every 
question of conduct Scripture, legends, history, literature, 
furnish a crowd of examples or of types, together making up a 
sort of moral clan, to which the matter in question belongs. 
If it is desired to make someone to pardon an offence, all the 
Biblical cases of pardon are enumerated to him ; if to dissuade 
him from marrying, all the unhappy marriages of antiquity 
are cited. In order to free himself from blame for the murder 
of the duke of Orleans, Jean sans Peur compares himself to 
Joab and his victim to Absalom, rating himself as less guilty 
than Joab, because he had not acted in open defiance of a 
royal warning. " Ainsy avoit le bon due Jehan attrait ce 
fait & moralite." a 

In the Middle Ages evejyo&ejlij&e^^ argu- 

ment orLjUbgxt, so as to jjiveit a foundation. In 1406, at the 
national council of Paris, ^Eere"fhe question of the schism 
was debated, the twelve propositions for and against renounc- 
ing obedience to the pope of Avignon, all started from a Biblical 
quotation. Profane orators, too, no less than preachers, choose 
their text. 

All the traits indicated are found united in striking fashion 
in the famous plea delivered on the 8th of March, 1408, at the 
hotel de Saint Pol before a princely audience, by Master Jean 
Petit, divine, preacher and poet, in order to clear the duke of 
Burgundy of the charge of the murder which the latter re- 
pented of having confessed. It is a real masterpiece of political 
wickedness, built up with perfect art and in a severe style on 
the text : Radix omnium malorum owpiditas (the root of all 
evil is covetousness). The whole is cunningly arranged in a 
scheme of scholastic distinctions and complementary Biblical 
texts, illustrated by Scriptural and historical examples and 
animated by a fiendish verve. After having enumerated 
twelve reasons obliging the duke of Burgundy to honour, 
love and avenge the king of France, Maitre Petit draws two 
applications from his text: covetousness makes apostates 
and it makes traitors. Apostasy and treason are divided and 
1 Thus good duke John had drawn the moral inference of the case 

The Forms of Thought and Practical Life 209 

subdivided, and then illustrated by three examples. Lucifer, 
Absalom and Athalia rise up before the imagination of the 
hearers as the archetypes of a traitor. Eight truths are 
brought forward to justify tyrannicide. Referring to one of 
the eight, he says : " I shall prove this truth by twelve reasons 
in honour of the twelve apostles," And he cites three sen- 
tences of the doctors, three of the philosophers, three of the 
jurists and three from Scripture. ]?rom the eight truths eight 
corollaries are derived, completed by a ninth. By the aid of 
allusions or insinuations he revives all the old suspicions which 
hung over the memory of the ambitious and debauched prince : 
his responsibility for the disaster of the " bal des ardents," 
where the young king's company, disguised as wild men, 
miserably perished by fire, while the king himself narrowly 
escaped ; his plans of murder and poisoning, hatched in the 
Oelestine monastery, in the course of his conversations with 
" the sorcerer," Philippe de Mezieres. The notorious leaning 
of the duke towards necromancy furnished an opportunity 
for describing very picturesque scenes of horror. Maitre 
Petit is even familiar with the demons whom Orleans con- 
sulted ; he knows their names and the way in which they were 
dressed. He goes so far as to ascribe a sinister meaning to 
the delirious utterances of the mad king. 

All this makes up the major term of the syllogism. The 
minor follows it, point by point. Grounding themselves on 
the general propositions which had raised the case to the plane 
of fundamental ethics and had artfully roused a sentiment of 
shuddering horror, the direct accusations burst out in a flood 
of passionate hatred and defamation. The pleading lasted 
for four hours, and at the end Jean sans Peur pronounced the 
words: "I avouch you" (Je vous avoue). The justifica- 
tion was written out in four costly copies for the duke and his 
nearest relations, ornamented with gilding and miniatures, and 
bound in pressed leather. It was also for sale. 

The tendency to give each particular case the character 
of a moral sentence or of an example, so that it becomes some- 
thing substantial and unchallengeable, the crystallization of 
thought, in short, finds its most general and natural expression 
in the proverb. In the thought of the Middle Ages proverbs 
have performed a very living function. There were hundreds 

210 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

in current use in every nation. The greater number are 
striking and concise. Their tone is often ironical, their accent 
always that of bonhomie and resignation. The wisdom we 
glean from them is sometimes profound and beneficent. They 
never preach resistance. "Les grans poissons mangent les 
plus petis." " Les mal vestus assiet ondos ou vent." " Nul 
n'est chaste si ne besongne." " Au besoing on s'aide du 
diable." " II n'est si ferr6 qui ne glice." * To the laments 
of moralists about the depravation of man the proverbs oppose 
a smiling detachment. The proverb always glozes over iniquity. 
Now it is naively pagan and now almost evangelical. A people 
which has many proverbs in current use will be less given to 
talking nonsense, and so will avoid many confused arguments 
and empty phrases. Leaving arguments to cultured people, 
it is content with judging each case by referring to the authority 
of some proverb. The crystallization of thought in proverbs 
is therefore not without advantage to society. 

Proverbs in their crude simplicity were thoroughly in 
accordance with the general spirit of the literature of the 
epoch. The level reached by authors was but little higher 
than that of the proverbs. The dicta of Eroissart often read 
like proverbs gone wrong. " It is thus with feats of arms : 
sometimes one loses, another time one wins." "There is 
nothing of which one does not tire." It is therefore safer, 
instead of hazarding moral sentences of one's own, to use 
well-established proverbs like Geffroi de Paris, who lards his 
rhyming chronicle with them. The literature of the time is full 
of ballads of which each stanza ends with a proverb, as, 
for instance, the Ballade de Foug&res of Alain Chartier, the 
Complaincte de Eco of Ooquillart, and several poems by Jean 
Molinet, not to mention Villon's well-known ballad which was 
entirely composed of them. The 171 stanzas of the Passe 
Temps d'Oysivete, by Robert Gaguin, nearly all end in some 
phrase looking like a proverb, although the greater number 
are not found in the best-known collections. Did Gaguin 
invent them, then 1 In that case we should have a still more 
curious indication of the vital function of the proverb at this 

1 The big fishes eat the smaller. The badly dressed are placed with their 
back to the mod. None is chaste if he has no business. At need we let the 
devil help us. No horse is so well shod that it never slips. 

The Forms of Thought and Practical Life 211 

epoch, if we see them here arising in an individual mind, in 
statu nascendi, as it were. 

In political speeches and in sermons, proverbs are in fre- 
quent use. Gerson, Jean de Varennes, Jean Petit, Guillaume 
Kllastre, Olivier Maillard, take pains to strengthen their 
arguments by the most common ones. " Qui de tout se tait, 
de tout a paix. Chef bien peign6 porte mal bacinet. Qui 
commun sert, nul ne Ten paye." 1 

Belated to the proverb, in so far as it is a crystallized form 
of thought, is the motto, which the declining Middle Ages 
cultivated with marked predilection. It differs from it in 
that it is not, like the proverb, a wise adage of general appli- 
cation, but a personal maxim or exhortation. To adopt a 
motto is, so to say, to choose a text for the sermon of one's 
life. The motto is a symbol and a token. Marked in golden 
letters on every article of the wardrobe and of the equipment, 
it must have exercised a suggestive influence of no mean 
importance. The moral tone of these mottoes is mostly that 
of resignation, like that of the proverbs, or that of hope. The 
motto should be mysterious. " Quand sera ce ? Tost ou 
tard vienne. Va oultre. Autre fois mieulx. Plus deuil que 
joye." 2 The greater number refer to love. " Aultre naray. 
Vostre plaisir. Souvienne vous. Plus que toutes." 3 When 
of such a nature they were worn on armour and caparisons. 
Those engraved in rings have a more intimate note : " Mon 
cuer avez. Je le desire. Pour toujours. Tout pour vous." 4 

A complement to mottoes is found in the emblem, like the 
knotty stick of Louis of Orleans with the motto " Je Pen-vie," 
a gambling term meaning " I challenge," to which Jean sans 
Peur replied with a plane and the words " Ic houd," that is to 
say, " accepted." Another instance is the flint-and-steel of 
Philip the Good. With the emblem and the motto we enter 
the sphere of heraldic thought, of which the psychology is yet 
to be written. To the men of the Middle Ages the coat of arms 

1 He who is silent about all things, is troubled by nothing. A well-groomed 
head wears the helmet badly. He who serves the common weal, is paid by 
none for his trouble. 

When will it be ? Soon or late it may come. Onward. Better next 
time. More sorrow than joy. 

* I shall have no other. Your pleasure. Bemember. More than all 

*You have my heart. I desire it. For ever. AH for you. 

212 The Waning of the Middk Ages 

was undoubtedly more than a matter of vanity or of genealo- 
gical interest. Heraldic figures in their minds acquired a 
value almost like that of a totem. Whole complexes of pride 
and ambition, of loyalty and devotion, were condensed in the 
symbols of lions, lilies or crosses, which thus marked and 
expressed intricate mental contexts by means of an image. 
The spirit of casuistry, which was greatly developed in the 
Middle Ages, is another expression of the same tendency to 
isolate each thing as a special entity. It is another effect of 
the dominant idealism. Every question which presents itself 
must have its ideal solution, which will become apparent as 
soon as we have ascertained, by the aid of formal rules, the 
relation of the case in question to the eternal verities. Casuis- 
try reigns in all the departments of the mind : alike in morals 
and in law, and in matters of ceremony, of etiquette, of tourna- 
ments and the chase, and, above all, of love. We have already 
spoken of the influence which chivalrous casuistry exercised 
on the origins of the laws of war. Let us quote some more 
examples from the Arbre des Batailles of Honore Bonet. 
Should a member of the clergy aid his father or his bishop ? 
Is one bound to make good borrowed armour which one has 
lost during a battle ? May one fight a battle on festal days 1 
Is it better to fight fasting or after a meal ? 

No subject lent itself better to the distinction of casuistry 
than that of prisoners of war. To take noble and rich prisoners 
was, at that time, the main point of the military profession. 
In what circumstances may one escape from captivity ? What 
is a safe conduct worth ? To whom does an escaped and 
recaptured prisoner belong ? May a prisoner on parole fly, 
if his victor puts hi in chains ? Or may he do so, if his 
captor forgot to ask his parole ? In Le Jouvencel two captains 
dispute for a prisoner before the commander-in-chief . " I 
seized him first," says one, " by the arm and by the right hand, 
and tore his glove from him." " But to me," says the other, 
" he gave that same hand with his parole." 

Besides idealism, a strong formalism is at the bottom of all 
the traits enumerated. The innate belief in the transcen- 
dental reality of things brings about as a result that every 
notion is strictly defined and limited, isolated, as it were, in a 
plastic form, and it is this form which is all-important. Mortal 

The Forms of Thought and Practical Life 213 

sins are distinguished from venial sins according to fixed 
rules. In law, culpability is established in the first place by 
the formal nature of the deed. The ancient judicial adage, 
" The deed judges the man," had lost nothing of its force! 
Although jurisprudence had been long ago freed from the 
extreme formalism of primitive law, which knew no difference 
between the intentional and the involuntary deed and did 
not punish an attempt that had miscarried, yet traces of a 
severe formalism existed in great number at the dose of the 
Middle Ages. Thus, there was a rule of long standing that a 
slip of the tongue in the formula of an oath rendered it null 
and void, the oath being a sacred thing. In the thirteenth 
century an exception was made in favour of foreign merchants 
who only knew the language of the country imperfectly, and 
it was conceded that their incorrect language in taking the 
oath should not lose them their rights. 

The extreme sensibility to everything touching honour is 
an effect of the general formalism. A nobleman is blamed 
for having the caparison of his horse ornamented with his 
armorial bearings, because, if the horse, " a brute beast," 
should stumble at the joust, the coat of arms would be dragged 
through the sand and the whole family dishonoured. 

The formal element occupied a large place in everything 
connected with vengeance, expiations, reparations for wounded 
honour. The right of vengeance, a very vital element in the 
customs of France and the Netherlands in the fifteenth cen- 
tury, was exercised more or less according to fixed rules. It 
is not always furious anger which urges people to acts of 
violence in pursuit of vengeance ; amends for offended honour 
are sought according to a well-regulated plan. It is, above 
all, a question of shedding blood, not of killing ; sometimes 
care is taken to wound the victim only in the face, the arms, 
or the thighs. 

The satisfaction sought for, being formal, is symbolic. In 
political reconciliations in the fifteenth century, symbolic 
actions have a very large share : demolition of houses which 
recall the crime, erection of commemorative crosses or chapels, 
injunctions to block up a doorway, etc., not to mention ex- 
piatory processions and masses for the dead. After his recon- 
ciliation with his brother at Rouen in 1469, Louis XTs firsl 

214: The Waning of the Middle Ages 

care is to have the ring which the bishop of Lisieux gave to 
Charles in marrying him to Normandy as its duke, broken 
on an anvil in the presence of the notables. 

The chronicle of Jean de Roye records a striking instance 
of this craving for symbols and forms. One Laurent Guernier 
had been hanged by mistake at Paris in 1478 ; he had obtained 
a reprieve, but his pardon arrived too late, A year later his 
brother obtained permission to have the body honourably 
buried. " And before this bier went four town criers of the 
aforesaid town sounding their rattles, and on their breasts 
were the arms of the aforesaid Guernier, and around that bier 
were four tapers and eight torches, carried by men dressed in 
mourning and bearing the aforesaid crest. And in this way 
it was carried, passing through the aforesaid city of Paris . . . 
as far as the gate of Saint Anthony, where the aforesaid corpse 
was placed on a cart draped in black to take it to Provins to 
be buried. And one of the aforesaid criers who walked before 
the aforesaid corpse, cried: 'Good people, say your pater 
nosters for the soul of the late Laurent Guernier, in his life 
an inhabitant of Provins, who was lately found dead under an 
oak-tree 1 " 

The mentality of the declining Middle Ages often seems to 
us to display an incredible superficiality and feebleness. The 
complexity of things is ignored by it in a truly astounding 
manner. It proceeds to generalizations unhesitatingly on the 
strength of a single instance. Its liability to wrong judgment 
is extreme. Inexactitude, credulity, levity, inconsistency, are 
common features of medieval reasoning. All these defects 
are rooted in its fundamental formalism. To explain a situa- 
tion or an event, a single motive suffices, and, for choice, the 
most general motive, the most direct or the grossest. To 
Burgundian party-feeling, for example, there could be but 
a single ground which could have urged the duke of Burgundy 
to compass the murder of the duke of Orleans : he wished to 
avenge the (assumed) adultery of the queen with Orleans. 
In every controversy people would disregard all the features 
of the case save a few, whose significance they exaggerated at 
pleasure. Thus the presentment of a fact, in the minds of the 
epoch,. is always like a primitive woodcut, with strong and 
simple lines and very clearly marked contours. 

The Forms of Thought and Practical Life 215 

So much for " simplistic " habits of mind. As to ill-con- 
sidered generalization, it manifests itself on every page of the 
literature of that time. From a single case of impartiality 
reported of the English of olden time, Olivier de la Marche 
concludes that at that period the English were virtuous, and 
because of that had been able to conquer Prance. The impor- 
tance of a particular case is exaggerated, because it is seen in 
an ideal light. Moreover, every case can be paralleled in 
sacred history, and so be exalted to higher significance. In 
1404 a procession of students at Paris was assaulted : two were 
wounded, the clothes of a third were torn. This was enough 
for the chancellor of the University, carried away by the heat 
of his indignation, and by a simple consonance, " Les enfants, 
les jolis escoliers comme agneaux innocens," 1 to launch into 
comparison of the incident to the massacre of Bethlehem. 

If for every particular case an explanation is so easily 
admitted, and, once admitted, takes root in the mind without 
meeting with resistance, then the danger of wrong judgments 
is extremely great. Nietzsche said that abstaining from 
wrong judgments would make life impossible, and it is probable 
that the intense life which we sometimes envy past centuries, 
was partly due to the facility of false judgments. In our own 
day too, in times which require the utmost exertion of national 
force, the nerves need the help of false judgment. The men 
of the Middle Ages lived in a continual mental crisis. They 
could not for a moment dispense with false judgments of the 
grossest kind. If, in the fifteenth century, the cause of the 
dukes of Burgundy could persuade so many Frenchmen first 
to breach of fealty and next to hostility to their country, this 
political sentiment can only be explained by a whole tissue of 
emotional conceptions and confused ideas. 

It is in this light that the general and constant habit of ridi- 
culously exaggerating the number of enemies killed in battle 
should be considered. Ghastellain gives a loss of five nobles 
on the side of the duke at the battle of Gavre, as against twenty 
or thirty thousand of the Ghent rebels. 

What are we to say, lastly, of the curious levity of the 
authors of the close of the Middle Ages, which often impresses 
us as an absolute lack of mental power 1 It sometimes seems 
1 The children, the pretty scholars, like innocent Iambs. 

216 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

as if they were content to present to their readers a series of 
vague pictures, and felt no need whatever of really hard 
thinking. Superficial description of outward circumstances 
this is all we get from writers like Froissart and Monstrelet. 
Compared with Herodotus, to say nothing of Thucydides, their 
narrative is disjointed, empty, without pith or meaning. They 
do not distinguish the essential from the accidental. Their 
lack of precision is deplorable. Monstrelet was present at the 
interview of the duke of Burgundy with Joan of Arc, when a 
prisoner : he does not remember what was said. Thomas 
Basin himself, who conducted the process of rehabilitation, 
says in his chronicle that Joan was born at Vaucouleurs 
instead of Domremy, and that she was conducted to Tours 
by Baudricourt himself, whom he calls lord of the town instead 
of captain, while he is mistaken by three months as to the 
date of her first interview with the dauphin. Olivier de la 
Marche, master of the ceremonies and an impeccable courtier, 
constantly muddles the genealogy of the ducal family and 
goes so far as to make the marriage of Charles with Margaret 
of York take place after the siege of Neuss in 1475, though 
he was present at the wedding festivities in 1468. Even 
Commines is not exempt from surprising inexactitudes. 

The credulity and the lack of critical spirit are too general 
and too well known to make it necessary to cite examples. 
It goes without saying that here the degree of erudition makes 
a great difference. Basin and Molinet treated the popular 
belief that Charles the Bold would come back as a fable. 
Ten years after the battle of Nancy, people were still lending 
money which was to be reimbursed on his return. 

"J'ay veu chose incongneue: 
Ting mort ressusciter, 
Et sur sa revenue 
Par milliers achapter. 
L'un dit : il est en vie, 
L'autre: ce n'est quo vent. 
Tous bons cueurs sans envie 
Le regrettent souvent.** 1 

1 1 have seen an unknown thing : A dead man coming to life, And on his 
retain Buy for thousands. The one says : he is alive. The other : it is but 
wind. All good hearts* void of envy, Regret his loss often. 

The Forms of Thought and Practical Life 217 

A mentality, dominated like that of the declining Middle 
Ages by a lively imagination, by naive idealism and by strong 
feeling, easily believes in the reality of every concept which 
presents itself to the mind. When once an idea has received 
a name and a form, its truth is presumed ; it glides, so to 
say, into the system of spiritual figures and shares in their 

On the one hand, their clear outlines and frequently anthro- 
pomorphic character give ideas a marked degree of fixity and 
immobility ; on the other hand, the meaning of a conception 
runs a constant risk of being lost in the too vivid form. The 
principal person of the long allegorical and satirical poem of 
Eustaohe Deschamps, Le Miroir de Manage, is called Franc 
Vouloir. Folly and Desire advise him to marry, Repertory 
of Science dissuades him. Now, if we ask ourselves what 
Deschamps wanted to express by the abstraction Franc Vouloir, 
it appears that the idea oscillates between the careless liberty 
of the;bachelor and free will in a philosophic sense. The personi- 
fication has more or less absorbed the idea which gave it 
birth. As undecided as the character of the central figure is 
the moral tone of the poem. The pious praise of the spiritual 
marriage and of the contemplative life contrasts strangely 
with the customary and rather vulgar mockery of women and 
of female virtue. The author sometimes puts exalted truths 
into the mouth of Folly and Desire, though their part is that 
of the devil's advocate. It is very hard to decide what was 
the personal conviction of the poet, and to what degree he 
was serious. 

To distinguish clearly the serious element from pose and 
playfulness, is a problem that crops up in connection with 
nearly all the manifestations of the mentality of the Middle 
Ages. We saw it arise in connection with chivalry, and 
with the forms of love and of piety. We always have to 
remember that in more primitive cultural phases than ours, 
the line of demarcation between sincere conviction and 
" pretending " often seems to be wanting. What would be 
hypocrisy in a modern mind, is not always so in a medieval 

The general want of balance, characterizing the soul of this 
epoch, in spite of the clear-cut form of its ideas, is especially 

218 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

felt in the domain of superstition. On the subject of sorcery, 
doubt and rationalistic interpretations alternate with the 
blindest credulity. We can never tell precisely to what degree 
this belief was sincere. Philippe de M&zieres, in the Songe 
du Vieil Pelerin, tells that he himself learned the magic arts 
from a Spaniard. During more than ten years he did not 
succeed in forgetting his infamous knowledge. " A sa volent6 ne 
povoit pas bien extirper de son cuer les dessusdits signes et 
Peffect d'iceulx contre Dieu." 1 At last, " through the grace 
of God, by dint of confessing and resisting, he was delivered 
from this great folly, ^hich is an enemy to the Christian 

During the horrible campaign of persecution against sor- 
cerers in 1461, known as the " Vauderie d' Arras," both the 
people and the magistrates gravely doubted the reality of the 
alleged crimes. Outside the town of Arras, says Jacques du 
CHercq, " not one person in a thousand believed that it was 
true that they practised the aforesaid sorcery. Such things 
were never before heard of happening in these countries." 
Nevertheless, the town suffered severely in consequence: 
people would no longer shelter its merchants or give them 
credit, for fear that, accused of witchcraft, on the morrow, 
perhaps, they might lose all their possessions by confiscation. 
One of the inquisitors, who claimed to be able to discover the 
guilty at sight, and went so far as to declare that it was impos- 
sible for a man to be wrongly accused of sorcery, afterwards 
went mad. A poem full of hatred accused the persecutors of 
having got up the whole affair out of covetousness, and the 
bishop himself called the persecution " a thing intended by 
some evil persons," Philip the Good, having asked the advice 
of the Faculty of Louvain, several of its members declared 
that the sorcery was not real. Upon which the duke, who, 
in spite of the archaic turn of his mind, was not super- 
stitious, sent the king-at-arms of the Golden Fleece to Arras. 
Then the executions and the imprisonments ceased. Later 
on, all the processes were annulled, which fact the town 
celebrated by a joyful feast with representations of edify- 
ing "moralities." 

1 He could not voluntarily extirpate from his mind the aforesaid signs 
and their effect against God. 

The Forms of Thought and Practical Life 219 

The opinion that the rides through the ak and the orgies 
of the witches' sabbath were but delusions which the devil 
suggested to the poor foolish women, was already rather 
widely spread in the fifteenth century. Froissart, describing 
the striking case of a Gascon nobleman and his familiar demon 
called Horton (he surpasses himself here in exactness and 
vividness of narrative), treats it as an "error." But it is 
an error caused by the devil, so the rationalizing interpreta- 
tion, after all, goes only half-way. Gerson alone goes so far as 
to suggest the notion of a cerebral lesion, the others confine 
themselves to the hypothesis of diabolical illusions. Martin 
Lefranc, provost of the church of Lausanne, in the Champion 
des Dames, which he dedicated to Philip the Good in 1440, 
defended this opinion. 

" Je ne croiray tant que je vive 
Que femme corporellement 
Voit par Pair comme merle ou grive, 
Dit le Champion prestement. 

Quant la pcmrelle est en sa couche, 
Pour y donnir et reposer, 
L'ennemi qui point ne se couche 
Se vient encoste alle* poser. 
Lors illusions composer 
Ltd scet sy tres soubtillement 
Qu'elle croit faire ou proposer 
Ce qu'elle songe settlement. 
Force la vielle songera 
Que stir tin chat ou stir tux chien 
A Passemble'e s'en ira ; 
Mais certes il n'en sera rien : 
Et sy n'est baston ne mesrien 
Qtti le pent ting pas enlever." 1 

In general the mental attitude towards supernatural facts 

1 As long as I live I shall not believe That a woman can bodily Travel 
through the air like blackbird or thrash, Said the Champion forthwith. . . . 
When the poor woman lies in her bed, In order to sleep and to rest there, 
The enemy who never lies down to sleep Comes and remains by her side. 
Then to call up illusions Before her he can so subtly, That she thinks she does 
or proposes to do What she only dreams. Perhaps the gammer will dream 
That on a cat or on a dog She will go to the meeting ; But certainly nothing 
wffl happen ; And there is neither a stick nor a beam Which could lift her a 

220 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

was a vacillating one. Rational interpretation, timid credu- 
lity, or the suspicion of diabolical ruses, have the upper 
hand by turns. The Church did its best to combat supersti- 
tions. Friar Eichard, the popular preacher at Paris, has the 
mandrakes brought to him to be burned, " which many foolish 
people kept in safe places, having such great faith in this 
ordure, that, indeed, they firmly believed, that so long as 
they had it (provided it were very neatly wrapped up in 
silk or linen folds) they would never be poor so long as they 

Dogmatic theology was always studious to inculcate the 
exact distinction between matters of faith and of superstition. 
Benedictions and conjurations, says Denis the Carthusian in 
his treatise Contra vitia swperstitionum, have no effect in them- 
selves. They operate only in so far as they are pronounced 
as humble prayers, with pious intention and placing one's 
hope in God. Since popular belief, nevertheless, attributes 
magical virtue to them, it would be better that the clergy 
forbade these practices altogether. 

Unhappily, the zeal of the Church for the purity of the 
faith did not affect demonoinania. Its own doctrine prevented 
it from uprooting belief in it. For it kept to the norm, fixed 
by the authority of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas : 
Omnia quae visibiliter fiunt in hoc rwmdo, possunt fieri per 
daemones. x Conjurations, says Denis, continuing the argument 
we have just cited, often take effect in spite of the absence of 
a pious intention, because then the devil has taken a hand 
in it. This ambiguity left room for a good deal of uncer- 
tainty. The fear of sorcery and the blind fury of persecu- 
tion continued to darken the mental atmosphere of the age. 
The official confirmation of both the theory and the prac- 
tice of persecution was effected in the last quarter of the 
fifteenth century by the MaUeus maleficarum, the Hammer 
for Witches, by two German Dominicans, which appeared in 
1487, and by the bull, Summis desiderantes, of Pope Innocent 
Vm, of 1484. 

So towards the end of the Middle Ages this dark system 
of delusion and cruelty grew slowly to completion. All the 
deficiencies of medieval thinking and its inherent tendencies 
that happens visibly in this world, can be done by demons. 

The Forms of Thought and Practical Life 221 

to gross error had contributed to its building. The fifteenth 
century transmitted it to the coming age like a horrible disease, 
which for a long time neither classical culture nor Protestant 
reformation nor the Catholic revival were able or even willing 
to cure. 


If a man of culture of 1840 had been asked to characterize 
French civilization in the fifteenth century in a few words, his 
answer would probahly have been largely inspired by impres- 
sions from Barante's Histoire des Dues de Bourgogne and Hugo's 
Notre Dame de Paris. The picture called up by these would 
have been grim and dark, scarcely illuminated by any ray of 
serenity and beauty. 

The experiment repeated to-day would yield a very different 
result. People would now refer to Joan of Arc, to Villon's 
poetry, but above all to the works of art. The so-called 
primitive Flemish and French masters Van Eyck, Rogier van 
der Weyden, Foucquet, Memling, with daus Sluter, the sculptor, 
and the great musicians would dominate their general idea of 
the epoch. The picture would altogether have changed its 
colour and tone. The aspect of mere cruelty and misery as 
conceived by romanticism, which derived its information chiefly 
from the chronicles, would have made room for a vision of 
pure and naive beauty, of religious fervour and profound mystic 

It is a general phenomenon that the idea which works of 
art give us of an epoch is far more serene and happy than that 
which we glean in reading its chronicles, documents, or even 
literature. Plastic art does not lament. Even when giving 
expression to sorrow or pain it transports them to an elegiac 
sphere, where the bitter taste of suffering has passed away, 
whereas the poets and historians, voicing the endless griefs of 
life, always keep their immediate pungency and revive the 
harsh realities of bygone misery. 

Now, our perception of former times, our historical organ, 
so to say, is more and more becoming visual. Most educated 
people of to-day owe their conception of Egypt, Greece, or the 


Art and Life 223 

Middle Ages, much more to the sight of their monuments, either 
in the original or by reproductions, than to reading. The 
change of our ideas about the Middle Ages is due less to a 
weakening of the romantic sense than to the substitution of 
artistic for intellectual appreciation. 

Still, this vision of an epoch resulting from the contemplation 
of works of art is always incomplete, always too f ayourable, 
and therefore fallacious. It has to be corrected in more than 
one sense. Confining ourselves to the period in question, we 
first have to take into consideration the fact that, proportion- 
ately, far more of the written documents than of the monuments 
of art have been preserved. The literature of the declining 
Middle Ages, with some few exceptions, is known to us fairly 
completely. We have products of all genres : the most elevated 
and the most vulgar, the serious and the comic, the pious and 
the profane. Our literary tradition reflects the whole life of 
the epoch. Written tradition, moreover, is not confined to 
literature : official records, in infinite number, enable us to 
augment almost indefinitely the accuracy of our picture. 

Art, on the contrary, is by its very nature limited to a less 
complete and less direct expression of life. Moreover, we only 
possess a very special fraction of it. Outside ecclesiastical art 
very little remains. Profane art and applied art have only 
been preserved in rare specimens. This is a serious want, 
because these are just the forms of art which would have most 
clearly revealed to us the relation of artistic production to social 
life. The modest number of altar-pieces and tombs teaches us 
too little in this respect ; the art of the epoch remains to us 
as a thing apart from the history of the time. Now, really to 
understand art, it is of great importance to form a notion of 
the function of art in life ; and for that it does not suffice to 
admire surviving masterpieces, all that has been lost asks our 
attention too. 

Art in those times was still wrapped up in life. Its function 
was to fill with beauty the forms assumed by life. These forms 
were marked'and potent. Life was encompassed and measured 
by the rich efflorescence of the liturgy : the sacraments, the 
canonical hours of the day and the festivals of the ecclesiastical 
year. All the works and all the joys of life, whether dependent 
on religion, chivalry, trade or love, had their marked form. 

224 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

The task of art was to adorn all these concepts with charm 
and colour ; it is not desired for its own sake, but to decorate 
life with the splendour which it could bestow. Art was not 
yet a means, as it is now, to step out of the routine of every- 
day life to pass some moments in contemplation ; it had to be 
enjoyed as an element of life itself, as the expression of life's 
significance. Whether it served to sustain the flight of piety 
or to be an accompaniment to the delights of the world r it 
was not yet conceived as mere beauty. 

Consequently, we might venture the paradox that the Middle 
Ages knew only applied art. They wanted works of art only 
to make them subservient to some practical use. Their pur- 
pose and their meaning always preponderated over their purely 
aesthetic value. We should add that the love of art for its 
own sake did not originate in an awakening of the craving for 
beauty, but developed as a result of superabundant artistic 
production. In the treasuries of princes and nobles, objects of 
art accumulated so as to form collections. No longer serving 
for practical use, they were admired as articles of luxury and 
of curiosity ; thus the taste for art was born which the Renais- 
sance was to develop consciously. 

In the great works of art of the fifteenth century, notably 
in the altar-pieces and tombs, the nature of the subject was 
far more important than the question of beauty. Beauty was 
required because the subject was sacred or because the work 
was destined for some august purpose. This purpose is always 
of a more or less practical sort. The triptych served to in- 
tensify worship at the great festivals and to preserve the 
memory of the pious donors. The altar-piece of the Lamb 
by the brothers Van Eyck was opened at high festivals only. 
Religious pictures were not the only ones which served a prac- 
tical purpose. The magistrates of the towns ordered represen- 
tations of famous judgments to decorate the law courts, in 
order to solemnly exhort the judges to do their duty. Such 
are the judgment of Cambyses, by Gerard David, at Bruges ; 
that of the Emperor Otto, by Dirk Bouts, at Louvain ; and the 
lost pictures by Rogier van der Weyden, once at Brussels. 

The following example may serve to illustrate the importance 
attached to the subjects represented. In 1384 an interview 
took place at Lelinghem for the purpose of bringing about an 

Art and Life 225 

armistice between France and England. The duke of Berry 
had the naked walls of the old chapel, where the negotiating 
princes were to meet, covered with tapestry representing battles 
of antiquity. But John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, as soon 
as he saw them on entering, demanded that these pictures of 
war should be removed, because those who aspire to peace ought 
not to have scenes of combat and of destruction before their 
eyes. The tapestries were replaced by others representing the 
instruments of the Passion. 

The importance of the subject is closely connected with the 
artistic value in the case of portraits, which even now preserve 
some moral significance, as souvenirs or heirlooms, because the 
sentiments determining their use are as vital as ever. In the 
Middle Ages portraits were ordered for all sorts of purposes, 
but rarely, we may be certain, to obtain a masterpiece of art. 
Besides gratifying family affection and pride, the portrait 
served to enable betrothed persons to make acquaintance. The 
embassy sent to Portugal by Philip the Good in 1428, to ask 
for the hand of a princess, was accompanied by Jan van Eyck, 
with orders to paint her portrait. Court chroniclers liked to 
keep up the fiction that the royal fiance had fallen in love with 
the unknown princess on seeing her portrait for instance, 
Richard II of England when courting the little Isabelle of 
France, aged six. Sometimes it is even said that a selection 
was made by comparing portraits of different parties. When 
a wife had to be found for the young Charles VI, according to 
the Beligieux de Saint Denis, the choice lay between a Bavarian, 
an Austrian and a Lorraine duchess. A painter of talent was 
sent to the three courts ; three portraits were submitted to 
the king, who chose the young Isabella of Bavaria, judging her 
by far the most beautiful. 

Nowhere was the practical use of works of art weightier than 
in connection with tombs, by far the most important domain of 
the sculpture of the epoch. The wish to have an effigy of the 
deceased was so strong that it claimed satisfaction even before 
the construction of the tomb. At the burial of a man of rank, 
he is represented either by a living man or by an effigy. At 
the funeral service of Bertrand du Guesclin, at Saint Denis, 
" f our men-at-arms, armed cap-&-pie, mounted on four chargers, 
well appointed and caparisoned, representing the dead man 

226 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

as he was alive," entered the church. An account of the Polig- 
nacs of 1375 relating to a funeral ceremony shows the item : 
" Six shillings to Blaise for representing the dead knight at the 
funeral.** At royal interments a figure of leather, in state dress, 
represented the deceased. Great pains were taken to obtain 
a good likeness. Sometimes there is more than one of these 
effigies in the cortege. Visitors to Westminster Abbey know 
these figures. Perhaps the origin of making funeral masks, 
which began in France in the fifteenth century, is to be found 

As all art was more or less applied art, the distinction be- 
tween artists and craftsmen did not arise. The great masters 
in the service of the courts of Flanders, of Berry, or of Burgundy, 
each of them an artist of a very marked personality, did not 
confine themselves to painting pictures and to illuminating 
manuscripts ; they were not above colouring statues, painting 
shields and staining banners, or designing costumes for tour- 
naments and ceremonies. Thus Melchior Broederlam, court 
painter to the first duke of Burgundy, after holding the same 
position in the household of his father-in-law, the count of 
Flanders, puts the finfalnng touches to five sculptured chairs 
for the palace of the counts. He repairs and paints some 
mechanical apparatus at the castle of Hesdin, used for wetting 
the guests with water by way of a surprise. He does work on 
a carriage for the duchess. He directs the sumptuous decora- 
tion of the fleet which the duke had assembled at Sluys in 
1387 for an expedition against the English, which, however, 
did not take place. So, too, at wedding festivities and funeral 
ceremonies court painters were laid under contribution. Statues 
were painted in Jan van Eyck's workshop. He himself made 
a sort of map of the world for Duke Philip, on which the towns 
and the countries were painted with marvellous delicacy. Hugo 
van der Goes designed posters advertising a papal indulgence 
at Ghent* When the Archduke Maximilian was a prisoner at 
Bruges in 1488, the painter Gerard David was sent for, to 
decorate with pictures the wickets and shutters of his prison. 

Of all the handiwork of the masters of the fifteenth century, 
only a portion of a very special nature has survived : some 
tombs, some altar-pieces and portraits, numerous miniatures, 
also a certain number of objects of industrial art, comprising 

Art and Life 227 

vessels used in religious worship, sacerdotal dress and church 
furniture, but of secular work, except woodwork and chimneys, 
scarcely anything is left. How much more should we know of 
the art of the fifteenth century if we could compare the bath- 
ing and hunting pieces of Jan van Byck and Rogier van der 
Weyden with their piet&s and madonnas. It is not only pro- 
fane pictures we lack. There are whole departments of applied 
art of which we can hardly even form a conception. For this 
we lack the power to compare with the priestly vestments that 
have been preserved, the court costumes with their precious 
stones and tiny bells, that have perished : we lack the actual 
sight of the brilliantly decorated war-ships of which miniatures 
give us but a conventional and clumsy representation. Frois- 
sart, who, as a rule, is little susceptible to impressions of beauty, 
fairly exults in his descriptions of the splendours of a decked- 
out fleet, with its streamers, gay with blazonry, floating from 
the mast-heads, and some reaching to the water. The ship of 
Philippe le Hardi, decorated by Broederlam, was painted azure 
and gold ; large heraldic shields surrounded the pavilion of the 
castle ; the sails were studded with daisies and the initials of 
the duke and the duchess, and bore the motto II me tarde. 
The nobles vied with each other in lavishing money on the 
decoration of their vessels. Painters had a good time of it, 
says Froissart ; there were not enough of them to go round, 
and they got whatever prices they asked. According to him, 
many nobles had their ship-masts entirely covered with gold- 
leaf. Guy de Tr&nouille spent 2,000 on decorations. " And 
all this was paid by the poor people of France. . . ." 

These lost products of decorative art would have revealed to 
us, above all, extravagant sumptuousness. This trait is cha- 
racteristic of the epoch ; it is to be found equally in the works 
which we do possess, but as we study these only for the sake 
of their beauty, we pay little attention to this element of 
splendour and of pomp, which no longer interests us, but which 
was just what people of that time prized most. 

Burgundo-French culture of the expiring Middle Ages tends 
to oust beauty by magnificence. The art of this period exactly 
reflects this spirit. All that we cited above as characteristics 
of the mental processes of the epoch : the craving to give a 
definite form to every idea, and the overcrowding of the mind 

228 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

with figures and forms systematically arranged all this reap- 
pears in art. There, too, we find the tendency to leave nothing 
without form, without figure, without ornament. The flam- 
boyant style of architecture is like the postlude of an organist 
who cannot conclude. It decomposes all the formal elements 
endlessly ; it interlaces all the details ; there is not a line which 
has not its counter-line. The form develops at the expense of 
the idea, the ornament grows rank, hiding all the lines and 
all the surfaces. A horror vacui reigns, always a symptom of 
artistic decline. 

All this means that the border-line between pomp and beauty 
is being obliterated. Decoration and ornament no longer serve 
to heighten the natural beauty of a thing ; they are overgrow- 
ing it and threaten to stifle it. The further we get away from 
pure plastic art, the more this rankness of formal decorative 
motifs is accentuated. This may be very clearly observed in 
sculpture. In the creation of isolated figures this overgrowth 
of forms does not occur : the statues of Moses' well and the 
" plourants " of the tombs are as sober as the figures of Dona- 
tello. But where sculpture is performing a decorative function 
we at once find the overgrowth. In looking at the tabernacle 
of Dijon, every one will be struck by a lack of harmony between 
the sculpture of Jacques de Baerze and the painting of Broeder- 
lam. The picture, painted for its own sake, is simple and 
sober ; the reliefs, on the contrary, in which the purpose is 
decorative, are complicated and overloaded. We notice the 
same contrast between painting and tapestry. Textile art, even 
when representing scenes and figures, remains limited by its 
technique to decorative conception and expression ; hence we 
find the same craving for excessive ornamentation. 

In the art of costume, the essential qualities of pure art, that 
is to say, measure and harmony, vanish altogether, because 
splendour and adornment are the sole objects aimed at. Pride 
and vanity introduce a sensual element incompatible with 
pure art. No epoch ever witnessed such extravagance of 
fashion as that extending from 1350 to 1480. Here we can 
observe the unhampered expansion of the aesthetic sense of the 
time. All the forms and dimensions of dress are ridiculously 
exaggerated. The female head-dress assumes the conical shape 
of the " hennin," a form evolved from the little coif, keeping 

Art and Life 229 

the hair under the kerchief. High and bombed foreheads are 
in fashion, with the temples shaved. Low-necked dresses make 
their appearance. The male dress had features still more 
bizarre the immoderate length of the points of the shoes, 
called " poulaines," which the knights at Nicopolis had to cut 
off, to enable them to flee ; the laced waists ; the balloon- 
shaped sleeves standing up at the shoulders ; the too long 
" houppelandes " and the too short doublets ; the cylindrical 
or pointed bonnets ; the hoods draped about the head in the 
form of a cock's comb or a flaming fire. A state costume was 
ornamented by hundreds of precious stones. 

The taste for unbridled luxury culminated in the court fetes. 
Every one has read the descriptions of the Burgundian festivities 
at Lille in 1454, at which the guests took the oath to undertake 
the crusade, and at Bruges in 1468, on the occasion of the 
marriage of Charles the Bold with Margaret of York. It is 
hard to imagine a more absolute contrast than that of these 
barbarous manifestations of arrogant pomp and the pictures of 
the brothers Van Eyck, Dirk Bouts and Bogier van der Weyden, 
with their sweet and tranquil serenity. Nothing could be more 
insipid and ugly than the " entremets," consisting of gigantic 
pies enclosing complete orchestras, full-rigged vessels, castles, 
monkeys and whales, giants and dwarfs, and all the boring 
absurdities of allegory. We find it difficult to regard these 
entertainments as something more than exhibitions of almost 
incredible bad taste. 

Yet we must not exaggerate the distance separating the two 
extreme forms of the art of the fifteenth century. In the first 
place, it is important to realize the function of festivals in the 
society of that time. They still preserved something of the 
meaning they have in primitive societies, that of the supreme 
expression of their culture, the highest mode of a collective 
enjoyment and an assertion of solidarity. At epochs of great 
renovations of society, like that of the French Revolution, we 
see that festivals resume this social and aesthetic function. 

Modern man is free, when he pleases, to seek his favourite 
distractions individually, in books, music, art or nature. On 
the other hand, at a time when the higher pleasures were 
neither numerous nor accessible to all, people felt the need 
of such collective rejoicings as festivals. The more crushing 

230 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

the misery of daily life, the stronger the stimulants that -will 
be needed to produce that intoxication with beauty and delight 
without which life would be unbearable. The fifteenth century, 
profoundly pessimistic, a prey to continual depression, could 
not forgo the emphatic affirmation of the beauty of life, afforded 
by these splendid and solemn collective rejoicings. Books were 
expensive, the country was unsafe, art was rare ; the individual 
lacked the means of distraction. All literary, musical and 
artistic enjoyment was more or less closely connected with 

Now festivals, in so far as they are an element of culture, 
require other things than mere gaiety. Neither the elementary 
pleasures of gaming, drinking and love, nor luxury and pomp 
as such, are able to give them a framework. The festival re- 
quires style. If those of modern times have lost their cultural 
value, it is because they have lost style. In the Middle Ages 
the religious festival, because of its high qualities of style 
founded on the liturgy itself, for a long time dominated all 
the forms of collective cheerfulness. The popular festival, 
which had its own elements of beauty in song and dance, was 
linked up with those of the Church. It is towards the fifteenth 
century that an independent form of civil festival with a style 
of its own disengages itself from the ecclesiastical one. The 
" rhetoricians " of Northern France and the Netherlands are 
the representatives of this evolution. Till then only princely 
courts had been able to equip secular festivals with form and 
style, thanks to the resources of their wealth and the social 
conception of courtesy. 

Nevertheless, the style of the courtly festival could not but 
remain greatly inferior to that of religious festivals. In the 
latter worship and rejoicing in common were always the ex- 
pression of a sublime thought, which lent them a grace and 
dignity that even the excesses of their frequently burlesque 
details could not affect. On the other hand, the ideas glorified 
by the secular feast were nothing more than those of chivalry 
and of courtly love. The ritual of chivalry, no doubt, was rich 
enough to give these festivities a venerable and solemn style. 
There were the accolade, the vows, the chapters of the orders, 
the rules of the tournaments, the formalities of homage, service 
and precedence, all the dignified proceedings of kings-at-arms 

Art and Life 231 

and heralds, all the brightness of blazonry and armour. But 
this did not suffice to satisfy all aspirations. The court fetes 
were expected to visualize in its entirety the dream of the 
heroic life. And here style failed. For in the fifteenth century 
the apparatus of chivalrous fancy was no longer anything but 
vain convention and mere literature. 

The staging of the amazing festivities of Lille or of Bruges 
is, so to say, applied literature. The ponderousness of material 
representation destroyed the last remainder of charm which 
literature with the lightness of its airy reveries had hitherto 
preserved. The unfaltering seriousness with which these mon- 
strous pageants were organized is truly Burgundian. The ducal 
court seems to have lost, by its contact with the North, some 
qualities of the French spirit. For the preparation of the 
banquet of Lille, which was to crown and conclude a series of 
banquets which the nobles provided, each in his turn, vying 
with each other in magnificence, Philip the Good appointed 
a committee, presided over by a knight of the Golden Fleece, 
Jean de Lannoy. The most trusted counsellors of the duke 
Antoine de Croy, the chancellor Nicolas Eolin himself 
were frequently present at the sessions of the committee, of 
which Olivier de la Marche was a member. When the latter 
in his memoirs comes to this chapter, a feeling of awe still comes 
over him. "Because great and honourable achievements 
deserve a lasting renown and perpetual remembrance . .," 
thus he begins the narrative of these memorable things. It 
is needless to reprint it here, as it belongs to the loci communes 
of historical literature. 

Even from across the sea people came to view the gorgeous 
spectacle. Besides the guests, a great number of noble specta- 
tors were present at the feast, disguised for the most part* 
First every one walked about to admire the fixed show-pieces ; 
later came the * c entremets," that is to say , representations of 
" personages " and tableaux vivants. Olivier himself played 
the important part of Holy Church, making his appearance in 
a tower on the back of an elephant, led by a gigantic Turk. 
The tables were loaded with the most extravagant decorations- 
There were a rigged and ornamented carack, a meadow sur- 
rounded by trees with a fountain, rocks and a statue of Saint 
Andrew, the castle of Lusignan with the fairy M61usine, a bird- 

232 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

shooting scene near a windmill, a wood in which wild beasts 
walked about, and, lastly, a church with an organ and singers, 
whose songs alternated with the music of the orchestra of 
twenty-eight persons, which was placed in a pie. 

The problem for us is to determine the quality of taste or 
bad taste to which all this bears witness. It goes without say- 
ing that the mythological and allegorical tenor of these " entre- 
mets " cannot interest us. But what was the artistic execution 
worth ? What people looked for most was extravagance and 
huge dimensions. The tower of Gorcum represented on the 
table of the banquet of Bruges in 1468 was 46 feet high. La 
Marche says of a whale, which also figured there : " And certainly 
this was a very fine entremets, for there were more than forty 
persons in it." People were also much attracted by mechanical 
marvels : living birds flying from the mouth of a dragon con- 
quered by Hercules, and such-like curiosities, in which, to us, 
any idea of art is altogether lacking. The comic element was 
of a very low class : boars blow the trumpet in the tower of 
Gorcum ; elsewhere goats sing a motet, wolves play the flute, 
four large donkeys appear as singers and all this in honour of 
Charles the Bold, who was a good musician. 

I would not, however, suggest that there may not have been 
many an artistic masterpiece among these pretentious and ridi- 
culous curiosities. Let us not forget that the men who enjoyed 
these Gargantuan decorations were the patrons of the brothers 
Van Eyck and of Rogier van der Weyden the duke himself, 
Bolin, the donor of the altars of Beaune and of Autun, Jean 
Chevrot, who commissioned Rogier to paint " The Seven Sacra- 
ments/' now at Antwerp. What is more, it was the painters 
themselves who designed these show-pieces. If the records do 
not mention Jan van Eyck or Rogier as having contributed 
to similar festivities, they do give the names of the two Mar- 
mions and Jacques Daret. For the fete of 1468 the services of 
the whole corporation of painters were requisitioned ; they were 
summoned in haste from Ghent, Brussels, Louvain, Tirlemont, 
Mons, Quesnoy, Valenciennes, Douai, Cambray, Arras, Lille, 
Ypres, Courtray, Oudenarde, to work at Bruges. It is impos- 
sible to believe that their handiwork was ugly. The thirty 
vessels decorated with the arms of the duke's domains, the 
sixty images of women dressed in the costume of their country, 

Art and Life 233 

" carrying fruit in baskets and birds in cages. . . ." I should 
be ready to give more than one mediocre church-picture to see 

We may go further, at the risk of being thought paradoxical, 
and affirm that we have to take this art of show-pieces, which 
has disappeared without leaving a trace, into account, if we 
would thoroughly understand the art of Glaus Sluter. 

Of all the forms of art, sepulchral sculpture is most fettered 
by the exigencies of its purpose. The sculptors charged with 
making the ducal tombs were not left free to create beautiful 
things ; they had to exalt the glory of the deceased prince. 
The painter can always give free rein to his imagination ; he 
is never obliged to limit himself strictly to commissioned work* 
It is probable, on the other hand, that the sculptor of this 
epoch rarely worked except on specified tasks. The motifs of 
his art, moreover, are limited in number and fixed by a rigorous 
tradition. It is true that painters and sculptors are equally 
servants of the ducal household ; Jan van Byck, as well as 
Sluter and his nephew, Glaus de Werve, bore the title of 
" varlet de chambre," but for the two latter, the service is far 
more real than for the painters. The two great Dutchmen 
whom the irresistible attraction of French art life drew for 
good from their native country were completely monopolized 
by the duke of Burgundy. Glaus Sluter inhabited a house 
at Dijon which the duke placed at his disposal ; there he 
lived as a gentleman, but at the same time as a servant of 
the court. His nephew and successor, Glaus de Werve, is 
the tragic type of an artist in the service of princes : kept 
back at Dijon year after year, to finish the tomb of Jean sans 
Peur, for which the financial means were never forthcoming, 
he saw his artistic career, so brilliantly begun, ruined by fruit- 
less waiting. 

Thus the art of the sculptor at this epoch is a servile art. 
On the other hand, sculpture is generally little influenced by 
the taste of an epoch, because its means, its material and its 
subjects are limited and little subject to change. When a great 
sculptor appears, he creates everywhere and always that opti- 
mum of purity and simplicity which we call classic. The 
human form and its drapery are susceptible of few variations. 
The masterpieces of carving of the different ages are very much 

234 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

alike, and, for us, Sluter's work shares this eternal identity of 

Nevertheless, on examining it more closely, we notice that 
especially the art of Sluter bears the marks of being influenced 
by the taste of the time (not to call it Burgundian taste) as far 
as the nature of sculpture permits. Sluter's works have not 
been preserved as they were, and as the master intended them 
to be. We must picture the well of Moses as it was in 1418, 
when the papal legate granted an indulgence to whosoever 
should come to visit it in a pious spirit. It must be remembered 
that the well is but a fragment, a part of a calvary with which 
the first duke of Burgundy of the house of Valois intended to 
crown the well of his Carthusian monastery of Champmol. The 
principal part, that is to say, the crucified Christ with the 
Virgin, Saint John and Mary Magdalen, had almost completely 
disappeared before the French Revolution. There remains only 
the pedestal, surrounded by the statues of the six prophets who 
predicted the death of the Saviour, with a cornice supported 
by angels. The whole composition is in the highest degree a 
representation, " une ceuvre parlante," a show, closely related 
as such to the tableaux vivants or the " personnages " of the 
princely entries and of the banquets. There, too, the subjects 
were borrowed, for choice, from the prophecies relating to the 
coming of Christ. Like these " personnages," the figures sur- 
rounding the well hold scrolls containing the text of their pre- 
dictions. It rarely happens in sculpture that the written word 
is of such importance. We can only fully realize the marvel- 
lous art here displayed in hearing these sacred and solemn 
words. Immolabit eum universa multitude* filiorum Israel ad 
vesperum ; this is Moses' sentence. Foderunt manus meas et 
pedes meos, dinumeraverunt omnia ossa mea ; this is David's. 
Jeremiah says : O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, atienditeet 
videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus. 1 Isaiah, Daniel, Zachariah, 
all announce the death of the Lord. It is like a threnody of 
six voices rising up to the cross. Now in this feature lies the 

1 Exodus zii. 6 : " And the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel 
shall kill it in the evening." Psalm xxii. 16, 17 : " They pierced My hands 
and My feet. They told all My bones." Lamentations of Jeremiah i. 12 : 
" AH ye that pass by, behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My 

Art and Life 235 

essence of the work. The gestures of the hands by which the 
attention is directed to the texts are so emphatic, and there is 
an expression of such poignant grief on the faces, that the whole 
is in some danger of losing the ataraxia which marks great 
sculpture. It appeals too directly to the spectator. Compared 
with the figures of Michelangelo, those of Sluter are too 
expressive, too personal. If more had come down to us of 
the calvary supported by the prophets than the head and the 
torso of Christ, of a stark majesty, this expressive character 
would be still more evident. 

The spectacular character of the calvary of Champmol also 
came into prominence in the luxurious decorations of the work. 
We must picture it in all its polychrome splendour, for Jean 
Malouel, the artist, and Herman of Cologne, the gilder, were not 
sparing of vivid colours and brilliant effects. The pedestals 
were green, the mantles of the prophets were gilt, their tunics 
red and azure with golden stars. Isaiah, the gloomiest of all, 
wore a dress of gold-cloth. The open spaces were filled with 
golden suns and initials. The pride of blazonry displayed itself 
not only round the columns below the figures, but on the cross 
itself, which was entirely gilt. The extremities of the arms of 
the cross, shaped like capitals, bore the coats of arms of Bur- 
gundy and Flanders. Can one ask for better proof of the 
spirit in which the duke conceived this great monument of his 
piety ? As a crowning " bizarrerie," a pair of spectacles of 
gilded brass, the work of Hannequin de Hacht, were placed on 
Jeremiah's nose. 

This serfdom of a great art controlled by the will of a princely 
patron is tragic, but it is at the same time exalted by the 
heroic efforts of the great sculptor to shake off his shackles. 
The figures of the " plourants " around the sarcophagus had 
for a long time been an obligatory motif in Burgundian sepul- 
chral art. These weeping figures were not meant to express 
grief in general ; the sculptor was bound to give a faithful 
representation of the funeral cortege with the dignitaries present 
at the burial. But the genius of Sluter and his pupils succeeded 
in transforming this motif into the most profound expression 
of mourning known in art, a funeral marfch in stone. 

Is it so certain, after all, that we are right iythfafring of th 
artist as struggling with the lack of taste and: refinement of hft 

236 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

patron ? It is quite possible that Sluter himself considered 
Jeremiah's spectacles a very happy find. In the men of that 
epoch artistic taste was still blended with the passion for what 
is rare or brilliant. In their simplicity they coiild enjoy the 
bizarre as if it were beauty. Objects of pure art and articles 
of luxury and curiosity were equally admired. Long after the 
Middle Ages the collections of princes contained works of art 
mixed up indiscriminately with knick-knacks made of shells 
and of hair, wax statues of celebrated dwarfs and such-like 
articles. At the castle of Hesdin, where side by side with art 
treasures the " engins d'esbatement " (contrivances for amuse- 
ment) usual in princely pleasure-grounds were found in abun- 
dance, Caxton saw a room ornamented with pictures represent- 
ing the history of Jason, the hero of the Golden Fleece. The 
artist is unknown, but was probably a distinguished master. 
To heighten the effect, a " machinerie " was annexed which 
could imitate lightning, thunder, snow and rain, in memory of 
the magic arts of Medea. 

In the shows at the entries of princes inventive fancy stuck 
at nothing. When Isabella of Bavaria made her entry into 
Paris in 1389, there was a white deer with gilt antlers, and a 
wreath round its neck, stretched out on a " lit de justice," 
moving its eyes, antlers, feet, and at last raising a sword. At 
the moment when the queen crossed the bridge to the left of 
Notre Dame, an angel descended " by means of well-constructed 
engines " from one of the towers, passed through an opening 
of the hangings of blue taffeta with golden fleurs-de-lis which 
covered the bridge, and put a crown on her head. Then the 
angel " was pulled up again as if he had returned to heaven 
of his own accord." Philip the Good and Charles VIII were 
treated to similar descents. Lefevre de Saint Eemy greatly 
admired the spectacle of four trumpeters and twelve nobles on 
artificial horses, " sallying forth and caracoling in such a way 
that it was a fine thing to see." 

Time the destroyer has made it easy for us to separate pure 
art from all these gewgaws and bizarre trappings, which have 
completely disappeared. This separation which our aesthetic 
sense insists upon, did not exist for the men of that time. 
Their artistic life was still enclosed within the forms of social 
life. Art was subservient to life. Its social function was to 

Art and Life 237 

enhance the importance of a chapel, a donor, a patron, or a 
festival, but never that of the artist. Fully to realize its 
position and scope in this respect is now hardly possible. Too 
little of the material surroundings in which art was placed, 
and too few of the works of art themselves, have come down to 
us. Hence the priceless value of the few works by which pri- 
vate life, outside courts and outside the Church, is revealed to 
us. In this respect no painting can compare with the portrait 
of Jean Arnolfim and of his wife, by Jan van Eyck, in the 
National Gallery. The master, who, for once, need not portray 
the majesty of divine beings nor minister to aristocratic pride, 
here freely followed his own inspiration : it was his friends 
whom he was painting on the occasion of their marriage. Is 
it really the merchant of Lucca, Jean Arnoulphin, as he was 
called in Flanders, who is represented ? Jan van Eyck painted 
this face twice (the other portrait is at Berlin) ; we can hardly 
imagine a less Italian-looking physiognomy, but the descrip- 
tion of the picture in the inventory of Margaret of Austria, 
" Hernoul le fin with his wife in a chamber," leaves little room 
for doubt. However this may be, the persons represented were 
friends of Van Eyck ; he himself witnesses to it by the ingenious 
and delicate way in which he signs his work, by an inscription 
over the mirror : Johannes de Eyck fuit hie, 1434. 

" Jan van Eyck was here." Only a moment ago, one might 
think. The sound of his voice still seems to linger in the silence 
of this room. All that tenderness and profound peace, which 
only Rembrandt was to recapture, emanate from this picture. 
That serene twilight hour of an age, which we seemed to know 
and yet sought in vain in so many of the manifestations of its 
spirit, suddenly reveals itself here. And here at last this spirit 
proves itself happy, simple, noble and pure, in tune with the 
lofty church music and the touching folk-songs of the time. 

So perhaps we imagine a Jan van Eyck escaping from the 
noisy gaiety and brutal passions of court life, a Jan van Eyck 
of the simple heart, a dreamer. It does not require a great 
effort of fancy to call up the " varlet de chambre " of the duke, 
serving the great lords against his will, suffering all the disgust 
of a great artist obliged to belie his sublime ideal of art by 
contributing to the mechanical devices of a festival. 

Nothing, however, justifies us in forming such a conception 

238 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

of Ms personality. TMs art, which we admire, bloomed in the 
atmosphere of that aristocratic life, which repels us. The little 
we know of the lives of fifteenth-century painters shows them 
to us as men of the world and courtiers. The duke of Berry 
was on good terms with his artists. Froissart saw hi in 
familiar conversation with Andr6 Beauneveu in his marvellous 
castle of Mehun sur Yevre. The three brothers of Limburg, 
the great illuminators, come to offer the duke, as a New Year's 
present, a surprise in the shape of a new illuminated manuscript, 
which turned out to be " a dummy book, made of a block of 
white wood painted to look like a book, in which there were 
no leaves and nothing was written." Jan van Eyck, without 
doubt, moved constantly in court circles. The secret diplo- 
matic missions entrusted to him by the duke required a man 
of the world. He passed, moreover, for a man of letters, 
reading classic authors and studying geometry. Did he not, 
by an innocent whim, disguise in Greek letters his modest 
device, Als ik kan (As I can) ? 

The intellectual and moral life of the fifteenth century seems 
to us to be divided into two clearly separated spheres. On the 
one hand, the civilization of the court, the nobility and the rich 
middle classes : ambitious, proud and grasping, passionate and 
luxurious. On the other hand, the tranquil sphere of the 
" devotio modepia," of the Imitation of Christ, of Buysbroeck 
and of Saint Colette. One would like to place the peaceful 
and mystic art of the brothers Van Eyck in the second of these 
spheres, but it belongs rather to the other. Devout circles 
were hardly in touch with the great art that flourished at this 
time. In music they disapproved of counterpoint, and even 
of organs. The rule of Windesheim forbade the embellish- 
ment of the singing by modulations, and Thomas & Kempis 
said : " If you cannot sing like the nightingale" and the lark, 
then sing like the crows and the frogs, which sing as God meant 
them to." The music of Dufay, Busnois, Okeghem, developed 
in the chapels of the courts. As to painting, the writers of 
the "devotio moderna" do not speak of it; it was outside 
their range of thought. They wanted their books in a simple 
form and without illuminations. They would probably have 
regarded the altar-piece of the Lamb as a mere work of pride, 
and actually did so regard the tower of Utrecht Cathedral. 


[See tese 270. 

Art and Life 239 

The great artists generally worked for other circles than 
those of the devout townspeople. The art of the brothers Van 
Eyck and of their followers, though it sprang up in municipal 
surroundings and was fostered by town circles, cannot be called 
a bourgeois art. The court and the nobility exercised too power- 
ful an attraction. Only the patronage of princes permitted 
the art of miniature to raise itself to the degree of artistic 
refinement which characterizes the work of the brothers of 
limburg and the artists of the Hours of Turin. The employers 
of the great painters were, besides the princes themselves, the 
great lords, temporal or spiritual, and the great upstarts with 
whom the Burgundian epoch abounds, all gravitating towards 
the court. The ground for the difference between Franco- 
Flemish and Dutch art in this period lies in the fact that the 
latter still preserves some traits of simple soberness recalling 
the little out-of-the-way towns, such as Haarlem, where it was 
born. And even Dirk Bouts went south and painted at Lou- 
vain and Brussels. 

Among the patrons of fifteenth-century art may be named 
Jean Chevrot, bishop of Tournay, whom a scutcheon designates 
as the donor of that work of touching and fervent piety, now 
at Antwerp, " The Seven Sacraments." Chevrot is the type of 
the court prelate ; as a trusted counsellor of the duke, he was 
full of zeal for the affairs of the Golden Fleece and for the 
crusade. Another type of donor is represented by Pierre 
Bladelin, whose austere face is seen on the Middelburg altar- 
piece, now at Berlin. He was the great capitalist of those times ; 
from the post of receiver of Bruges, his native town, he rose to 
be paymaster-general of the duke. He introduced control and 
economy into the ducal finances. He was appointed treasurer 
of the Golden Fleece and knighted. He was sent to England 
to ransom Charles of Orleans. The duke wished to charge him 
with the administration of the finances of the expedition against 
the Turks. He employed his wealth, which was the wonder of 
his contemporaries, on works of embankment and the founding 
of a new town in Flanders, to which he gave the name of 
Middelburg, after the town in Zeeland of that name. 

Other notable donors Judocus Vydt, the canon Van de 
Paele, the Croys, the Lannoys belonged to the very rich, noble 
or burgher, ancient or new, of their time. Most famous of all 

240 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

is Nicolas Rolin, the chancellor, " sprung from little people," 
jurist, financier, diplomat. The great treaties of the dukes, 
from 1419 to 1435, are his work. " He used to govern every- 
thing quite alone and manage and bear the burden of all busi- 
ness by himself, be it of war, be it of peace, be it of matters of 
finance." By methods which were not above suspicion he 
amassed enormous wealth, which he spent on all sorts of pious 
and charitable foundations. Nevertheless, people spoke with 
hatred of his avarice and pride, and had no faith in the devo- 
tional feelings which inspired his pious works. This man 
whom we see in the Louvre kneeling so devoutly in the picture 
painted for Mm by Jan van Eyck for Autun, his native town, 
and again in that by Rogier van der Weyden, destined for 
his hospital of Beaune, passed for a mind only set on earthly 
things. " He always harvested on earth," says Ohastellain, " as 
though the earth was to be his abode for ever, in which his 
understanding erred and his prudence abased him, when he 
would not set bounds to that, of which his great age showed 
hi the near end." This is corroborated by Jacques du 
Clercq in these terms : " The aforesaid chancellor was reputed 
one of the wise men of the kingdom, to speak temporally ; for 
as to spiritual matters, I shall be silent." 

Are we, then, to look for a hypocritical expression in the face 
of the donor of La Vierge au Chancelier Rolin ? Let us re- 
member, before condemning him, the riddle presented by the 
religious personality of so many other men of his time, who 
also combined rigid piety with excesses of pride, of avarice and 
of lust. The depths of these natures of a past age are not 
easily sounded. 

In the piety interpreted by the art of the fifteenth century, 
the extremes of mysticism and of gross matojialism meet. The 
faith pictured here is so direct that no earthly figure is too 
sensual or too heavy to express it. Van Eyck may drape his 
angels and divine personages with ponderous and stiff brocades, 
glittering with gold and precious stones ; to call up the celestial 
sphere he has no need of the flowing garments and sprawling 
limbs of the baroque style. 

Yet neither this art nor this faith is primitive. By using 
the term primitive to designate the masters of the fifteenth 
century we run the risk of a misunderstanding. They are 

Art and Life 241 

primitive in a purely chronological sense, in so far as, for us, 
they are the first to come, and no older painting is known to 
us. But if to this designation we attach the meaning of a 
primitive spirit, we are egregiously mistaken. For the spirit 
which this art denotes is the same which we pointed out in 
religious life : a spirit rather decadent than primitive, a spirit 
involving the utmost elaboration, and even decomposition, of 
religious thought through the imagination. 

In very early times the sacred figures had been seen as end- 
lessly remote : awful and rigid. Then, from the twelfth century 
downward, the mysticism of Saint Bernard introduced a 
pathetic element into religion, which contained immense possi- 
bilities of growth. In the rapture of a new and overflowing 
piety people tried to share the sufferings of Christ by the aid 
of the imagination. They were no longer satisfied with the 
stark and motionless figures, Infinitely distant, which roman- 
esque art had given to Christ and His Mother. All the forms 
and colours which imagination drew from mundane reality 
were now lavished by it upon the celestial beings. Once let 
loose, pious fancy invaded the whole domain of faith and gave 
a minutely elaborate shape to every holy thing. 

At first verbal expression had been in advance of pictorial 
and plastic art. Sculpture was still adhering to the formal 
rigidity of preceding ages, when literature undertook to des- 
cribe all the details, both physical and mental, of the drama 
of the cross. A sort of pathetic naturalism arose, for which 
the Meditationes vitae Christi, early attributed to Saint Bona- 
ventura, supplied the model. The nativity, the childhood, the 
descent from the cross, each received a fixed form, a vivid 
colouring. How Joseph of Arimathea mounted the ladder, 
how he had to press the hand of the Lord in order to draw out 
the nail, was all described in minute detail. 

In the meantime, towards the end of the fourteenth century, 
pictorial technique had made so much progress that it more 
than overtook literature in the art of rendering these details. 
The naive, and at the same time refined, naturalism of the 
brothers Van Eyck was a new form of pictorial expression ; 
but viewed from the standpoint of culture in general, it was 
but another manifestation of the crystallizing tendency of 
thought which we noticed in aU the aspects of the mentality 


242 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

of the declining Middle Ages. Instead of heralding the advent 
of the Benaissance, as is generally assumed, this naturalism is 
rather one of the ultimate forms of development of the medieval 
mind. The craving to turn every sacred idea into precise 
images, to give it a distinct and clearly outlined form, such as 
we observed in Gerson, in the Roman de la Rose, in Denis the 
Carthusian, controlled art, as it controlled popular beliefs 
and theology. The art of the brothers Van Eyck closes a 



[See page 240. 


The study of the art of an epoch remains incomplete unless 
we try to ascertain also how this art was appreciated by con- 
temporaries : what they admired in it, and by what standards 
they gauged beauty. Now, there are few subjects about which 
tradition is so defective as the aesthetic sentiment of past 
ages. The faculty and the need of expressing in words the 
sentiment of beauty have only been developed in recent 
times. What sort of admiration for the art of their time was 
felt by the men of the fifteenth century ? Speaking generally, 
we may assert that two things impressed them especially : 
first, the dignity and sanctity of the subject ; next, the astonish- 
ing mastery, the perfectly natural rendering of all the details. 
Thus we find, on the one hand, an appreciation which is rather 
religious than artistic ; on the other hand, a naive wonder, 
hardly entitled to rank as artistic emotion. The first to leave 
us critical observations on the painting of the brothers Van 
Eyck and Eogier van der Weyden was a Genoese man of 
letters, of the middle of the fifteenth century, Bartolomeo 
Fazio. Most of the pictures he speaks of are lost. He praises 
the beautiful and chaste figure of a Virgin, the hair of the 
archangel Gabriel, " surpassing real hair," the holy austerity 
expressed by the ascetic face of Saint John the Baptist, and 
a Saint Jerome who " seems to be alive." He admires the 
perspective of the cell of Jerome, a ray of light falling through 
a fissure, drops of sweat on the body of a woman in a bath, 
an image reflected by a mirror, a burning lamp, a landscape 
with mountains, woods, villages, castles, human figures, the 
distant horizon, and, once again, the mirror. The terms he 
uses to vent his enthusiasm betray merely a naive curiosity, 
losing itself in the unlimited wealth of details, without arriv- 
ing at a judgment on the beauty of the whole. Such is the 


244 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

appreciation of a medieval work by a mind which is still 

A century later, after the triumph of the Renaissance, it is 
just this minuteness in the execution of details which is con- 
demned as the fundamental fault of Flemish art. According 
to the Portuguese artist, Francesco de Holanda, Michelangelo 
spoke about it as follows : 

"Flemish painting pleases all the devout better than 
Italian. The latter evokes no tears, the former makes them 
weep copiously. This is not a result of the merits of this 
art ; the only cause is the extreme sensibility of the devout 
spectators. The Flemish pictures please women, especially 
the old and very young ones, and also monks and nuns, and 
lastly men of the world who are not capable of understanding 
true harmony. In Flanders they paint, before all things, to 
render exactly and deceptively the outward appearance of 
things. The painters choose, by preference, subjects provok- 
ing transports of piety, like the figures of saints or of prophets. 
But most of the time they paint what are called landscapes 
with plenty of figures. Though the eye is agreeably impressed, 
these pictures have neither art nor reason ; neither symmetry 
nor proportion ; neither choice of values nor grandeur. In 
short, this art is without power and without distinction ; 
it aims at rendering minutely maixy things at the same time, 
of which a single one would have sufficed to call forth a man's 
whole application." 

It was the medieval spirit itself which Michelangelo judged 
here. Those whom he called the devout are people of the 
medieval spirit. For him the ancient beauty has become a 
thing for the small and the feeble. Not all his contemporaries 
thought as he did. In the North many continued to venerate 
the art of their ancestors, among them Diirer and Quentin 
Metsys, and Jan Scorel, who is said to have kissed the altar- 
piece of the Lamb. But Michelangelo here truly represents 
the Renaissance as opposed to the Middle Ages. What he 
condemns in Flemish art are exactly the essential traits of 
the declining Middle Ages : the violent sentimentality, the 
tendency to see each thing as an independent entity, to get 
lost in the multiplicity of concepts. To this the spirit of the 
Renaissance is opposed, and, as always happens, only realizes 

The ^Esthetic Sentiment 245 

its new conception of art and of life by temporally misjudging 
the beauties and the truths of the preceding age. 

The consciousness of aesthetic pleasure and its expression 
are of tardy growth. A fifteenth-century scholar lite Fazio, 
trying to vent his artistic admiration, does not get beyond 
the language of commonplace wonder. The very notion of 
artistic beauty is still wanting. The aesthetic sensation 
caused by the contemplation of art is lost always and at once 
either in pious emotion or a vague sense of well-being. 

Denis the Carthusian wrote a treatise, De venustate mundi 
et pulcfwitudine Dei. The difference of the two words of the 
title at once indicates his point of view : true beauty only 
appertains to God, the world can only be venustus pretty. 
All the beauties of creation, he says, are but brooks flowing 
from the source of supreme beauty. A creature may be 
called beautiful in so far as it shares in the beauty of the 
divine nature, and thereby attains some measure of harmony 
with it. As a starting-point of aesthetics, this is large and 
sublime, and might well serve as a basis for the analysis of 
all particular manifestations of beauty. Denis did not invent 
Ms fundamental idea : he founds himself on Saint Augustine 
and the pseudo-Areopagite, on Hugues de Saint Victor and 
Alexandre de Hales. But as soon as he tries really to analyse 
beauty, the deficiency of observation and expression is appa- 
rent. He borrows even his examples of earthly beauty from 
his predecessors, especially from Hugues and Richard de Saint 
Victor : a leaf, the troubled sea with its changing hues, etc. 
His analysis is very superficial. Herbs are beautiful, because 
they are green; precious stones, because they sparkle; thehuman 
body, the dromedary and the camel, because they are appro- 
priate to their purpose ; the earth, because it is long and 
large ; the heavenly bodies, because they are round and light. 
Mountains are admirable for their enormous dimensions, 
rivers for the length of their course, fields and woods for their 
vast surface, the earth for its immeasurable mass. 

Medieval theory reduced the idea of beauty to that of per- 
fection, proportion and splendour. Three things, says Saint 
Thomas, are required for beauty: first, integrity or perfec- 
tion, because what is incomplete is ugly on that account ; next, 
true proportion or consonance; lastly, brightness, because 

246 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

we call beautiful whatever has a brilliant colour. Denis 
the Carthusian tries to apply these standards, but he hardly 
succeeds : applied aesthetics are seldom successful. When the 
idea of beauty is so highly intellectualized, it is not surprising 
that the mind passes at once from earthly beauty to that 
of the angels and of the empyrean, or to that of abstract 
conceptions. There was no place, in this system, for the 
notion of artistic beauty, not even in connection with music, 
the effects of which, one would have supposed, could not fail 
to suggest the idea of beauty of a specific character. 

Musical sensation was immediately absorbed in religious 
feeling. It would never have occurred to Denis that he might 
admire in music or painting any other beauty than that of 
holy things themselves. 

One day, on entering the church of Saint John at Bois-le- 
Duc, while the organ was playing, he was instantly trans- 
ported by the melody into a prolonged ecstasy. 

Denis was one of those who objected to introducing the 
new polyphonous music into the church. Breaking the voice 
(fractio vocis), he says, seems to be the sign of a broken 
soul ; it is like curled hair in a man or plaited garments in 
a woman : vanity, and nothing else. He does not mean 
that there are not devout people whom melody stimulates 
into contemplation, therefore the Church is right in tolerating 
organs ; but he disapproves of artistic musiq which only 
serves to charm those who hear it, and especially to amuse 
the women. Certain people who practised singing in melodic 
parts assured Mm they experienced a certain pleasurable 
pride, and even a sort of lasciviousness of trhe heart (lascivia 
animi). In other words, to describe the exact nature of 
musical emotion the only terms he can find are those denoting 
dangerous sins. 

From the earlier Middle Ages onward many treatises on 
the aesthetics of music were written, but these treatises, con- 
structed according to the musical theories of antiquity, which 
were no longer understood, teach us little about the way in 
which jfche men of the Middle Ages really enjoyed music. In 
analysing musical beauty, fifteenth-century writers do not get 
beyond the vagueness and naiveness which also characterized 
their admiration of painting. Just as, in giving expression 

The ^Esthetic Sentiment 247 

to the latter, they only praise the lofty character of the treat- 
ment and the perfect rendering of nature, so in music only 
sacred dignity and imitative ingenuity are appreciated. To the 
medieval spirit, musical emotion quite naturally took the form 
of an echo of celestial joy. " For music " says the honest 
rhetorician Molinet, a great lover of music, like Charles the 
Bold " is the resonance of the heavens, the voice of the angels, 
the joy of paradise, the hope of the air, the organ of the 
Church, the song of the little birds, the recreation of all gloomy 
and despairing hearts, the persecution and driving away of 
the devils." The ecstatic character of musical emotion, of 
course, did not escape them. " The power of harmony " 
says Pierre d'Ailly " is such that it withdraws the soul from 
other passions and from cares, nay, from itself." 

The high valuation of the imitative element in art entailed 
graver dangers for music than for painting. Composition of 
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries really suffered from the 
craze for naturalistic music, such as the caccia (whence English 
"catch"), originally representing a hunt with baying and 
yelping hounds and blowing horns. At the beginning of the six- 
teenth century, a pupil of Josquin de Pres, Jannequin, composed 
several " Inventions " of this stamp, representing, amongst 
others, the battle of Marignano, the street-cries of Paris, 
the singing of birds and the chattering of women. Fortu- 
nately, the musical inspiration of the epoch was far too rich 
and alive to be enslaved by such an artificial theory; the 
masterpieces of Dufay, Binchois or Okeghem are free from 
imitative tricks. 

Substituting for beauty the notions of measure, order and 
appropriateness offered a very defective explanation of it. 
One other means at least satisfied deeper aesthetic instincts : 
the reduction of beauty to the sensation of light and splen- 
dour. To define the beauty of spiritual things, Denis the 
Carthusian always compares them^to light. Wisdom, science, 
art, are so many luminous essences, illuminating the mind 
by their brightness. 

This tendency to explain beauty by light' sprang from a 
strongly marked predilection of the medieval mind. When 
we leave definitions of the idea of beauty aside, and examine 
the aesthetic sense of the epoch in its spontaneous expres- 

248 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

sions, we notice that nearly always when men of the Middle 
Ages attempt to express aesthetic enjoyment, their emotions 
are caused by sensations of luminous brightness or of lively 

Froissart, for example, is not, as a rule, very susceptible 
to impressions of pure beauty. His endless narratives leave 
him no time for that. There are one or two spectacles, how- 
ever, which never fail to enrapture MTYI : that of vessels on 
the sea with their pavilions and streamers, with their rich 
decoration of many-coloured blazons, sparkling in the sun- 
shine ; or the play of reflected sunlight on the helmets and 
cuirasses, on the points of the lances, the gay colours of the 
pennons and banners, of a troop of cavaliers on the march. 
Eustache Deschamps has expressed his sense of the beauty 
of mills in movement and of a ray of sunlight scintillating in 
a dewdrop. La Marche was struck by the beauty of reflected 
sunlight on the blonde hair of a cavalcade of German and 
Bohemian noblemen. These displays of pathetic sentiment 
are important, because in i^ej^eenth jcentury they are 
extremely rare. 

This fondness for all that glitters reappears in the general 
gaudiness of dress, especially in the excessive number of 
precious stones sewed on the garments. After the Middle 
Ages this sort of ornament will be replaced by ribbons and 
rosettes. Transferred to the domain of hearing, this partiality 
for brilliant things is shown by the naive pleasure taken in 
tinkling or clicking sounds. La Hire wore a red mantle covered 
all over with little silver bells like cow-bells. At an entry 
in 1465, Captain Salazar was accompanied by twenty men- 
at-arms, the harness of whose horses was ornamented with 
large silver bells. The horses of the counts of Charolais 
and of Saint Pol were adorned in the same way, also those of 
the lord of Croy, at the entry of Louis XI into Paris in 1461. 
At festivals jingling florins or nobles were often sewn on to 
the dress. 

To determine the taste in colours characteristic of the 
epoch would require a comprehensive and statistical research, 
embracing the chromatic scale of painting as well as the colours 
of costume and decorative art. Perhaps costume would 
prove to be the best clue to the nature of the taste for colour, 

The ^Esthetic Sentiment 249 

because there it exhibits itself most spontaneously. Now, we 
have very few specimens of the materials used at that time, 
except in church vestments. Descriptions of costumes for 
tournaments and festivals, on the other hand, are very numer- 
ous. The following summary aims only at giving a pro- 
visional impression, based on an examination of these descrip- 
tions. It is necessary to observe that they refer to garments 
of state and of luxury, differing, as to colour, from ordinary 
costume, but showing the aesthetic sense more freely. When 
we consult the accounts published by Monsieur Couderc of 
a great Parisian tailor of the fifteenth century, we find that 
the quiet colours, grey, black and violet, occupy a large place, 
whereas in festal garments the most violent contrasts and 
the most vivid colours abound. Bed predominates ; at some 
princely entries all the accoutrements were in red. White 
comes next in popularity. Every combination of colours was 
allowed : red with blue, blue with violet. In an " entremets " 
described by La Marche a lady appeared in violet-coloured 
sil& on a hackney covered with a housing of blue silk, led 
by tiiree men in vermilion-tinted silk and in hoods of green 

Black was already a favourite colour, even in state apparel, 
especially in velvets. Philip the Good, in his later yiears, 
constantly dressed in black, and had his suite and horses 
arrayed in the same colour. King Rene, who was always in 
quest of what was refined and distinguished, combined grey 
and white with black. Together with grey and violet, black 
was far more in vogue than blue and green, whereas yellow 
and brown are, as yet, almost completely wanting. Now, 
the relative rarity of blue and of green must not be simply 
ascribed to an aesthetic predilection. The symbolic meaning 
attached to blue and green was so marked and peculiar as 
to make them almost unfit for usual dress. They were the 
special colours of love. Blue signified fidelity ; green, amorous 

"H te fauldra de vert vestir, 
C'est la livre'e aux amoureux. . . .*' * 

i You will have to dress in green, It is the livery of lovers. . . . 

250 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Thus says a song of the fifteenth century. Deschamps 
says of the lovers of a lady : 

"Li tins se vest pour li de vert, 
L'autre de bleu, 1'autre de blanc, 
L'autre s'en vest vermeil com sane, 
Et cilz qui plus la veult avoir 
Pour son grant dueil s'en vest de noir." x 

Although other colours also had their meaning in amorous 
symbolism, a man exposed himself specially to raillery by 
dressing in blue or in green, above all in blue, for a suggestion 
of hypocrisy was mixed up with it. Christine de Pisan makes 
a lady say to her lover who draws attention to his blue dress : 

" Au bleu vestir ne tient mie le fait 
N'a devises porter, d'amer sa dame, 
Mais au servir de loyal cuer parfait 
Elle sans plus, et la garder de blasme. 
... La gist I'amour, non bleu porter, 
Mais puet estre que plusieurs le meffait 
De faulset^ cuident couvrir soubz lame 
Par bleu porter, . . ." a 

That is probably why, by a very curious transition, blue, 
instead of being the colour of faithful love, came to mean 
infidelity too, and next, besides the faithless wife, marked 
the dupe. In Holland the blue cloak designated an adulterous 
woman, in France the " cote bleue " denotes a cuckold. At 
last blue was the colour of fools in general. 

Whether the dislike of brown and yellow sprang from an 
aesthetic aversion or from their symbolic signification remains 
undecided. Perhaps an unfavourable meaning was attributed 
to them, because they were thought ugly. 

"Gris et tann6e puis bien porter 
Car ennuye* suis d'esp&rance," * 

1 Some dress themselves for her in green, Another in blue, another in white, 
Another dresses himself in vermilion like blood, And he who desires her most 
Because of his great sorrow, dresses in black. 

a To wear blue is no proof Nor to wear mottoes, of love, for one's lady, But 
to serve her with a perfectly loyal heart And no others, and to keep her from 
blame. . . . Love lies in that, not in wearing blue. But it may be that many 
think To cover the ofEence of falsehood under a tombstone, By wearing 
blue. . . . 

9 1 may well wear grey and tan For hope has only brought me pain. 

The Esthetic Sentiment 251 

Grey and brown were both colours of sadness, yet grey 
was much in demand for festal apparel, whereas brown was 
very rare. 

Yellow meant hostility. Henry of Wurtemberg passed 
before Philip of Burgundy with all his retinue dressed in yellow, 
" and the duke was informed that it was meant for him." 

After the middle of the fifteenth century, there seems to be 
a temporary diminution of black and white in favour of blue 
and yellow. In the sixteenth century, at the same time when 
artists begin to avoid the naive contrasts of primary colours, 
the habit of using bizarre and daring combinations of colours 
for costume vanishes too. 

In so far as art is concerned, it might be supposed that 
this change was due to the influence of Italy, but the facts 
do not confirm this. Gerard David, who carries on most 
directly the tradition of the primitive school, already shows 
this refinement of colour-sentiment. It must therefore be 
regarded as a tendency of a more general character. Here is 
a domain in which the history of art and that of civilization 
have still a great deal to learn from each other. 


With each attempt to draw a sharp line of demarcation 
between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, this border- 
line has receded further and further backward. Ideas and 
forms which one had been accustomed to regard as character- 
istic of the Renaissance proved to have existed as early as 
the thirteenth century. Accordingly, the word Renaissance 
has been so much extended by some as to include even Saint 
Francis of Assisi. But the term, thus understood, loses its 
genuine meaning. On the other hand, the Renaissance, 
when studied without preconceived ideas, is found to be full 
of elements, which were characteristic of the medieval spirit 
in its full bloom. Thus it has become nearly impossible to 
keep up the antithesis, and yet we cannot do without it, 
because Middle Ages and Renaissance by the usage of half 
a century have become terms which call up before us, by 
means of a single word, the difference between two epochs, 
a difference which we feel to be essential, though hard to 
define, just as it is impossible to express the difference of 
taste between a strawberry and an apple. 

To avoid the inconvenience inherent in the unsettled nature 
of the two terms Middle Ages and Renaissance, the safest 
way is to reduce them, as much as possible, to the meaning 
they originally had f or instance, not to speak of Renaissance 
in reference to Saint Francis of Assisi or the ogival style. 

Nor should the art of Glaus Sluter and the brothers Van 
Eyck be called Renaissance. Both in form and in idea it 
is a product of the waning Middle Ages. If certain historians 
of art have discovered Renaissance elements in it, it is be- 
cause they have confounded, very wrongly, realism and Renais- 



asaaoL BJ JAN VAS not 

[See *o*e 254. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 253 

sauce. Now this scrupulous realism, this aspiration to render 
exactly all natural details, is the characteristic feature of the 
spirit of the expiring Middle Ages. It is the same tendency 
which we encountered in all the fields of the thought of the 
epoch, a sign of decline and not of rejuvenation. The triumph 
of the Renaissance was to consist in replacing this meticulous 
realism by breadth and simplicity. 

The art and literature of the fifteenth century in Erance and 
in the Netherlands are almost exclusively concerned with giving 
a finished and ornate form to a system of ideas which had long 
since ceased to grow. They are the servants of an expiring 
mode of thought. Now, the literature and the art of a period 
in which artistic creation is almost limited to mere paraphras- 
ing of ideas fully thought out, will differ widely from each 
other in their value for future ages. Let us consider roughly, 
for a moment, the impression left upon us, on the one hand, 
by the literature of the fifteenth century, and on the other 
hand by its painting. Villon and Charles d'Orleans apart, most 
of the poets will appear superficial, monotonous and tiresome. 
Always allegories with insipid personages and hackneyed moral- 
izing, always the same themes repeated to satiety : the sleeper 
in the orchard, who, in a dream, sees a symbolic lady ; the walk 
at daybreak in the month of May ; the " debate " on a love case ; 
in short, an exasperating shallowness, cloying romanticism, 
vapid imagery. We shall rarely glean a thought there which 
is worth being remembered, or an expression which dwells in 
our memory. The artists, on the other hand, are not only very 
great, like Van Eyck, Foucquet, or the unknown who painted 
" The Man with the Glass of Wine," but nearly all, even the 
mediocre ones, arrest our attention by each detail of their work 
and hold us by their originality and freshness. Yet their con- 
temporaries admired the poets much more than the artists. 
Why was the flavour lost in the one case and preserved in the 
other ? 

The explanation is that words and images have a totally 
different aesthetic function. If the painter does nothing but 
render exactly, by means of line and colour, the external 
aspect of an object, he yet always adds to this purely formal 
reproduction something inexpressible. The poet, on the con- 
trary, if he only aims at formulating anew an already expressed 

254 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

concept, or describing some visible reality, will exhaust the 
whole treasure of the ineffable. Unless rhythm or accent 
save it by their own charms, the effect of the poem will depend 
solely on the echo which the subject, the thought in itself, 
awakens in the soul of the hearer. A contemporary will be 
thrilled by the poet's word, for the thought which the latter 
expresses also forms an integral part of his own life, and it 
will appear the more striking to him in so far as its form is 
more brilliant. A happy selection of terms will suffice to make 
the expression of it acceptable and charming to Mm. As soon, 
however, as this thought is worn out and no longer responds 
to the preoccupations of the soul of the period, nothing of 
value is left to the poem except its form. No doubt, that is 
of extreme value. Sometimes it is so fresh and so touching 
that it makes us forget the insignificance of the contents. A 
new beauty of form was already revealing itself in the literature 
of the fifteenth century ; still, in the greater number of its 
productions, the form as well was worn out and the qualities 
of rhythm and tone are poor. In such a case, without novelty 
of thought or form, nought remains but an interminable post* 
lude on hackneyed themes, a poetry without a future. 

The painter of the same epoch and of the same mentality 
as the poet will have nothing to fear from time. For the 
inexpressible which he has put into his work will always be 
there as fresh as on the first day. Let us consider the por- 
traits of Jan van Eyck, the somewhat pointed and pinched 
face of his wife, the aristocratic, impassible and morose head 
of Baudouin de Lannoy, the suffering and resigned visage of 
the Arnolfini at Berlin, the enigmatic candour of " Leal 
Souvenir " in the National Gallery. In each of these physiog- 
nomies the personality was probed to the last inch. It is 
the prof oundest character-drawing possible. These characters 
were not analysed by the artist, but seen as a whole and then 
revealed to us by his picture. He could not have described 
them in words, even though he had been, at the same time, 
the greatest poet of his age. Painting, even when it professes 
no more than to render the outward appearance of things, 
preserves its mystery for all time to come. 

Hence the art and the literature of the fifteenth century, 
though born of the same inspiration and the same spirit, in- 


Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 255 

evitably produce on us quite different effects. Apart from this 
fundamental difference, it may be shown, by the comparison 
of particular specimens, that the literary and the pictorial 
expression hare far more traits in common than might be 
supposed from our general appreciation of the one and the 

Let us take the brothers Van Eyck as being the most eminent 
representatives of the art of the epoch. Who are the men of 
letters to be matched with them, in order to compare their 
inspiration, their modes of expression ? We have to look 
for them in the same environment whence came the great 
painters, that is to say, as we demonstrated above, in the 
environment of the court, the nobility and the rich middle 
classes. There we may assume an affinity of spirit to exist. 
The literature which may be matched with the art of the 
brothers Van Eyck is that which the patrons of painting 
protected and admired. 

At first sight the comparison seems to bring to light an 
essential difference. Whereas the subject-matter of the 
artists is almost entirely religious, the profane genre preponder- 
ates in literature. Still, we must remember that the profane 
element occupied a much larger place in painting than might 
be supposed from what has been preserved. On the other 
hand, we run some risk of overrating a little the preponderance 
of profane literature. The history of literature, being natur- 
ally concerned with the tale, the romance, the satire, the song, 
historical writings, might easily lead us to forget that pious 
works always occupied the first and the largest place in the 
libraries of the time. In order to make a fair comparison 
between fifteenth-century painting and literature, we must 
begin by imagining side by side with the surviving altar- 
pieces and portraits all sorts of worldly and even frivolous 
paintings, such as hunting or bathing scenes. The above- 
named Fazio mentions a picture by Rogier van der Weyden 
representing a woman in a sweating-bath, with two laughing 
young men peeping through a chink. 

Art aixd letters in the fifteenth century share the general and 
essential tendency of the spirit of the expiring Middle Ages : 
that of accentuating every detail, of developing every thought 
and every image to the end, of giving concrete form to every 

256 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

concept of the mind. Erasmus tells us that he once heard a 
preacher in Paris preach during forty days on the Parable of 
the Prodigal Son, so that he devoted all Lent to it. He 
described his journeys on his setting out and on his return, 
the bill of fare of his meals at the inns, the mills he passed, his 
dicing, etc., torturing the texts of prophets and evangelists 
to find some that might seem to give some support to his 
twaddle. " And because of that the ignorant multitude and 
the fat big-wigs considered him almost a god." 

To realize the place conceded to the minute execution of 
details, it suffices to examine some paintings by Jan van Eyck. 
Let us first take the Madonna of the chancellor Eolin, at the 
Louvre. In any other artist the laborious exactness with 
which the materials of the dresses are painted, also the marble 
of the tiles and the columns, the reflections of the window- 
panes, and the chancellor's breviary, would give an impression 
of pedantry. Even in him the exaggerated finish of the details, 
as in the ornaments of the capitals, on which a whole series 
of Biblical scenes is represented, is hurtful to the general effect. 
But it is especially in the marvellous perspective opened 
behind the figures of the Virgin and the donor that his passion 
for details is given rein. " The dumbfounded spectator," as 
Monsieur Durand-Gr6ville says in describing this picture, " dis- 
covers between the head of the divine child and the Virgin's 
shoulder, a town full of pointed gables and elegant belfries, 
with a big church with numerous buttresses, and a vast square, 
cut across all its length by a staircase on which come and go 
and run countless little touches of the brush, which are so 
many living figures ; his eye is next attracted by a curved 
bridge swarming with groups of people who pass and repass ; 
it follows the meanderings of a river on which tiny barks make 
ripples ; and in the midst of which, on an island smaller than 
the nail of a child's finger, rises up a lordly castle with numer- 
ous turrets, surrounded by trees ; it traces on the left a quay 
planted with trees, and covered with foot-passengers ; it goes 
even further, passing beyond the green hill-tops, rests for a 
moment on the distant line of snowy mountains, to lose itself, 
at last, in the infinite space of a sky, which is hardly blue, 
where floating vapours are vaguely discerned." 

Are not unity and harmony lost in this aggregation of details^ 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 257 

as Michelangelo affirmed of Flemish art in general ? Hav- 
ing recently seen the picture again, I can no longer deny 
it, as I formerly did on the strength of recollections many 
years old. 

Another work of the master, which lends itself particularly 
to the analysis of endless detail, is the " Annunciation " in the 
Hermitage, at Petrograd. If the triptych of which this picture 
formed the right wing ever existed as a whole, it must have 
been a superb creation. Van Eyck here developed all the 
virtuosity of a master conscious of his power to overcome all 
difficulties. Of all his works it is the most hieratic and, at the 
same time, the most refined. He followed the iconographic 
rules of the past in using as a background for the apparition 
of the angel the ample space of a church and not the intimacy 
of a bedchamber, as he did in the altar-piece of the Lamb, 
where the scene is full of grace and tenderness. Here, on the 
Contrary, the angel salutes Mary by a ceremonious bow ; he 
is not represented with a spray of lilies and a narrow diadem ; 
he carries a sceptre and a rich crown, and about his lips there 
is the stiff smile of the sculpture of JSgina. The splendour of 
the colours, the glitter of the pearls, the gold and the precious 
stones, surpass those of all the other angelic figures painted 
by Van Eyck. His coat is green and gold, his mantle of bro- 
cade is red and gold, his wings are covered with peacock 
feathers. The book of the Virgin and the cushion before her 
are executed with painstaking and minute care. In the church 
there is a profusion of anecdotal details. The tiles of the pave- 
ment are ornamented with the signs of the zodiac and scenes 
from the lives of Samson and of David. The wall of the apse 
is decorated with the figures of Isaac and of Jacob in the medal- 
lions between the arches, and that of Christ on the celestial 
globe between two seraphim in a window, besides other 
mural paintings representing the finding of the child Moses 
and the giving of the tables of the Law, all explained by legible 
inscriptions. Only the decoration of the wooden ceiling, 
though still discernible, remains indistinct. 

This time unity and harmony are not lost in the accumula- 
tion of details. The twilight of the lofty edifice envelops all 
with mysterious shade, so that the eye can only with difficulty 
distinguish the anecdotal details. 

258 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

It is the privilege of the painter that he can give the rein 
to his craving for endless elaboration of details (perhaps one 
ought to say, that he can comply with the most impossible 
demands of an ignorant donor) without sacrificing the general 
effect. - The sight of this multitude of details fatigues us no 
more than the sight of reality itself. We only notice them if 
our attention has been directed to them, and we soon lose 
sight of them, so that they serve only to heighten effects of 
colouring or perspective. 

When the same boundless passion for details is displayed 
in literature, the effect is quite different. In the first place, 
literature proceeds in another way ; it sets itself to enumerate 
all the ideas and all the objects which the mind of the poet 
associates with his subject. Most of the authors of the fifteenth 
century are singularly prolix. They do not know the value 
of omission, they fill the canvas of their composition with all 
the details that present themselves, but without giving, as 
does painting, an accurate image of their particular features 
they confine themselves to enumerating them. It is a 
strictly quantitative method, whereas that of painting is 

Another difference between the two modes of expression 
proceeds from the fact that the relation between the essential 
and the accidental is not the same in both. In painting we 
can hardly distinguish between principal and accessory ele- 
ments. Everything is essential. The principal subject may 
be of no interest to the spectator or in his opinion badly ren- 
dered, without the work losing its charm, on that account. 
Unless the religious sentiment preponderates over aesthetic 
Appreciation, the spectator before the altar-piece of the Lamb 
will regard with as much, perhaps with more profound emo- 
tion, the flowery field of the principal scene, the procession 
of adorers of the Lamb, the towers behind the trees in the back- 
ground, as the central figures of the composition in their 
august divinity. His glance will stray from the rather un- 
interesting figures of God, the Virgin, and Saint John the 
Baptist, to those of Adam and Eve, to the portraits of the 
donors, to the charming perspective of the sunlit street and 
the little brass kettle with the towel. He will hardly ask if 
the mystery of the Eucharist has here found its most appro- 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 259 

priate expression, so much will he be enchanted by the touching 
intimacy and the incredible perfection of all these details, 
purely accessory in the eyes of those who ordered and who 
executed the masterpiece. 

Now, in the expression of details the artist is absolutely 
free. Whereas he is tied down by rigid convention in the 
composition of his principal theme he may give a free rein 
to his imagination in all other respects. He may paint the 
materials, the vegetation, the horizons, the faces, just as his 
genius prompts him ; the wealth of detail will no more over- 
load his picture than flowers weigh down a dress which they 

In the poetry of the fifteenth century the relation of the 
essential to the accident is reversed. The poet is generally 
free as regards his principal subject ; something novel is 
expected from him. As to accessories, however, he is tied 
down by tradition ; there is a conventional way of expressing 
each detail, from which, though he may be unconscious of it, 
he can hardly deviate ; the flowers, the delights of nature, 
sorrows and joys, all these are sung in a fashion which varies 
but little. Moreover, the salutary limitation which the dimen- 
sion of his picture imposes upon the artist does not exist for 
the poet, as a rule. Hence, to be worthy of this liberty the 
poet should be relatively greater than the artist. Even 
mediocre painters may delight posterity, whereas the mediocre 
poet is forgotten. 

To make the effect of the abuse of details in a fifteenth- 
century poem felt, it would be necessary to quote it entirely. 
As this is impossible, we must content ourselves with con- 
sidering a few fragmentary specimens. 

Alain Chartier in his day was held to be a great poet. He 
was compared to Petrarch, and even Clement Marot placed 
him in the first rank. We may, therefore, fairly compare his 
work with that of the greatest painters of his time, and set 
the description of nature with which his Livre des Quafre 
Dames opens against the landscape of the altar-piece of the 

One spring morning the poet goes out for a walk, to drive 
away his persistent melancholy. 

260 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

"Pour oublier melencolie, 
Et pour faire chiere plus lie, 
Ung doulx matin aux champs issy, 
An premier jour qu'amours ralie 
Les cueurs en la saison jolie. . . ." 1 

All this is conventional and without any special grace of 
rhytjim or of accent. Then fdjllows the description of a spring 
morning : 

"Tout autour oiseaulx voletoient, 
Et si tres-douLcement chantoient 
Qu'il n'est cueur qui n'en fust joyeulx. 
Et en chantant en Pair montoient, 
Et puis Tun Pautre surmontoient 
A I'estriv6e a qui mieulx mieulx. 
Le temps n'estoit roie nueux, 
De bleu estoient vestuz les cieux, 
Et le beau soleil cler luisoit." 2 

The mention of these delights would not have lacked charm 
if the author had known where to stop. But he was not so 
discreet ; having gone through all the singing birds, he con- 
tinues his enumeration at a jog-trot : 

" Les arbres regarday fLourir, 
Et lievres et connins courir. 
Du printemps tout s'esjouyssoit. 
La sembloit amour seignourir. 
Nul n'y peult vieillir ne mourir, 
Ce me semble, tant qu'il y soit. 
Des erbes ung flair doulx issoit, 
Que 1'air sery adoulcissoit, 
Et en bruiant par la valee 
Ung petit ruisselet passoit, 
Qui les pays amoitissoit, 
Dont 1'eaue n'estoit pas salee. 
La buvoient les oysillons, 
Apres ce que des grisillons, 

1 To forget melancholy, And to cheer myself, One sweet morning I went out 
into the fields On the first day on which love joins Hearts in the beautiful 

1 AU around birds were flying, And they sang so very sweetly That there is 
no heart that would not be gladdened by it. And while singing they rose 
up in the air, And then passed and repassed each other, Vying with each other 
aa to which should rise highest. The weather was not cloudy at all. The 
heavens were clad in blue. And the beautiful sun was ghi-rymg brightly. 


[See page 257. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 261 

Des mouschettes et papillons 
Hz avoient pris leur pasture. 
Lasniers, aoutours, esmerillons 
Vy, et mouches aux aguilions, 
Qui de beau zniel paveillons 
Firent aux arbres par mesure. 
De 1'autre part fut la closture 
D'tulg pr6 gracieuz, on nature 
Sema les fleurs sur la verdure, 
Blanches, jaunes, rouges et perses. 
D'arbres flouriz fut la ceinture, 
Aussi blancs que se neige pure 
Les couvroit, ce sembloit paincture, 
Taut y eut de couleurs diverses." x 

A brook brawls over pebbles, fishes swim in it, a grove 
spreads its twigs on the bank, forming a green curtain. And 
then the birds reappear : ducks, turtle-doves, pheasants and 
herons ; all the birds from here to Babylon, as Villon would 

The artist and the poet, both striving to render the beauty 
of nature, both dominated by the tendency to fasten on each 
detail, nevertheless arrive, because of the diversity of their 
methods, at a very different result. Unity and simplicity in 
the picture, in spite of the mass of details, monotony and form- 
lessness in the poem. 

But are we right in comparing poetry with painting, with 
respect to expressive power ? Should we not rather take 
prose, less tied down to obligatory motifs, freer in its choice of 
means to give an exact vision of reality ? 

One of the fundamental traits of the mind of the declining 
Middle Ages is the predominance of the sense of sight, a pre- 
dominance which is closely connected with the atrophy of 

1 1 saw the trees blossom, And hares and rabbits run. Everything rejoiced 
at the spring. Love seemed to hold sway there. None could age or die, It 
seemed to me, so long as he was there. From the herbs arose a sweet smell, 
Which the clear air made sweeter still, And purling through the valley A little 
brook passed Moistening the lands Of which the water was not salt. There 
drank the little birds After they had fed upon crickets, Little flies and butter- 
flies. I saw there lanners, hawks and merlins, And flies with a sting (wasps) 
Who made pavilions of fine honey In the trees by measure. In another part 
was. the enclosure Of a charming meadow, where nature Strewed flowers 
on the verdure White, yellow, red and violet. It was encircled by blossoming 
trees As white as if pure snow Covered them, it looked like a painting, So many 
various colours there were. 

262 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

thought. Thought takes the form of visual images. Really 
to impress the mind a concept has first to take a visible shape. 
The insipidity of allegory could be borne, because the satis- 
faction of the mind lay in the vision. This constant need of 
expressing the visible was far better fulfilled by pictorial than 
by literary means. And again better by prose than by poetry, 
because it conforms more easily to the visualizing turn of 
mind. The prose of the fifteenth century in general is superior 
to its poetry, because prose, like painting, could attain a high 
degree of direct and powerful realism, which was denied to 
poetry by its stage of development and by its proper nature. 

There is one author, especially, who, by the eminent clear- 
ness of his vision of external things, reminds us of Van Eyck, 
namely, Georges Ohastellain. He was a Fleming from the Alost 
district. Though he calls himself "a loyal Frenchman/' "a 
Frenchman by birth," it is highly probable that Flemish was 
his mother-tongue. La Marche calls him " a born Fleming, 
though writing in the French language." He himself likes 
to lay stress on his rusticity ; he speaks of " his coarse speech," 
he calls himself " a Flemish man, a man of the cattle-breeding 
marshes, rude, ignorant, stammering of tongue, greasy of 
mouth and of palate and quite bemired with other defects, 
proper to the nature of the land." His Flemish birth explains 
the heaviness of his flowery speech, his pompous and turgid 
grandiloquence ; in short, his truly " Burgundian " style, which 
makes him almost unbearable to the French reader. It is a 
formal style, of somewhat elephantine character. But it is 
also to his Flemish cast of mind that Chastellain owes his lucid 
and penetrating vision and the richness of his colouring. 

There are undeniable affinities between Chastellain and Jan 
van Eyck. In his best moments Chastellain equals Van Eyck 
at his worst, and that is saying a good deal. Let us recall the 
group of singing angels of the altar-piece of the Lamb. Those 
heavy dresses of red and gold brocade, loaded with precious 
stones, those too expressive grimaces, the somewhat puerile 
decoration of the lectern all this in painting is the equivalent 
of the showy Burgundian prose. It is a rhetorician's style 
transferred to painting. Now, whereas this rhetorical element 
occupies but a small place in painting, it is the principal thing 
in Chasteflain's prose, where the clear observation and the 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 263 

vivid realism are too often drowned in the flood of flowery 
phrases and stilted terms. 

Only, when Chastellain describes an event which grips his 
visualizing mind, he evinces an imaginative strength, which 
makes him very interesting. He has no more ideas than his 
contemporaries and colleagues ; his arsenal, like theirs, is stocked 
with nothing but moral, pious and chivalrous commonplaces ; 
his speculations never go below the surface. But his powers 
of observation are remarkably keen and his descriptions very 

The portrait he drew of Duke Philip has all the vigour of a 
Van Eyck. He delights in the description of scenes of action 
and passion, displaying a degree of true and simple realism 
which would have made this chronicler an excellent novelist. 
Take, for instance, his narrative of a quarrel between the duke 
and his son Charles, which took place in 1457. His visual 
perception is nowhere so vivid as here ; all the outward cir- 
cumstances of the event are rendered with perfect clearness. 
A few rather long quotations are indispensable. 

The difference arose in connection with a vacancy in the 
household of the young count of Charolais. The old duke 
wanted, contrary to his promise, to give the place to a member 
of the family of Croy, then in high favour. Charles, who did 
not share his father's feelings for that family, had destined it 
for one of his friends. 

"Le due donques par un lundy qui estoit le jour Saint- 
Anthoine, apres sa messe, aiant bien desir que sa maison 
demorast paisible et sans discention entre ses serviteurs, et que 
son fils aussi fist par son conceil et plaisir, apres que ji avoit 
dit une grant part de ses heures et que la cappelle estoit vuide 
de gens, il appela son fils & venir vers luy et lui dist doucement : 
'Charles de 1'estrif qui est entre les sires de Sempy et de 
H6meries pour le lieu de chambrelen, je vueil que vous y 
mettez ces et que le sire de Sempy obtiengne le lieu vacant.' 
Adont dist le conte : * Monseigneur, vous m'avez bailli6 une 
f ois vostre ordonnance en laquelle le sire de Sempy n'est point, 
et monseigneur, s'il vous plaist, je vous prie que ceste-l& je la 
puisse garder.' ' Dea,' ce dit le due lors, ' ne vous chailliez des 
ordonnances, c'est & moy & croistre et & diminuer, je vueil que 
le sire de Sempy y soit mis.' * Hahan ! ' ce dist le conte (car 

264 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

ainsi jurait tousjours), c monseigneur, je vous prie, pardonuez- 
moy, car je ne le pourroye faire, je me tiens a ce que vous 
m'avez ordonne. Ce a fait le seigneur de Croy, qui m'a brasse 
cecy, je le vois bien.' ' Comment,' ce dist le due, ' me d6sob6y- 
rez-vous ? ne ferez-vous pas ce que je veuil ? ' c Monsei- 
gneur, je vous ob6yray volentiers, mais je ne feray point cela.' 
Et le due, & ces mots, enfelly de ire, respondit : * Ha ! garsson, 
d6sobeyras-tu a ma volent6 ? va hors de mex yeux,' et le sang, 
avecques les paroles, ltd tira &, cceur, et devint pS/le et puis & 
coup enflamb6 et si espoentable en son vis, comme je Toys 
recorder au clerc de la chapelle qui seul estoit empres luy, que 
hideur estoit a le regarder." . . - 1 

The duchess, who was present at this dispute, was so much 
frightened by her husband's look, that she tried to lead her 
son out of the oratory, and pushed him before her, to get out 
of range of his father's wrath. But they had to turn several 
corners before coming to the door of which the clerk had the 
key. "Caron, open the door for us," says the duchess, but 
the clerk falls at her feet, praying her to persuade her son to 
ask pardon, before leaving the chapel. In answer to his 
mother's urgent request, Charles answers in a loud voice : 
"D6a, madame, monseigneur m'a deffendu ses yeux et est 

1 The duke then, on a Monday, which was Saint Anthony's day, after mass, 
being very desirous that his house should remain peaceful and without 
dissensions between his servants, and that his son, too, should do his will 
and pleasure, after he had already said a great part of his hours, and the chapel 
was empty of people, called his son to come to him and said to him gently : 
" Charles, the quarrel which is going on between the lords of Sempy and of 
H&neries, about this place of chamberlain, I wish that you put a stop to it, 
and that the lord of Sempy obtains the vacancy." Then said the count : 
" Monseigneur, you once gave me your orders in which the lord of Sempy 
is not mentioned, and monseigneur, if you please, I pray you, that I may keep 
to them." " D3a," this said the duke then* "do not trouble yourself about 
orders, it belongs to me to augment and to dirm'-niRh, I wish that the lord of 
Sempy be placed there." " Hahan ! " this said the count (for he always 
swore like that), " monseigneur, I beg you, forgive me, for I could not do it, 
I abide by what you have ordered me. This was done by my lord of Oroy, 
who played me this trick, I can see that." "How," this said the duke," will 
you disobey me ? will you not do what I wish ? " " Monseigneur, I shall 
gladly obey you. But I shall not do this." And the duke, at these words, 
choking with anger, replied : " Ha. ! boy, will you disobey my will ? Go out 
of my sight," and the blood with these words rushing to his heart, he turned 
pale and then all at once flushed and there came such a horrible expression 
on his face, as I heard from the clerk of the chapel, who alone was with him, 
that it was hideous to look at him. ; . . 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 265 

indigne sur moy, par quoy, apres avoir eu celle deffense, je 
ne m*y retourneray point si tost, ains m'en yray &, la garde de 
Dieu, je ne scay ou." 1 Then is heard the voice of the duke, 
who has remained in his seat, paralysed with fury . . . and 
the duchess in an agony of fear says to the clerk : "My friend, 
open the door quickly, quickly, we must be gone, or we are 

On returning to his apartments, the old duke, beside himself 
with anger, fell into a fit of mental aberration ; about nightfall 
he left Brussels alone, on horseback, insufficiently dressed and 
without warning anyone. "Les jours pour celle heurre 
d'alors estoient courts, et estoit fa basse vespree quant ce 
prince droit-cy monta & cheval, et ne demandoit riens autre 
f ors estre emmy les champs seid et & par luy. Sy porta ainsy 
Paventure que ce propre jour-lJi, apres un long et fipre gel, il 
faisoit un releng, et par une longue 6paisse bruyne, qui avoit 
couru tout ce jour Ik, vespree tourna en pluie bien menue, 
mais tres-mouillant et laquelle destrempoit les terres et rompoit 
glasces avecques vent qui s'y entrebouta." 2 

Both this passage, and the preceding one, are assuredly not 
lacking in simple and natural force. In the description which 
follows of the nocturnal ride of the duke, as he wanders through 
the fields and woods, Chastellain has mixed his pompous rhe- 
toric with this spontaneous naturalism, which produces a very 
bizarre effect. Starving and tired, the old duke, having lost 
his way, vainly calls for help. He narrowly escapes falling 
into a river which he takes for a road. He is wounded by 
falling with his horse. He listens in vain for the crowing of a 
cock, or the barking of a dog, which might have indicated some 
habitation to him. At last he perceives a glimmer and tries 
to get to it ; loses sight of it, finds it again and reaches it at 
last. "Mais plus Tapprochoit, plus sambloit hideuse chose 

1 Faith, madam, monseigneur has forbidden me to come into hie sight and 
is indignant at me, so that, after this prohibition, I shall not return to him 
so soon, but under God's care, I shall go away, I do not know where. 

* The days were short at that time, and it was already evening when that 
prince here mounted his horse, and asked nothing but to be alone out in the 
fields. It so happened that on that day after a long and sharp frost it had 
begun to thaw, and because of -a lasting thick fog which had been about all 
day, in the evening a fine but very penetrating rain began to fall, which soaked 
the fields and broke the ice as did the wind which joined in. 

566 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

yb espoentable, car feu partoit d'une mote d'en plus de mille 
ieux, avecques grosse fumiere, dont nul ne pensast a celle 
lieure fors que ce fust ou purgatoire d'aucune me ou autre 
illusion de I'ennemy, . . ." * Upon this he stops, but sud- 
denly remembers that charcoal-burners are in the habit of 
lighting such kilns in the depths of woods. However he does 
not find a house anywhere near, and begins roaming about 
once more. At last the barking of a dog directs him to the 
hovel of a poor man, where he finds rest and food. 

Other episodes furnished Chastellain with themes for striking 
descriptions, such as the judicial duel between the two burghers 
of Valenciennes, mentioned above ; the nocturnal quarrel at 
the Hague, between the envoys of Friesland and some Bur- 
gundian noblemen whose sleep they disturb by playing at 
" touch and go " in the room above on their pattens ; the riot 
at Ghent in 1467, at the entry of the new Duke Charles, which 
coincided with the fair of Houthem, whither the people were 
in the habit of taking the shrine of Saint Lievin in a procession. 
In all these pages we admire the author's faculty of observa- 
tion. A number of spontaneous details betray his strongly 
visual perception. The duke facing the rebels sees before 
him " a multitude of faces in rusty helmets, framing the grin- 
ning beards of villains, biting their lips." The lout who forces 
his way to the window, by the duke's side, wears a gauntlet of 
blackened iron with which he strikes the window-sill to com- 
mand silence. 

The gift of finding the right and simple word accurately to 
describe things seen is, at bottom, the same visual power 
which enables Van Eyck to give his portraits their perfect 
expression. Only, in literature, this realism remains enslaved 
by conventional forms and suffocated under a heap of arid 

In this respect painting was greatly in advance of literature. 
It was already expert in the technique of rendering the effects 
of light. MMature-painters especially were occupied with 
the problem of fixing the light-effect of a moment. In painting, 

1 But the more he approached it, the more it seemed a hideous and frightful 
thing, for fire came out of a mound in more than a thousand places with thick 
smoke, and, at that hour, anybody would think that it was the purgatory of 
some soul or some other illusion of the devil. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 267 

the effect of a light in the dark was first successfully achieved by 
Geertgen of Sint Jan of Haarlem, in his " Nativity," but long 
before this the illuminators had tried to render the light of the 
torches reflected on the cuirasses in the scene of the appre- 
hension of Christ. The master who illuminated the Cu&r 
d 9 Amours e&pris by King Rene had already succeeded in 
painting a sunrise and the most mysterious twilights, the 
master of the " Heures d'Ailly " a sun breaking through the 
clouds after a thunderstorm. On the other hand, the literary 
means for rendering the effects of light were still primitive. 
But, perhaps, we should seek in another direction the literary 
equivalent of this faculty for fixing the impression of a moment. 
It would rather seem to lie in the current use, in the literature 
of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, of oratio recta. At no 
other epoch has the effect of direct speech been so eagerly 
sought. The endless dialogues of which Froissart makes use, 
even to make a political situation clear, are often empty 
enough, nay, even tedious ; still sometimes the impression of 
something immediate and instantaneous is produced in a very 
vivid manner, for instance in the following dialogue, which 
we should think of as being shouted. " Lors il entendi les 
nouvelles que leur ville estoit prise. * Et de quel gens ? ' 
demande-il. Eespondirent ceulx qui & luy parloient : * Ce 
sont Bretons ! ' * Ha/ dist-il, e Bretons sont mal gent, ils 
pilleront et ardront la ville et puis partiront.' * Et quel 
cry crient-ils ? ' dist le chevalier. c Certes, sire, ils orient 
La Trimouille!'" 1 

To quicken the movement of the dialogue I*roissart is rather 
too fond of the trick of making one interlocutor repeat with 
astonishment the last words of the other. " ' Monseigneur, 
Gaston est mort/ * Mort 1 ' dist le conte. ' Certes, mort est-il 
pour vray, monseigneur.' " 2 

And elsewhere : " Si luy demanda, en cause d'amours et de 
lignaige, conseil. 'Conseil,' respond! 1'archevesque, 'certes, 

1 Then he heard the news that their town was taken. "And by what people?" 
he asks. Those with whom he was speaking answered, " They are Bretons ! " 
" Ha," says he, " Bretons are bad people, they will pillage and burn and after- 
wards depart.*' " And what war-cry do they cry ? " said the knight. " Sure, 
my lord, they cry La Trimouille ! " 

* " My lord, Gaston is dead." " Bead ? " said the count. " Indeed, he ifl 
dead in sooth, my lord. 9 ' 

268 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

beaux nieps, c'est trop tard. Vous vou!6s clore Testable quand 
le cheval est per du/ " 1 

Poetry, too, used the trick of short alternating sentences a 
good deal. 

" Mort, je me plaing De qui ? De toy. 
Que t'ay je fait ? Ma dame as pris, 
C'est v&ite*. Dy moy pour quoy. 
H me plaisoit Tu as mespris." a 

Here the means have become the object. The virtuosity of 
these jerky dialogues was carried to an extreme in the ballad 
of Jean Meschinot, in which France accuses Louis XI. In 
each of the thirty lines, questions and answers alternate, 
sometimes more than once. Still, this bizarre form does not 
destroy the effect of the political satire. This is the first 
stanza : 

" Sire . . . Que veux ? Entendez . . . Quoy ? Mon cas. 
Or dy. Je suys . . . Qui ? La destruicte France ! 
Par qui ? Par vous. Comment ? En tous estats. 
Tu mens. Non fais. Qui le dit ? Ma souffrance. 
Que souffres tu ? Meschief Quel ? A oultrance. 
Je n'en croy rien. Bien y pert. N'en dy plus ! 
Las ! si f eray. Tu perds temps. Quelz abus ! 
Qu'ay-je mal fait ? Contre paix Et comment ? 
Guerroyant , . . Qui ? Vos amys et congnus. 
Parle plus beau Je ne puis, bonnement." 3 

With Froissart the sober and accurate description of out- 
ward circumstances sometimes acquires tragic force, just 
because it leaves out all psychological speculation, as for 
instance in the episode of the death of the young Gaston 

1 So he asked him for counsel in matters of love and lineage. The arch- 
bishop answered, " Counsel, sure, good nephew, it is too late for that. You 
want to shut the stable when the horse is lost." 

* Death I complain. Of whom ? Of you. What have I done to you ? 
You have taken my lady. That is so. Tell me why ? It pleased me. 
You mistook. 

* Sire . . . What do you want ? Listen ... To what ? To my case. 
Speak out. lam . . . Who? Devastated France! By whom ? By you. 
How? In all estates. You He. I do not. Who says so? My sufferings. What 
do you suffer ? Misery. Which ? The extremity of misery. I do not 
believe a word of it. Evidently. Do not say any more about it. Alas ! 
I must. It is no use. What a shame 1 What have I done ill ? You have 
sinned against peace. And how? By warring. With whom ? With your 
friends and kinsmen. Speak more pleasingly. I cannot, in truth. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 269 

Phebus, killed by his father in a fit of anger. Froissart's soul 
was a photographic plate. Under the uniform surface of his 
own style we may discern the qualities of the various story- 
tellers who communicated to him the endless number of his 
items of news. For example, all that was told him by his 
travelling companion, the knight Espaing du Lyon, has been 
admirably rendered. 

In short, whenever the literature of the period works by 
means of direct observation, without conventional trammels, 
it approaches painting, without however rivalling it. There- 
fore we should not look for the equivalents of painted landscapes 
or interiors in literary descriptions of nature. Painting of 
the fifteenth century produced marvels of perspective, because 
there the masters could let themselves go, as landscapes were 
accessory and did not suffer from the same severe restrictions 
as the principal subject. Notice the contrast between the 
principal scene and the background of the " Adoration of the 
Magi " in the " Trfes riches heures de Chantflly." The figures 
in the foreground are affected and bizarre, the scene is over- 
crowded, whereas the view of Bourges in the distance attains 
a perfect serenity and harmony. 

In literature, on the other hand, the feeling for nature was 
not free, neither was the manner of expressing it. Love of 
nature had taken the form of the pastoral and was therefore 
controlled by sentimental and aesthetic convention. The poems 
in which the beauty of flowers and the song of birds are sung 
proceed from an inspiration quite different from that which 
gave birth to painted landscapes. Literature in describing 
nature moves on another plane than painting. 

Nevertheless it is in the pastoral that we can trace the 
development of the literary feeling for nature. Side by side 
with the poems of Alain Chartier, cited above, we may place 
those of the royal shepherd Rene singing in a disguised form 
his love for Jeanne de Laval, in the pastoral poem of Regnault 
et Jehanneton. There we find ingenuous gaiety and freshness ; 
the king even tried, not without success, to render the effect 
of night closing in, but all this is far from being great art, like 
that of the calendars in the breviaries. 

The pictures of the months in the calendar of the " Trfes 
riches heures de Chantilly " enable us to compare the espres- 

270 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

sion of the same motif in art and in literature, and that strongly 
in favour of the former. The reader will remember the glorious 
castles which ornament the background of the miniatures of 
the brothers of Limburg ; September with the vintage in pro- 
gress and the castle of Saumur, rising like a vision behind it, 
the steeples of the towers with their high weather-vanes, the 
pinnacles and the graceful chimneys, all shooting up like tall 
white flowers against the deep blue of the sky ; or December 
and the sombre towers of Vincennes looming threateningly 
behind the leafless woods. What means or methods had a 
poet like Eustache Deschamps at his disposal to rival scenes 
like these when he produced a sort of literary counterpart to 
them in a series of poems, in praise of seven castles of Northern 
Prance ? The description of architectural forms at which he 
tried his hand in the lines devoted to the castle of Bievre was 
by no means successful. So he limited himself to enumerating 
the delights which these castles provided ; thus, speaking of 
Beaute, he says : 

"Son filz ainsn6, daulphin de Viennois, 
Donna le nom a ce lieu de Beaute. 
Et c'est bien drois, car moult est delectables : 
L'en y oit bien. le rossignol chanter ; 
Maine 1'ensaint, les haulz bois profitables 
Du noble pare puet 1'en veoir branler. . . . 
Les prez sont pres, les jardins deduisables, 
Les beaus preaulx, fontenis bel et cler, 
Vignes aussi et les terres arables, 
Moulins tournans, beaus plains a regarder." * 

What a difference between the effect of these lines and 
that of the miniature ! And yet the method is the same : it 
is an enumeration of the things seen (or, in the case of the 
poet, things heard). But the view of the artist embraces a 
definite and limited space, in which he not merely has to 
collect a number of things, but also to harmonize and blend 
them into a single whole. In the miniature of February Paul 

1 His eldest son, the dauphin of Viennois, Gave this spot the name of 
Beauty. And justly, for it is very delectable : One hears the nightingale 
sing there ; The river Maine surrounds it, the lofty pleasant woods Of the 
noble park may be seen waving on the wind. Meadows are near, pleasure- 
gardens, The fine lawns, beautiful and dear fountains, Also vineyards and 
arable lands, Turning mills, plains beautiful to view. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 271 

of Limburg assembled all the peculiarities of winter : peasants 
warming themselves before the hearth, the wash drying, 
crows on the snow, the sheepfold and beehives, the barrels 
and the cart, and the wintry landscape in the background 
with the tranquil village and the solitary house on the hill. All 
this mass of details is worked into the peaceful harmony of 
the landscape, and the unity of the picture is perfect. The 
poet, on the other hand, suffers his gaze to roam at will, but 
never concentrates it ; and there is no framework to compel 
him to give unity to his work. 

In an epoch of pre-eminently visual inspiration, like the 
fifteenth century, pictorial expression easily surpasses literary 
expression. Although representing only the visible forms 
of things, painting nevertheless expresses a profound inner 
sense, which literature when it limits itself to describing 
externals wholly fails to do. 

The poetry of the fifteenth century often gives us the im- 
pression of being almost devoid of new ideas. The inability 
to invent new fiction is general. The authors rarely go beyond 
the touching up, embellishing or modernizing of old subject- 
matter. TVTiat may be called a stagnation of thought prevails, 
as though the mind, exhausted after building up the spiritual 
fabric of the Middle Ages, had sunk into inertia. The poets 
themselves are aware of this feeling of fatigue. Deschamps 
laments : 

"H&as ! on dit que je ne fads mds rien, 
Qui jadis fis mainte chose nouvelle ; 
La raison est que je n'ay pas merrien 
Dont je fisse chose bonne ne belle," x 

In the fifteenth century the old romances of chivalry are 
recast from verse into very prolix prose. This " unrhyming " 
" d6rimage "is another sign of the general stagnation of 
fancy. Nevertheless it marks at the same time an important 
broadening in the general conception of literature. In the 
more primitive stages of literature verse is the primary mode 
of expression. As late as the thirteenth century every sub- 
ject, even natural history or medicine, seemed to lend itself 

i Alas ! it is said that I no longer make anything, I who fo f rl y , 
many new things ; The reason is that I have no subject-matter Of which to 
make good or fine things. 

272 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

to treatment in verse, because the principal mode of assimilat- 
ing a written work was still hearing it recited and getting it 
by heart. Even the "chansons de geste," it seems, were 
chanted to a uniform melody. Individual and expressive decla- 
mation, as we understand it, was unknown in the Middle Ages. 
The growing predilection for prose means that reading was 
superseding recitation. Another custom, dating from the 
same epoch, testifies to this transition, namely the division of a 
work into small chapters with summaries, whereas formerly 
scarcely any division had been thought necessary. In fifteenth- 
century literature prose was, to a certain degree, the more 
refined and artistic form. 

The superiority of prose is, however, purely formal; it lacks 
novelty of thought just as much as poetry. Froissart is the 
type of this extreme shallowness of thought and facility of 
expression. The simplicity of his ideas is surprising. Only 
three or four motives or sentiments are known to him : fidelity, 
honour, cupidity, courage, and these in their simplest forms. 
He uses no allegorical or mythological figures, never touches 
on theology, and even moral reflections are almost wholly 
absent. He goes on narrating, without effort, correctly, and 
yet he remains empty, because he has but the mechanical 
exactitude of a cinematograph. His moral reflections, when 
they do occur, are so commonplace as to be almost bewildering. 
Certain conceptions are, with him, always accompanied by 
fixed judgments. He cannot speak of Germans without recall- 
ing their cupidity and their barbarous treatment of prisoners. 
Even the quotations from Froissart which are currently pre- 
sented to us as piquant prove when read in their context to 
lack the point attributed to them. On reading his apprecia- 
tion of the first Duke of Burgundy of the house of Valois, " sage, 
froid et imaginatif, et qui sur ses besognes yeoit au loin," 1 we 
think we have lighted upon a penetrating and concise analysis 
of character. Only, Froissart applied these terms to almost 
everybody ! 

The poverty and sterility of Froissart's mind, as compared 

with Chastellain's, for example, is all the more evident, as 

his style is wholly devoid of rhetorical qualities. Now it is 

rhetoric which in the literature of the fifteenth century signal- 

1 Wise, frigid and imaginative, and far-sighted in business. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 273 

izes the coming of the new spirit. For readers of that age lack 
of novelty in the matter was made up for by the aesthetic 
enjoyment of an ornate style. Everything seemed to them to 
be new when garbed in far-fetched and turgid phrases. It 
is an error to suppose that only literature cultivated this 
stylistic ornamentation, and that art was exempt from it. 
Art also displays the same pursuit of novelty and rich variety 
of expression. In the pictures of the brothers Van Eyck 
there are parts which might be called " rhetorician-like " : 
for example, the figure of Saint George presenting Canon van 
de Paele to the Virgin at Bruges. The magnificent helmet, 
the gilt armour, in which a naive classicism is apparent, the 
dramatic gesture of the saint, all this is closely akin to Chas- 
tellain's grandiloquence. The same tendency recurs in the 
figure of the archangel Michael in the small triptych of Dresden 
and in the group of angels singing and playing, on the altar- 
piece of the Lamb. It is also present in the work of the 
brothers of Limburg : for instance, in the bizarre magnificence 
of their c< Adoration of the three Magi." 

Unless the ornate form be so charming and so novel as to 
suffice in itself for giving life to a piece of verse, the poetry of 
the fifteenth century is happiest when it is not aspiring to 
express an important thought, nor aiming at elegance of style. 
When it is content to call up a simple image or scene, or to 
express a simple sentiment, it is not without vigour. Hence 
it is more successful in short pieces than in long-winded com- 
positions and grave subjects. In the roundel and the ballad, 
constructed on a single airy theme, all grace depends on tone, 
rhythm and vision ; in fact, the more the artistic song of the 
time approaches the popular song, the greater is its charm. 

The end of the fourteenth century is a turning-point in the 
relations between music and lyrical poetry. The song of the 
preceding period was intimately linked with musical recitation, 
The common type of the lyrical poet of the Middle Ages is 
always the poet-composer. Guillaume de Machaut used to 
compose the melodies of his poems. He also fixed the custom- 
ary lyrical forms of his time : roundels, ballads, etc. He 
invented the " dSbat," the contention of different parties on 
a moot point. His roundels and ballads are very airy, simple* 
in form and thought ; they have little colour ; all these are 

274 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

merits, for a poem that is sung should not be too expressive. 
Here is an example : 

"Au departir de vous mon cuer vous lais 
Et je m'en vois dolans et esploure*s. 
Pour vous sfcrvir, sans retraire jamais, 
Au departir de vous mon cuer vous lais. 
Et par m'ame, je n'arai bien ne pais, 
Jusqu'au retour, einsi desconfort6s. 
Au departir de vous mon cuer vous lais 
Et je m'en vois dolans et esplour^s." 1 

In Eustache Deschamps we no longer find composer and poet 
united. Hence his ballads are much more vivid and highly 
coloured than Machaut's, therefore often more interesting and 
yet of an inferior poetical style. 

The roundel, because of its very structure, preserved the airy 
and fluent character of a song to be set to music, even after 
poets ceased to be composers. 

" M'aimerez-vous bien, 
Dictes, par vostre ame ? 
Mais que je vous ame 
Plus que nulle rien, 
M'aimerez-vous bien ? 
Dieu mit tant de bien 
En vous, que c'est basme 
Pour ce je me clame 
Vostre. Mais combien 
M'aimerez-vous bien ? " a 

These lines are by Jean Meschinot. The simple and pure 
talent of Christine de Pisan lends itself admirably to these 
fugitive effects. She versified with the facility characteristic 
of the epoch, without much variety of form or thought, in a 
subdued tone and with a slight touch of melancholy. Her 
poems remind us of those ivory tablets of the fourteenth cen- 
tury, which always represent the same motifs : a hunting 
scene, episodes of the Roman de la Rose or of Tristram and 

1 On parting from you I leave yon my heart And I go away lamenting 
and weeping. To serve you without ever retracting. And by my soul, I 
shall indeed have no peace Till my return, being thus discomforted. 

a Do you love me indeed ? Tell me, by your soul. If I love you More than 
anything, Will you love me indeed ? God put so much goodness In you that 
it is balm ; Therefore I proclaim myself Yours. But how much Will you love 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 275 

Yseult, yet always retain a certain freshness and impeccable, 
though conventional, gracef illness. When in Christine courtly 
sweetness goes hand in hand with the simplicity of the popular 
song, we hear an accent of the most exquisite purity. 

We print the dialogue of two lovers who meet after a 

"Tu soies le tres bien venu, 
M'amcmr, or m'embrace et me baise 
Et comment t'es tu maintemi 
Pols ton depart ? Sain et bien aise 
As tu est6 toujours ? Qa vien 
Cost6 moy, te si6 et me conte 
Comment t'a est6, mal ou bien, 
Car de ce vueil savoir le compte. 

Ma dame, a qui je sttis tenu 

Plus que atiltre, a nul n'en desplaise, 

Saches que desir m'a tenu 

Si court qu'oncques n'oz tel mesaise, 

Ne plaisir ne prenoie en rien 

Loings de vous. Amours, qui cuers dompte, 

Me disoit : ' Loyaut6 me tien, 

Car de ce vueil savoir le compte.' 

Dont m'as tu ton serment tenu, 
Bon gr6 t'en S9ay, par saint Nicaise ; 
Et puis que sain es revenu 
Joye arons assez ; or t'apaise 
Et me dis se scez de combien 
Le mal qu'en as eu a plus monte 
Que cil qu'a souffert le cuer mien, 
Car de ce vueil savoir le compte. 

Plus mal que vous, si com retien, 
Ay eu, mais dites sanz mesconte, 
Quans baisiers en aray je bien ? 
Car de ce vueil savoir le compte." * 

1 You are most welcome, My love ; now embrace me and kiss me. And 
how have yon been Since your departure ? Healthy and at ease Have you 
always been ? Here, come Beside me ; sit down and tell me How you have 
been, well or not, For of this I want to have an account. 

Lady, to whom I am bound More than to anyjother, may it displease 
no one, Enow that desire so curbed me That I never had such discomfort 
Nor did I take pleasure in anything Far from you. Love, who tames hearts, 
Said to me : " Remain faithful to me, For of this I want to have an account." 

So you kept your oath to me, I thank you much for it by saint Nicaise ; 

276 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Here is a girl deploring the absence of her lover : 

" H a au jour d'td un mois 
Que mon ami s'en ala. 

Mon cuer'remaint morne et cois, 
H a au jour d'ui un mois. 

* A Dieu,' me dit, ' je m'en vois ' ; 
Ne puis a moy ne parla, 
H a au jour d'ui un mois." x 

Here are words of consolation, addressed to a lover ; 

" Mon ami, ne plourez plus ; 
Car tant me faittes piti 
Que mon cuer se rent conclus 
A vostre doulce amisti6. 
Beprenez autre maniere ; 
Pour Dieu, plus ne vous doiilez, 
Et me faittes bonne chiere : 
Je vueil quanque vous voulez." 2 

What gives these verses their abiding womanly charm is their 
spontaneous tenderness, their simplicity devoid of all pomp and 
pretension. Christine was content to follow the inspiration of 
her heart. But this is also the reason why her poems so often 
show the defect, characteristic of the poetry and music of all 
epochs of feeble inspiration, that of exhausting all their vigour 
in the opening lines. How many poems do we find with a fresh 
and striking theme, which begin like a blackbird's song, only 
to lose themselves in thin rhetoric after the first stanza ! The 
poet (or in music, the composer), after stating his theme, had 

And as you came back safe and sound We shall have joy enough ; now be 
appeased And tell me if you know by how much The grief you had from it 
exceeds That which my heart has suffered, For of this I want to have an 

More grief than you, as I think, I had, but tell me without miscalculation, 
How many kisses shall I have for it T For of this I want to have an account. 

1 It is a month to-day Since my lover departed. My heart remains gloomy 
and silent. It is a mouth to-day. " Good-bye," Ipte said, " I am going " ; 
Since then he has not spoken to me. It is a month to-day, 

* Friend, weep no more ; For I am so touched with pity That my heart 
gives itself up To your sweet friendship. Change your bearing ; For God's 
sake, be sad no longer. And show me a cheerful face : I am willing whatever 
you will. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 277 

come to the end of his inspiration. We are constantly disil- 
lusioned in this way by most of the fifteenth-century poets. 
Here is an example taken from the ballads of Christine de 

" Quant chactoa s'en revieut de Post 
Pour quoy demeures tu derriere ? 
Et si scez que m'amour entiere 
T'ay bailtee n garde et depost." 3 

One expects the motif of the dead lover who reappears. But 
we are deceived : after two more insignificant stanzas the poem 
finishes. What freshness there is in the first lines of Eroissart's 
Debat dou Cheval et dou Levrier : 

"Eroissarfe d'Escoc revenoit 
Sus tin cheval qui gris estoit, 
Un blazxc levrier menoit en lasse. 
* Las,' dist le leader, * je me lasse, 
Grisel, quant nous reposerons ? 
n est heure que nous mengons.' " a 

After this the charm is lost ; the author, in short, had no 
other inspiration than a moment's vision of the two animals 

The motifs are occasionally of incomparable grandeur and 
suggestive force, but the development remains most feeble. 
The theme of Pierre Mchault in his Danse <mx Aveugles was 
masterly ; the everlasting dance of the human race about the 
thrones of the three blind deities, Love, Fortune, and Death. 
He only succeeded in working it up into very mediocre poetry. 
An anonymous poem, entitled Exclamation des Os Sainct Inno- 
cent, begins by making the charnel-houses of the famous church- 
yard speak : 

"Les os sommes des povres trespasses. 
Cy amassez par monceaulx compassez, 
Rompus, cassez, sans reigje ne compas. . . ." 8 

i When everybody comes back from the army Why do you stay behind ? 
Yet you know that I pledged you My loyal love to keep* 

* Froissart came back from Scotland On a horse which was grey, He led 
a white greyhound in a leash. "Alas," said the greyhound, "I am tired, 
Grisel, when shall we rest ? It is time we were feeding." 

We are the bones of the poor dead, Here heaped up by measured mounds, 
Broken, fractured, without rule or measure. 

278 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

What an exordium for a weird lament ! Yet what follows 
is a most commonplace memento mori. 

All these themes have only been realized visually. Such 
vision may supply an artist with material for a most grand 
conception and consummate execution ; it is insufficient for 
a poet. 



The superiority of painting to literature in point of expres- 
siveness is not, however, absolute and complete. There are 
regions where it does not exist, and these we must now consider. 

The whole domain of the comic is much more open to litera- 
ture than to plastic art. Unless it stoops to caricature, art 
can only express the comic in a slight degree. In art the 
comic tends at once to become serious again ; we do not laugh 
on looking at Breughel, although we admire in him the same 
force of droll fancy which makes us laugh in reading Rabelais. 
Only where the comic forms but a slight accessory can pictorial 
expression rival the written word. We can observe it in what 
is called genre painting, which may be considered the most 
attenuated form of the comic. 

The disproportionate refinement of details which we noticed 
above as being characteristic of the paintings of the epoch 
tends insensibly to change into the pleasure of relating petty 
curious facts. Whereas in the room of Arnolfini the minutiae 
do not injure the solemn intimacy of the picture in the least, 
they have become mere curiosities in the master of F16malle. 
His Joseph on the " Altar of Merode " is occupied with making 
mouse-traps. With him all the details are " genre," with an 
almost imperceptible flavour of the comic about them. Be- 
tween his manner of painting an opened window-shutter, a 
sideboard, a chimney, and that of Van Eyck, there is all 
the difference between purely pictorial vision and " genre " 


Now here comes to light a clear advantage of speech over 
pictorial representation. As soon as something more than 
mere vision has to be expressed, literature, thanks to its 


280 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

faculty of expressing moods explicitly, takes the lead. Let 
us remember again Deschamps' ballads, celebrating the beauty 
of the castles, which we compared with and found inferior 
to the perfect miniatures of the brothers of Limburg. These 
poems of Deschamps lack power and splendour ; he has not 
succeeded in reproducing the vision of these glorious halls. 
But now compare the ballad in which he paints himself, 
lying ill in his poor little castle of Fismes, kept awake by the 
cries of barn-owls, starlings, crows and sparrows, nesting in 
his tower. 

"C'est tine estrange melodie 

Qui ne semble pas grant deduit 

A gens qui sont en maladie. 

Premiers les corbes font savoir 

Pour certain si tost qu'il est jour : 

De fort crier font leur pouoir, 

Le gros, le gresle, sanz sejour ; 

Mieulx vauldroit le son d'un tabour 

Que telz cris de divers oyseaulx, 

Puis vient la proie ; vaches, veaulx, 

Crians, muyans, et tout ce miit, 

Quant on a le cervel trop vuit, 

Joint du moustier la sonnerie, 

Qui tout 1'entendement destruit 

A gens qui sont en maladie." - 1 

At night the owls come with their sinister screeching, evok- 
ing thoughts of death : 

" C'est froit hostel et xnal reduit 
A gens qui sont en maladie." a 

This trick of the mere enumeration of a multitude of details 
loses its wearisome character, as soon as the faintest trace of 
humour is mixed up with it. la the middle of a very prolix 
allegorical poem, L'Espinette amoureuse, Froissart diverts us 

i It is a strange melody, Which is not felt as a great amusement By people 
who are ill. First the ravens let us know For certain as soon as it is day: 
They cry aloud with all their might In deep and shrUl tones, without interrup- 
tion. Even the sound of a drum would be better Than those cries of various 
birds. Next come the cattle going to pasture, cows, calves, Bellowing, 
lowing, and all this is noxious When one has an empty brain, With the bells 
of the church qMfag in, And destroying altogether the understanding Of 

people who are ill. 
'It is a cold hostelry and ill refuge for people who are ill. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 281 

by the enumeration of some sixty games at which he used to 
play at Valenciennes as a boy. The descriptions of burgher 
customs or of the female toilet, long though they be, do not 
fatigue us, because they contain a satirical element which 
was lacking in the poetical descriptions of the beauty of spring. 

From the "genre" to the burlesque is but a step. But 
here again painting may rival literature in expressive power. 
Before 1400 art had already attained some mastery of this 
element of burlesque vision which was to reach its full growth 
in Pieter Breughel in the sixteenth century. We find it in 
the figure of Joseph in the " Flight into Egypt " by Broeder- 
lam at Dijon and, again, in the three soldiers asleep in the 
picture of the " Three Marys at the Sepulchre," at one time 
attributed to Hubert Van Eyck. Of the artists of the epoch 
none took more pleasure in effects of bizarre jocularity than 
Paul of Hamburg. A spectator of the "Purification of the 
Virgin " wears a kind of bent wizard's cap, a yard long, and im- 
moderately wide sleeves. The font displays three monstrous 
masks, shooting out their tongues. In the framework of the 
" Visitation/' we see a soldier in a tower fighting with a snail, 
and a man wheeling away on a barrow a pig playing the 

The literature of the epoch is bizarre in nearly every page, 
and very fond of burlesque. A vision worthy of Breughel is 
called up by Deschamps in the ballad of the watchman on 
the tower of Sluys ; he sees the troops for the expedition 
against England collecting on the beach ; they appear to him 
like an army of rats and mice. 

' . " Avaat, avant I tirez-vous a. 

Je roy merveille, ce me semble. 

Et quoy, guette, que vois-tu 1& ? s 

Je voy dix nolle rats ensemble 
Et madnte souris qui s'assemble 
Dessus la rive de la mer. . . .'* * 

On another occasion, sitting at table, absent-minded and 
gloomy, Deschamps suddenly began to notice the way in 
which the courtiers were eating : some chewing like pigs ; 

i Forward, forward, come here- I see a marvellous thing, it seems to me. 
And [S watchman, do yon see there 1-1 see ten thousand rats together 
And a multitude of race collecting On the seashore. . . . 

282 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

some gnawing like mice, or using their teeth like a saw; 
others whose beards moved up and down or who made such 
horrible faces that they looked like devils. 

As soon as literature sets to work to depict the life of the 
masses, it shows this realism full of vitality and good humour, 
which was to develop abundantly, but not till later, in paint- 
ing. The peasant receiving in his hovel the duke of Burgundy, 
who has lost his way, reminds us, by the portrait which 
Chastellain draws of him, of Breughel's types. The Pastoral 
deviates from its central theme, which is sentimental and 
romantic, to find in the description of shepherds eating, danc- 
ing, and courting, matter for a naive naturalism with a spice 
of burlesque. 

Wherever the eye suffices for communicating the sense of 
the comic, however airy it may be, art is able to express it 
as well as, or better than, literature. Apart from this, pictorial 
art can never render the comic. Line and colour are impotent 
wherever the comic effect lies in a point of wit. literature is 
incontestably sovereign both in the low-comedy genre of the 
farce and the fabliaux, and in the higher domain of irony. 
It is especially in erotic poetry that irony developed ; by 
adding its acrid flavour it refined the erotic genre ; it purified 
it at the same time by introducing into it an element of a 
serious nature. Outside the pale of love-poetry irony was 
still heavy and clumsy. It is worth remarking that a French 
writer of the fourteenth or fifteenth century, speaking ironic- 
ally, often takes care to inform his reader of the fact. Des- 
champs praises his age ; all is well, peace and justice reign 
everywhere : 

" L'en me demande chaseun jour 
Qu'il me semble du temps que voy, 
Et je respons : c'est tout honour, 
LoyautS, verit6 et foy, 
Largesce, prouesce et arroy, 
CharitS et biens qui s'advance 
Pour le commun ; mais, par ma loy, 
Je ne di pas quanque je pence." 1 

1 People ask me every day What I think of the present times, And I answer : 
it is all honour, Loyalty, truth and faith, LiberaJity, heroism and order, Charity 
and advancement Of the common weal ; but, by my faith, I do not say wh&1* 
I think. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 283 

Another ballad, of the same tenor, has the refrain : " Tons 
ces poins a rebours retien" ; x a third ends with the words : 

"Prince, s'il est par tout generalment 
Comme je say, toute vertu liabonde ; 
Mais tel m'orroit qui diroit : ' n so ment J . . ." a 

A wit of the end of the fifteenth century entitles an epi- 
gram : " Sonbz une meschante paincture faicte de mauvaises 
couleurs et du plus meschant peinctre du monde, par maniere 
d'yronnie par maltre Jehan Robertet." 8 

When dealing with love, on the other hand, irony had 
already often attained a high degree of refinement. In this 
region it blended with the gentle despondency and the languish- 
ing tenderness which renewed the erotic poetry of the fifteenth 
century. For the first time we hear the poet voice his melan- 
choly with a smile about his own misfortune, such as Villon 
giving himself the air of " 1'amant remis et renie " 4 or Charles 
of Orleans singing his little songs of disillusion. Nevertheless 
the figure " Je riz en pleurs " 5 is not Villon's invention. 
Long before hi the scripture word, risus dolore miscebitur 
et extrema gaudii luctus owwpat* had given a text for poetical 
application. Othe de Granson, for example, had said : 

ou lit et jeuner & la table 
Eire plourant et en plaignant chanter." 7 

And again : 

" Je prins congie de ce tresdoulz enfant 
Les yeulx mouilliez et la bouche riant," 8 

Alain Chartier made use of the same motif in various ways : 

l Take all these points just the other way about. 

2 Prince, if it is generally everywhere As I know : every virtue abounds ; 
But many a man hearing me will say : He lies. 

Under a bad picture done in bad colours and by the most paltry painter 
of the world, in an ironical manner by master Jehan Roberfcet. 

The shelved and rejected lover. 

5 I laugh in tears. 

8 Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful ; and the end of that mirth is 

wake and fasting at the board, Laughing in tears and lament- 
Ttook^eave of this most sweet child With tearful eyes and a laughing 


284 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

" Je n'ay bouche qui puisse rire, 
Que les yeulx ne la desmentissent : 
Car le cueur Ten vouldroit desdire 
Par les lerxnes qui des yeulx issent." 1 

He says of a disconsolate lover : 

" De faire chiere s'efforoit 
Et menoit une joye fainte, 
Et & chanter son cueur forcoit 
Non pas pour plaisir, mats pour crainte, 
Car tous jours ung relaiz de plainte 
S'enlassoit au ton de sa voix, 
Et revenoit a son attainte 
Co-nriTne 1'oysel au chant du bois." a 

Very near akin to the motif of laughter and tears is that 
of the poet who at the end of his poem denies his own sorrow, 
as, for example, Alain Chartier : 

" Cest livret voult dieter et faire escripre 
Pour passer temps sans courage villain 
Ung simple clerc que Pen appelle Alain 
Qui parle ainsi d'amours pour oyr dire." 8 

Othe de Granson had already pretended to speak of secret 
love only " par devinaille." 4 King Een6 treated this motif 
in a fantastic manner at the end of his Guer d' Amours espris. 
His valet, with a candle in his hand, tries to find out if the 
king has really lost his heart, but finds no hole in his side. 

" Sy me dist tout en soubzriant 
Que je donnisse seulement 
Et que n'avqye nullement 
Pour ce mal garde de morir." 5 

1 My mouth cannot laugh, Without my eyes belying it : For the heart 
would deny it By the tears issuing from the eyes. 

a He constrained himself to be cheerful And showed a feigned joy, And 
forced his heart to sing Not for pleasure, but for fear, For ever a remainder 
of complaint Entwined itself with the tone of his voice, And reverted to its 
purpose Like the ousel singing in the wood. 

This booklet meant to dictate and to describe To pass the time without 
vulgar mood A simple clerk called Alain Who speaks thus of love by hear- 

4 By guessing. 

5 So he told me smiling That I should lie down and sleep And that I should 
not at all Be afraid to die of this evil. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 285 

By losing the impeccable gravity characteristic of them 
in preceding epochs, the ancient conventional forms of erotic 
poetry became penetrated by a new meaning. Charles 
d' Orleans makes use of personifications and of allegories like 
all his predecessors, but, by some slight surplus of stress, 
he adds an almost imperceptible flavour of raillery, and this 
gives them an affecting note, which is lacking in the graceful 
figures of the Roman de la Rose. He sees his own heart as a 
double of himself. 

** Je suyB celluy au cueur vestu de noir. . . ." x 

Occasionally in his extravagant personifications, the comical 
element has the upper hand : 

"Un jour a mon cueur devisoye 
Qui en secret a moy parloit, 
Et en parlant lui demandoye 
Se point d'espargne fait avoit 
D*aucuns biens quant Amours servoit : 
II me dist que tres voulentiers 
La verit6 m'en compteroit, 
Mais qu'eust visits ses papiers. 

" Quand ce m'eut dit, il print sa voye 
Et d'avecques moy se partoit. 
Apres entrer je le v&>ye 
En ung comptouer qu'il avoit : 
La, de ca et de la qu&roit, 
En cherchant plusieurs vieulx caiers 
Car le vray monstrer me vouloit, 

qu'eust visitez ses papiers. . . ." 2 

Not always, however ; in the following lines the comic is 
not dominant ; 

1 1 am the wight whose heart is draped in black. 

One day I was talking with my heart Which secretly spoke to me, And in 
talking I asked it If it had saved No goods when serving Love : It said that 
quite willingly It would tell me the truth about it, As soon as it had consulted 
its papers. 

Having told me this it went away And from me departed. Next I saw it 
enter In an office it had : There it rummaged here and there In looking for 
several old writing-books, For it would show me the truth, As soon as it had 
consulted its papers. 

286 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

" Ne hurtez plus a 1'uis de ma pensee, 
Soing et Soucy, sans tant vous travailler ; 
Car elle dort et ne veult s'esveiller, 
Toute la nuit en peine a despens6e. 

"En dangler est, s'elle n'est bien pansee ; 
Cessez, cessez, laissez la sommeiller ; 
Ne hurtez plus & Puis de ma pensee, 
Soing et Soucy, sans tant vous travailler. . . ." * 

For the spirit of the epoch nothing heightened so much 
the acrid flavour of sad and sensitive love as the addition 
of an element of profanation. Eeligious travesty has created 
something better than the obscenities of the Cent Nouvelles 
Nouvelles ; it furnished the form for the tenderest love-poem 
which that age produced : L'Amant rendu Cordelier d VOb- 
servance d 9 Amours. 

Already the poetical club of Charles d' Orleans had imagined 
a literary brotherhood whose members, in analogy to the 
reformed Franciscans, called themselves " amourex de Pob- 
servance." The author of L'Amant rendu Cordelier developed 
this motif. Who is this author ? Is it really Martial d'Au- 
vergne ? It is hard to believe it, so much does this poem 
rise above the level of his work. 

The poor disillusioned lover comes to renounce the world 
in the strange convent, where only " the martyrs of love " 
are received. He tells the Prior the touching story of his 
despised love ; the latter exhorts him to forget it. Under 
a medieval guise we seem to perceive already the genre of 
Watteau. Only the moonlight is wanting to remind us of 
Pierrot. " Was she not in the habit," asks the Prior, " of giving 
you a sweet look or saying *'God save you ' in passing ? " 
'* I had not got so far in her good graces," replies the lover ; 
" but at night I stood about the door of her house, and looked 
up at the eaves." 

1 Do not knock at the door of my mind any more, Anxiety and Care ; do 
not give yourselves so much trouble ; For it sleeps and does not want to wake, 
It has passed all the night in solicitude. 

It will be in danger, if not well nursed ; Stop, stop, let it sleep ; Do not 
knock at the door of my mind any more, Anxiety and Gare ; do not give 
yourselves so much trouble. 


[See page 288 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 287 

" Et puis, quant je oyoye les verriSres 
De la maison qui cliquetoient, 
Lors me sembloit que mes prieres 
Exauss^es d'elle sy estoient." * 

" Were you quite sure that she noticed you ? " asks the Prior. 

" Se m'aist Dieu, j'estoye taut ravis, 
Que ne savoye mon sens ne estre, 
Car, sans parler, m'estoit advis 
Que le vent ventoit sa fenestre 
Et que m'avoit bien peu cognoistre, 
En disant bas : c Doint bonne nuyt,' 
Et Dieu scet se j'estoye grant maistre 
Apres cela toute la nuyt." a 

Then he slept in glory. 

"Tenement estoie restaure* 
Que, sans touraer ne travailler, 
Je faisoie un somme dor6, 
Sans point la nuyt me resveiller, 
Et puis, avant que m'abiller, 
Pour en rendre a Amours louanges, 
Baisoie troys fois mon orUlier, 
En riant a par moy aux anges." s 

When he is solemnly received into the order, the lady 
who had despised fr faints and a little gold heart enamelled 
with tears, which he had given her, falls from her dress. 

" Les aultres, pour leur mal couvrir 
A force leurs cueurs retenoient, 
Passans temps a clorre et rouvrir 
Les heures qu'en leurs maans tenoient, 
Dont souvent les feuHles tournoient 
En signe de devocion ; 
Mais les deulz et pleurs que menoient 

. ^ Monstroient bien leur aiffection." 4 
."' - 

* And then, when I heard the window Of the house which clattered, Then 
it seemed to me that my prayers Had been heard by her. 

2 So help me God, I was so ravished That I was scarcely conscious, For, 
without being told, it seemed to me That the wind moved her window And 
she could well have recognized me, Perhaps saying softly : " Good nigfct, 
then," and God knows I felt like a prince After this all night. 

8 1 felt so refreshed That without turning about or tossing, I enjoyed golden 
slumber, Without waking up all night, And then, before dressing To praise 
Love for it, I kissed my pillow thrice, While laughing silently at the angels. 

4 The others, to hide their affliction Controlled their hearts by force, Passing 
the time in closing and opening again The breviaries they held in their hands, 

288 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

The Prior enumerates his new duties to him, warning 
never to listen to the nightingale's song, never to sleep under 
" eglantine and mayflower," and, above all, never to look a 
woman in the eyes. The exhortation ends in a long string of 
eight-lined stanzas, being variations to the theme " Sweet eyes." 

** Doux yeulx qui tousjours vont et viennent ; 
Doux yeulx eschauffans le plisson, 
De ceulx qui amoureux deviennent. . . . 

" Doux yeulx a cler esperlissans, 
Qui dient : C'est fait quant tu vouldras, 
A ceulx qu'ils sentent bien puissans. . . ." I 

Towards the middle of the fifteenth century all the con- 
ventional genres of erotic poetry are of a languishing tenor, 
and bear the stamp of resigned melancholy. Even cynical 
contempt of woman grows refined. In the Quinze Joyes de 
Manage the mischievous and gross purpose is tempered by 
wistful sentimentality. By its sober realism, by the elegance 
of its form and the subtlety of its psychology, this work is 
a precursor of the " novel of manners " of modern times. 

In all that concerns the expression of love, literature pro- 
fited by the models and the experience of a long series of past 
centuries. Masters of such diversity of spirit as Plato and 
Ovid, the troubadours and the wandering students, Dante 
and Jean de Meun, had bequeathed to it a perfected instru- 
ment. Pictorial art, on the contrary, having neither models 
nor tradition, was primitive in the strict sense of the word, 
in respect of erotic expression. Not till the eighteenth century- 
was painting to overtake literature in point of delicate ex- 
pression of love. The artist of the fifteenth century had not 
yet learned to be frivolous or sentimental. In the miniatures 
of that time the posture of lovers embracing remains hieratic 
and solemn. A portrait of a Dutch gentlewoman, Lysbet of 
Duvenvoorde, by an unknown master before 1430, shows a 
figure of such severe dignity that a modern scholar has taken 

Of which they often turned the leaves As a sign of devotion ; But their 
sorrow and tears dearly showed their emotion. 

1 Sweet eyes that always come and go ; Sweet eyes heating the for ooat 
Of those who fall in love. . . . 

Sweet eyes of pearly clearness, That say : I am ready when you please, 
To those whom they feel to be powerful. 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 289 

the picture for a donor's portrait, omitting to read the words 
on the scroll she bears in her hand : " Mi verdriet lange te 
hopen, Wie is hi die syn hert hout open?" i.e.: "I am 
weary of hoping so long. Who is he who holds his heart 
open ? " Pictorial expression knew no middle term be- 
tween the chaste and the obscene. The rendering of erotic 
subjects was rare, and what there is of it, is naive and inno- 
cent. Once more, however, we must bear in mind that the 
greater number of profane works have disappeared. It 
would be most interesting to be able to compare the nude 
of VanEyck in his " Batt of Women," which Fazio saw, with 
that of his " Adam and Eve." As to the latter picture, it must 
not be imagined that the erotic element is lacking. Follow- 
ing the rules of the code of feminine beauty of his time, the 
artist made the breasts small and placed them too high; 
the arms are long and thin, the belly prominent. But he did 
so quite ingenuously and with no intention of giving sensual 
pleasure. A small picture in the Leipsic Gallery, occasionally 
designated as belonging to the " school of Jan van Eyek," 
represents a girl in a room ; she is nude, as magical practices 
require, and is employing witchcraft to force her lover to 
show himself. Here the intention is present, and the artist 
has succeeded in expressing the erotic sentiment : the nude 
figure has the demure lasciviousness which reappears in 
those of Cranach. 

It is most improbable that the restraint thus displayed in 
fifteenth-century art, in respect of erotic expression, was due 
to a sense of modesty, for in general an extreme licence was 
tolerated. Though pictorial art cultivated it very little as 
yet, the nude occupied a large place in the tableau vivant. 
The " personnages " of nude goddesses or nymphs played 
by real women were rarely wanting at the entries of princes. 
These exhibitions took place on platforms and occasionally 
even in the water, like that of the sirens who swam in the 
Lys "quite naked and dishevelled as they paint them," 
near the bridge over which Duke Philip had to pass, on his 
entry into Ghent in 1457. The Judgment of Paris was the 
favourite subject. These representations should' be taken 
-neither as proofs of high aesthetic taste nor gross licentious- 
ness, but rather as naive and popular sensuousness. Jean 

290 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

de Roye, speaking of sirens that were seen, not very far from 
a calvary, on the occasion of Louis XTs entry into Paris in 
1461, says : " And there were also three very handsome girls, 
representing quite naked sirens, and one saw their beautiful 
turgid, separate, round and hard breasts, which was a very 
pleasant sight, and they recited little motets and bergerettes ; 
and near them several deep-toned instruments were playing 
fine melodies." Molinet tells us of the pleasure which the 
people of Antwerp felt at the entry of Philip le Beau in 1494, 
when they saw the Judgment of Paris : " But the stand at which 
the people looked with the greatest pleasure was the history 
of the three goddesses represented nude by living women." 

How far removed from the Greek sense of beauty was the 
parody of this theme got up for the entry of Charles the Bold 
at Lille in 1468, where were seen a corpulent Venus, a thin Juno 
and a hunchbacked Minerva, each wearing a gold crown. 

These nude spectacles remained customary during the six- 
teenth century. Diirer, in the diary of his journey in the 
Netherlands, described the one he saw at Ajatwerp at the 
entry of Charles V in 1521, and as late as 1578 William of 
Orange, at his entry in Brussels, saw among other items a 
chained and nude Andromeda, " which one would have taken 
for a marble statue." 

The inferiority of pictorial as compared with literary ex- 
pression is not confined to the domain of the comic, the 
sentimental and the erotic. The expressive faculty of the 
art of "tEiis period fails as soon as it is no longer supported 
by that extraordinary turn for visualizing, which explains 
the marvels of its pictures. When more is required than the 
direct and accurate vision of reality, the superiority of pic- 
torial expression at once vanishes, and then is felt the justice 
of Michelangelo's criticism : that this art aims at achieving 
several things at the same time, of which a single one would 
be important enough to demand the devotion of all its powers. 

Let us once more consider a picture by Jan van Eyck. 
In so far as accurate observation suffices, his art is perfect, 
especially in facial expression, the material of the dresses, 
and the jewellery. As soon as it becomes necessary to reduce 
reality in some sort to a scheme, as is the case when buildings 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 291 

and landscapes have to be painted, certain weaknesses appear. 
In spite of the charming intimacy of his perspectives, there 
is a certain incoherence, a defective grouping. The more 
the subject demands free composition and the creation of a 
new form, the more his powers fall short. 

It cannot be denied that in the illuminated breviaries the 
calendar pages surpass in beauty those representing sacred 
subjects. To picture a month, it suffices to observe and 
reproduce accurately. On the other hand, to compose an 
important scene, full of movement, with many personages, 
needed the sense of rhythm and of unity which Giotto pos- 
sessed and which Michelangelo recaptured. Now, multi- 
plicity was a characteristic of fifteenth-century art. It rarely 
succeeds in finding harmony and unity. The central part of 
the altar-piece of the Lamb does indeed show this harmony, 
in the severe rhythm in which the different processions of 
adorers are advancing towards the Lamb ; but this effect has 
been obtained, so to say, by a purely arithmetical co-ordina- 
tion. Van Eyck evaded the difficulties of the composition 
by grouping his personages in a very simple figure; the 
harmony is static, not dynamic. 

The great distance separating Van Eyck from Eogier van 
der Weyden lies in the fact that the latter is aware of a prob- 
lem of rhythmical composition. He limits himself in the use 
of detail, in order to find unity ; it is true, without always 

There was a venerable and severe tradition regulating the 
representation of the most important sacred subjects. The 
artist had not to invent the composition of his picture ; for 
some of these subjects rhythmical composition came, so to 
speak, of itself. It was impossible to paint a Descent from the 
Cross, a pietd,, an Adoration of the Shepherds, without the 
composition assuming a certain rhythmical structure. It 
suffices to remember the Descent from the Cross by Rogier 
van der Weyden in the Escurial, his piet& at Madrid, or those 
of the Avignon school at the Louvre and at Brussels, those 
by Petrus Cristus, by Qeertgen of Sint Jan, the "Belles 
heures d'Ailly." The very nature of the subject implied a 
simple and severe composition. 

As soon as the scene to be represented required more move- 

292 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

ment, as in the case of Christ being mocked or bearing the 
cross, or in the Adoration of the Magi, the difficulties of the 
composition increase and a certain unrest and lack of har- 
mony is the result. Here, however, inconographic tradition 
still supplies a model of a kind, but where it fails him altogether 
the artist of the fifteenth century is almost helpless. We 
need but notice the feebleness of composition in the scenes 
in courts of justice by Dirk Bouts and by Gerard David, 
though the solemnity of the subject itself called for an element 
of severity. The composition reaches an irritating pitch of 
clumsiness in scenes like the Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus at 
Louvain, and that of Saint Hippolytus, torn to pieces by horses, 
at Bruges. 

And yet here we are still dealing with the representation 
of scenes borrowed from reality. When the whole has to 
be created by the unaided imagination, the art of the period 
cannot avoid the ridiculous. Pictures on the grand scale 
were saved by the solemnity of their subjects, but the illu- 
minators could not evade the task of giving a shape to all 
the mythological and allegorical fancies of which literature 
was foil. The illustrations by Jean Mielot for the Epitre 
d'Othea & Hector, a mythological fancy of Christine de Pisan's, 
may serve as a sample. It is impossible to imagine anything 
more awkward. The Greek gods have large wings outside 
their ermine mantles and " houppelandes " of brocade. Saturn 
devouring his children, Midas awarding the prize, are simply 
ridiculous and devoid of all charm. Yet, whenever the 
illuminator sees a chance of enlivening the prospect by a 
little scene, such as a shepherd with his sheep, he shows the 
ability common to the period : within his province his hand 
is sure. The reason is that here we have come to the limit 
of the creative faculties of these artists. Easily masters of 
their craft, so long as observation of reality is their guide, 
their mastery fails at once when imaginative creation of new 
motifs is called for. 

Imagination, both literary and artistic, had been led into 
a blind alley by allegory. The mind had grown accustomed 
simply to turn into pictorial presentments the allegorical ideas 
presenting themselves to the mind. Allegory linked the 
presentment to the thought and the thought to the present- 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 293 

ment. The desire to describe accurately the allegorical 
vision caused all demands of artistic style to be lost sight 
of. The cardinal virtue of Temperance has to carry a clock 
to. represent rule and measure. We see her with this attribute 
on a tomb, the work of Michel Colombe, in Nantes Cathedral, 
and on that of the cardinals of Amboise at Rouen. The 
illuminator of the Epitre d'Oihea, to conform to this rule, 
simply puts on her head a timepiece resembling the one 
with which he ornaments the room of Philip the Good. 

The allegorical figure can only be justified by a tradition 
which has become venerable. Invented all of a piece, it is 
rarely satisfactory. The more realistic the mind which creates 
it, the more bizarre and factitious its form will be. Chastel- 
lain, in his Exposition sur Viriti mal prise, sees four ladies 
coining to accuse him. They call themselves " Indignation, 
Reprobation, Accusation, Vindication." This is how he des- 
cribes the second. " This dame here appeared to have acrid 
conditions and very tart and biting reasons ; she ground her 
teeth and bit her lips ; often nodded her head ; and showing 
signs of being argumentative, jumped on her feet and turned 
to this side and to that ; she proved to be impatient and 
inclined to contradict ; the right eye was closed and the other 
open ; she had a bag full of books before her, of which she 
put some into her girdle, as if they were dear to her, the 
others she threw away spitef ully ; she tore up papers and 
leaves ; she threw writing-books into the fire furiously ; she 
smiled on some and kissed them ; she spat on others out of 
meanness and trod them underfoot ; she had a pen in her 
hand, full of ink, with which she crossed out many important 
writings . . . ; also with a sponge she blackened some pic- 
tures, she scratched out others with her nails, and others 
again she erased wholly and smoothed them as if to have 
them forgotten ; and showed herself a hard and fell enemy 
to many respectable people, more arbitrarily than reasonably.^ 
Elsewhere he sees Dame Peace spread out her mantle ajid 
breakup into four new ladies : Peace of Heart, Peace of Mouth, 
Seeming Peace, Peace of True Effect. Or he invents female 
figures which he calls "Importance of your lands, Various 
conditions and qualities of your several peoples, The envy 
and hatred of Frenchmen and of neighbouring nations, as 

294 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

if politics lent themselves to allegory. It is no living fancy, 
of course, which prompts him to imagine these quaint figures, 
but only reflection. All wear their names written on scrolls : 
he evidently imagines them as figures on tapestry, or in a 
picture or a show. 

There is not a trace of true inspiration here. It is the 
pastime of an exhausted mind. Though the authors always 
place their action in the setting of a dream, their phantas- 
magorias never resemble real dreams, such as we find in Dante 
and Shakespeare. They do not even keep up the illusion of 
real vision : Chastellain naively calls himself in one of his 
poems " the inventor or the imaginer of this vision." 

Only the note of raillery can still make the arid field of 
allegory flower again, as in these lines of Deschamps : 

" Phisicien, comment fait Droit ? 
Sur m'ame, il est en petit point. . . . 
Que fait Raison ? . . . 
Perdu a son entendement, 
Elle parle mais faiblement, 
Et Justice est toute ydiote. . . ." * 

The different spheres of literary fancy are mixed up regard- 
less of all homogeneity of style. The author of the Pastoralet 
dresses his political shepherds in a tabard ornamented with 
fleurs-de-lis and lions rampant ; " shepherds in long cassocks " 
represent the clergy. Molinet muddles up religious, military, 
heraldic and amorous terms in a proclamation of the Lord 
to all true lovers : 

"Nous Dieu d'amoiars, crSateur, roy de gloire 
Salut & tons vrays amans d'humble affaire ! 
Comme il soit vrays que depuis la victoire 
De nostre filz sur le mont de Calvaire 
Plusieurs souldars par peu de cognoissance 
De noz armes, font au dyable aUyauoe. . . ." 2 

Therefore the true blazon is described to them : escutcheon 
argent, chief or with five wounds and the Church militant 

1 Physician, what about Law t -By my soul, he is poorly. . . . How does 
Reason ? . . . She is out of her mind, She speaks but feebly, And Justice 
is quite crazy. 

* We God of love, creator, king of glory All hail to all true lovers of humble 
mind f As it is true that since the victory Of our son on Mount Calvary 
Several soldiers through lack of knowledge Of our arms, make an alliance 
with the devil. . . . 

Verbal and Plastic Expression Compared 295 

is given full liberty to take all into her service who want to 
return to that blazon. 

The feats which procured Molinet the reputation of an 
excellent " rhetoriqueur " and poet appear to us rather as 
the extreme degeneration of a literary form nearing its end. 
He takes pleasure in the most insipid puns : " Et ainsi de- 
moura PEscluse en paix qui lui fut incluse, car la guerre fut 
d'elle excluse plus solitaire que rencluse." * In the introduc- 
tion to his prose version of the Roman de la Rose he plays 
upon his name, Molinet. " Et affin que je ne perde le froment 
de ma labeur, et que la farine que en sera molue puisse avoir 
fleur salutaire, j'ay intencion, se Dieu m'en donne la grace, 
de tourner et conyertir soubz mes rudes meulles le vicieux 
au vertueux, le corporel en respirituel, la mondanit6 en 
divinit6, et souverainement de la moraliser. Et par ainsi 
nous tirerons le miel hors de la dure pierre, et la rose vermeille 
hors de poignans espines, ou nous trouverons grain et graine, 
fruict, fleur et feuille, tres souefve odeur, odorant verdure, 
verdoyant floriture, florissant nourriture, nourrissant fruict 
et fructifiant pasture." 2 

When they do not play upon words, they play upon ideas. 
Meschinot makes Prudence and Justice the glasses of his 
Lunettes des Princes, Force the frame and Temperance the 
nail which keeps the whole together. The poet receives the 
aforesaid spectacles from Reason with directions how to use 
them. Sent by Heaven, Reason enters his mind and wants 
to feast there ; but finds nothing " off which to dine well," 
for Despair has spoilt all. 

Products like these would seem to betray mere decadence 
and senile decay. Thinking of Italian literature of the same 
period, the fresh and lovely poetry of the quattrocento, we 
may perhaps wonder how the form and spirit of the Renais- 

1 And so Stays remained in peace that was included with her, for war was 
excluded from her, lonelier than a recluse. 

2 And lest I lose the wheat of my labour, and that the meal into whichj it 
will be ground may have wholesome flour, I intend, if God gives me grace for 
it, to turn and convert under my rough mill-stones the vicious into the 
virtuous, the corporal into the spiritual, the worldly into the divine, 
and, above all, to moralize it. And in this way we shall gather honey from 
the hard stone and the vermeil rose from sharp thorns, where we shall find 
grains and seed, fruit, flower and leaf, very sweet odour, odoriferous verdure, 
verdant florescence, flourishing nurture, nourishing fruit and fruitful pasture. 

296 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

sance can still seem so remote from the regions on this side 
of the Alps. 

It requires some effort and some reflection to realize that 
exactly in these artifices of style and wit, we witness the 
coming of the Renaissance, in the shape it took outside Italy. 
To contemporaries this far-fetched form meant the renewal 
of art. 


The transition from the spirit of the declining Middle Ages 
to humanism was far less simple than we are inclined to 
imagine it. Accustomed to oppose humanism to the Middle 
Ages, we would gladly believe that it was necessary to give 
up the one in order to embrace the other. We find it difficult 
to fancy the mind cultivating the ancient forms of medieval 
thought and expression while aspiring at the same time to 
antique wisdom and beauty. Yet this is just what we have 
to picture to ourselves. Classicism did not come as a sudden 
revelation, it grew up among the luxuriant vegetation of 
medieval thought. Humanism was a form before it was an 
inspiration. On the other hand, the characteristic modes of 
thought of the Middle Ages did not die out till long after the 

In Italy the problem of humanism presents itself in a most 
simple form, because there men's minds had ever been predis- 
posed to the reception of antique culture. The Italian spirit 
had never lost touch with classic harmony and simplicity. 
It could expand freely and naturally in the restored forms of 
classic expression. The quattrocento with its serenity makes 
the impression of a renewed culture, which has shaken off 
the fetters of medieval thought, until Savonarola reminds us 
that below the surface the Middle Ages still subsist. 

The history of French civilization of the fifteenth century, 
on the contrary, does not permit us to forget the Middle Ages. 
France had been the mother-land of all that was strongest 
and most beautiful in the products of the medieval spirit. 
All medieval forms feudalism, the ideas of chivalry and 
courtesy, scholasticism, Gothic architecture were rooted here 
much more firmly than ever they had been in Italy. In the 
fifteenth century they were dominating still. Instead of the 
full rich style, the blitheness and the harmony characteristic 


298 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

of Italy and the Renaissance, here it is bizarre pomp, cumbrous 
forms of expression, a worn-out fancy and an atmosphere of 
melancholy gravity which prevail. It is not the Middle Ages, 
it is the new coming culture, which might easily be forgotten. 

In literature classical forms could appear without the 
spirit having changed. An interest in the refinement of Latin 
style was enough, it seems, to give birth to humanism. The 
proof of this is furnished by a group of French scholars about 
the year 1400. It was composed of ecclesiastics and magis- 
trates, Jean de Monstreuil, canon of Lille and secretary to 
the ting, Nicolas de Clemanges, the famous denouncer of 
abuses in the Church, Pierre et Gontier Col, the Milanese 
Ambrose de Miliis, also royal secretaries. The elegant and 
grave epistles they exchange are inferior in no respect neither 
in the vagueness of thought, nor in the consequential air, 
nor in the tortured sentences, nor even in learned trifling 
to the epistolary genre of later humanists. Jean de Monstreuil 
spins long dissertations on the subject of Latin spelling. He 
defends Cicero and Virgil against the criticism of his friend 
Ambrose de Miliis, who had accused the former of con- 
tradictions and preferred Ovid to the latter. On another 
occasion he writes to Clemanges : " If you do not come to 
my aid, dear master and brother, I shall have lost my reputa- 
tion and be as one sentenced to death. I have just noticed 
that in my last letter to my lord and father, the bishop of 
Cambray, I wrote proodmior instead of the comparative 
propior; so rash and careless is the pen. Kindly correct 
this, otherwise our detractors will write libels about it." 

There are more charming passages in his correspondence 
than this : for example, his description of the monastery of 
Charlieu, near Senlis, where he speaks of the sparrows coming 
to share the monks' repast, the wren which behaves as if it 
were the abbot, and lastly, the gardener's donkey, which begs 
the author not to forget it in his letter. We may hesitate 
whether to call this medieval naivety or humanistic elegance. 

It suffices to recall that we met Jean de Monstreuil and the 
brothers Col among the zealots of the Roman de fa. Rose and 
among the members of the Court of Love of 1401, to be con- 
vinced that this primitive French humanism was but a 
secondary element of their culture, the fruit of scholarly 

The Advent of the New Form 299 

erudition, analogous to the so-called renaissances of classic 
latinity of earlier ages, notably the ninth and the twelfth 
century. The circle of Jean de Monstreuil had no immediate 
successors, and this early French humanism seems to disappear 
with the men who cultivated it. Still, in its origins it was 
to some extent connected with the great international move- 
ment of literary renovation. Petrarch was, in the eyes of 
Jean de Monstreuil and his friends, the illustrious initiator, 
and Coluccio Salutati, the Florentine chancellor who intro- 
duced classicism into official style, was not unknown to them 
either. Their zeal for classic refinement had evidently been 
roused not a little by Petrarch's taunt that there were no 
orators nor poets outside Italy. In France Petrarch's work 
had, so to say, been accepted in a medieval spirit and incor- 
porated into medieval thought. He himself had personally 
known the leading spirits of the second half of the fourteenth 
century ; the poet Philippe de Vitri, Nicolas Oresme, philoso- 
pher and politician^ who had been a preceptor to the dauphin, 
probably also Philippe de Mezieres. These men, in spite of 
the ideas which make Oresme one of the forerunners of modern 
science, were not humanists. As to Petrarch himself, we are 
always inclined to exaggerate the modern element in his mind 
and work, because we are accustomed to see him exclusively 
as the first of renovators. It is easy to imagine him emanci- 
pated from the ideas of his century. Nothing is further from 
the truth. He is most emphatically a man of his time. The 
themes of which he treated were those of the Middle Ages : 
De cmtemptu mundi, De otio religiosorum, De vita solitaria. 
It is only the form and the tone of his work which differ and 
are more highly finished. His glorification of antique virtue 
in his De viris illustribus and his Eerum memorandarum Ifbri 
corresponds more or less with the chivalrous cult of the Nine 
Worthies. There is nothing surprising in his being found in 
touch with the founder of the Brethren of the Common Life, 
or cited as an authority on a dogmatic point by the fanatic 
Jean de Varennes. Denis the Carthusian borrowed laments 
from him about the loss of the Holy Sepulchre, a typically 
medieval subject. What contemporaries outside Italy saw 
in Petrarch was not at all the poet of the Sonnets or the 
Trionfi, but a moral philosopher, a Christian Cicero. 

300 The, Waning of the Middle Ages 

In a more limited field Boccaccio exercised an influence 
resembling that of Petrarch. His fame too was that of a 
moral philosopher, and by no means rested on the Decamerone. 
He was honoured as the " doctor of patience in adversity," 
as the author of De casibus virorum illustrium and of De cla/ris 
mulieribus. Because of these queer writings treating of the 
inconstancy of human fate " messire Jehan Bocace " had 
made himself a sort of impresario of Fortune. As such he 
appears to Chastellain, who gave the name of Le Temple de 
Bocace to the bizarre treatise in which he endeavoured to 
console Queen Margaret, after her flight from England, by 
relating to her a series of the tragic destinies of his time. In 
recognizing in Boccaccio the strongly medieval spirit which 
was their own, these Burgundian spirits of a century later 
were not at all off the mark. 

What distinguishes nascent Humanism in France from that 
of Italy, is a difference of erudition, skill and taste, rather 
than of tone or aspiration. To transplant antique form and 
sentiment into national literature the French had to overcome 
far more obstacles than the people born under the Tuscan sky 
or in the shadow of the Coliseum. France too, had her learned 
clerks, writing in Latin, who were capable at an early date of 
rising to the height of the epistolary style. But a blending of 
classicism and medievalism in the vernacular, such as was 
achieved by Boccaccio, was for a long time impossible in 
France. The old forms were too strong, and the general culture 
still lacked the proficiency in mythology and ancient history 
which was current in Italy. Machaut, although a clerk, 
pitifully disfigures the names of the seven sages. Chastellain 
confounds Peleus with Pelias, La Marche Proteus with Piri- 
thous. The author of the Pastoralet speaks of the " good king 
Scipio of Africa." But at the same time his subject inspires 
him with a description of the god Silvanus and a prayer to 
Pan, in which the poetical imagination of the Benaissance 
seems on the point of breaking forth. The chroniclers were 
already trying their hand at military speeches in Livy's manner, 
and adorning their narrative of important events by mention- 
ing portents, in close imitation of Livy. Their attempts at 
classicism did not always succeed. Jean Germain's descrip- 
tion of the Arras congress of 1435 is a veritable caricature of 

The Advent of the New Form 301 

antique prose. The vision of Antiquity was still very bizarre. 
At the funeral service of Charles the Bold at Nancy, his con- 
queror, the young duke of Lorraine, came to honour the 
corpse of his enemy, dressed " in antique style," that is to 
say, wearing a long golden beard which reached to his girdle. 
Thus got up to represent one of the Nine Worthies, he prayed 
for a quarter of an hour. 

The word " antique " as conceived in Prance about 1400 
belonged to the same group of ideas as " rh&fcorique, orateur, 
poesie." No one would have thought of applying the word 
" po6sie " to a ballad or a song in the old French form. This 
classical word, which evoked the idea of the admired per- 
fection of the Ancients, meant above all an artificial form. 
The poets of this time are perfectly capable of expressing 
heartfelt emotions in a simple form, but when they wish to 
attain superior beauty, they hunt up mythology, employ 
pedantic latinized terms and then consider themselves " rhe- 
toricians." Christine de Pisan expressly singles out a mytho- 
logic piece, which she calls "balade pou6tique," from her 
ordinary work. Eustache Deschamps, wishing to air his 
talent, in sending his works to Chaucer, his fellow-poet and 
admirer, adds the following lines : 

" O Socrates plains de philosophic, 
Seneque en mews et Anglux en pratique, 
Ovides grans en ta poeterie, 
Bries en parler, saiges en rethorique 
Aigles tres haulz, qui par ta theorique 
Eahimines le regne d'Eneas, 
L'Isle aux Geans, ceuls de Brath, et qtd as 
Sem6 les fleurs et plante le rosier, 
Aux ignorans de la langue paadras, 
Grant translates, noble GeofEroy Chaucier ! 

A toy pour ce de la fontaine Helye 
Requier avoir un buvraige autentique, 
Dont la doys est du tout en ta baillie, 
Pour rafrener d'elle ma soif ethique, 
Qui en Gaul seray paraJitique 
Jiasques a ce que tu m'abuveras." - 1 

1 Socrates full of philosophy, Seneca in morals and Englishman in practice, 
Great Ovid in your poetry, Brief of speech, well-versed in rhetoric, Exalted 
eagle, who by your erudition Have illumined the reign of Eneas, The Island 

302 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

This is the beginning, modest as yet, of the ridiculous latin- 
ism which Villon and Rabelais satirized. This insufferable 
manner reappears whenever authors exert themselves to be 
exceptionally brilliant, in dedications, discourses, or literary 
correspondence. In this vein Chastellain will write "vostre 
tres humble et ob6issante serve et ancelle, la ville de Gand," 
" la visc6rale intime douleur et tribulation," l La Marche 
" nostre francigene locution et langue vernacule," 2 Molinet 
" abreuv6 de la doulce et melliflue liqueur procedant de la 
fontaine caballine," "ce vertueux due scipionique," "gens 
de muli&bre courage." 3 

This far-fetched rhetoric testifies both to an ideal of literary 
conversation and to an ideal of style. Like the troubadours 
of yore, the rhetoricians and the humanists cultivated litera- 
ture in the form of an all-round game. Literary correspond- 
ence of a rather strange kind springs up. A fervent admirer 
of Georges Chastellain, Jean Robertet, secretary to three 
dukes of Bourbon and to three kings of France, tried to enter 
into correspondence with the poet-historiographer of the Bur- 
gundian court, by the good offices of a certain Montf errant who 
lived at Bruges. The latter, to soften the old author, who was 
at first rather reserved, had recourse to the time-honoured 
device of allegory. He evoked the "twelve dames of rhe- 
toric," Science, Eloquence, Gravity of Meaning, Profundity, 
etc., who appeared to him in a vision and told him to exert 
himself in behalf of the correspondence desired by Robertet. 
In the exchange of poetical and rhetorical compliments which 
followed, Chastellain's verses are sober, when compared with 
the hyperbolic effusions of Robertet. 

of the Giants, and that of Brut, and who have Sown flowers and planted 
the eglantine, For the ignorant of thejlanguage, you will pour yourself forth, 
Great translator, noble Geoffrey Qhaucer 1 

From you therefore out of the fountain of Helye I ask to have an 
authentic draught, Of which the conduit is wholly in your power To slake 
my ethic thirst, I who in Gaul shall be paralysed Till you shall give me to 


1 Your very humble and obedient slave and servant, the city of Ghent ; 
The intestinal inward sorrow and tribulation. 

2 Our French-born locution and vernacular tongue. 

Having drunk from the sweet and mellifluous liquor proceeding from 
the equine fountain. This virtuous scipionic duke. People of muliebral 

The Advent of the New Form 303 

* 4 Frapp6 en Toeil d'une clart6 terrible 
Attaint au coeur d'eloquence incredible, 
A humain sens difficile a produire, 
Tout ofhisqiaie" de Inmiere incendible 
Outre per$ant de ray presqu'impossible 
Sur obscur corps qui jamais ne peut luire, 
Ravi, abstrait me trouve en mon d6duire, 
En extase corps gisant a la terra, 
Foible esperit perplex a voye enquerre 
Pour trouver lieu et oportune yssue 
Du pas estroit ou je suis mis en serre, 
Pris a la rets qu'amour vraye a tissue." * 

In these terms he describes the sensations which the arrival 
of a letter by Chastellain caused in him. And, continuing 
in prose, he asks his friend Montferrant (whom he calls " friend 
of the immortal gods, beloved of men, high Ulyssean breast, full 
of mellifluent eloquence "), " N'est-ce resplendeur 6quale au 
curre Phoebus ? " * Does he not surpass Orpheus' lyre ? and 
" la tube d'Amphion, la Mercuriale flute quiendormit Argus ? " 
" Oft est 1'ceil capable de tel objet visible, Toreille pour ouyr 
le haut son argentin et tmtinabule d'or ? " 3 

Chastellain showed some scepticism as to this raving en- 
thusiasm. Soon he had enough of it and wanted to bar the 
gate which had so long and widely been open to "Dame 
Vanity." " Robertet has quite soaked me by his cloud, of 
which the drops, congealing like hail, make my garments 
brilliant as with pearls ; but what good is it to the dark body 
underneath, when my robe deceives the onlookers ? " There- 
fore let him cease writing in this way, otherwise Chastellain 
will throw his letters into the fire without reading them. If 
he is willing to speak as beseems among friends, he may rest 
assured of George's affection. 

1 Struck in the eye by a terrible brightness, Touched in the heart by incredible 
eloquence. Difficult for the human mind to produce, Quite obscured by incen- 
diary light Penetrating with almost unbearable rays, To a dark body that can 
never shine, Ravished, distraught, I find myself, in my deKght, My body in 
ecstasy lying on the ground, My feeble spirit is at a loss to go in quest of a 
path In order to find a place and opportune exit From the narrow pass where 
I am hemmed in Caught in the toils which true love has netted. 

* Is this not splendour equal to the car of Phoebus ? 

* The reed of Amphion, the Mercurial flute, which causedl Argos to sleep ? 
Where is the eye capable of seeing such a visible object, the ear to hear the 
high silver sound and golden tintinnabulation ? 

304 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Lucubrations of this sort by no means give us the feeling 
of the measure and harmony of the Renaissance. It all seems 
to us antiquated in sentiment and style. There is no doubt, 
however, that these wits considered themselves supremely 
modern. This Eobertet had been in Italy, " a country greedy 
for renovation ... on which the meteoric conditions operate 
to facilitate ornate speech, and towards which all elemental 
sweetness is drawn, there to resolve into harmony." He 
evidently believed that the secret of this harmony was in the 
" ornate speech " and that to rival the Italians it sufficed to 
bedeck the French style with the ornaments of classicism. 
Now, in Italy, where language and thought had never been 
entirely estranged from the pure Latin style, the social en- 
vironment and the turn of mind were far more congenial to 
the humanistic tendencies than in France. Italian civiliza- 
tion had naturally developed the type of the humanist. The 
Italian language was not, like the French, corrupted by an 
influx of latinism; it absorbed it without difficulty. In 
France, on the contrary, the medieval foundations of social 
life were still solid ; the language, much farther removed from 
Latin than Italian was, refused to be latinized. If, in English, 
erudite latinisms were to find an easy access, it was because of 
the very fact that here the language was not of Latin stock 
at all, so that no incongruity of expression made itself felt. 

In so far as the French humanists of the fifteenth century 
wrote in Latin, the medieval subsoil of their culture is little 
in evidence. The more completely the classical style is 
imitated, the more the true spirit is concealed. The letters 
and the discourses of Robert Gaguin are not distinguishable 
from the works of other humanists. But Gaguin is, at the 
same time, a French poet of altogether medieval inspiration 
and of altogether national style. Whereas those who did 
not, and perhaps could not, write in Latin, spoiled their French 
by latinized forms, he, the accomplished latinist, when writing 
in French, disdained rhetorical effects. His Debat du Ldboureur, 
du PfesWe et du Gendarme, medieval in its subject, is also 
medieval in style. It is simple and vigorous, like Villon's 
poetry and Deschamps* best work. 

Who are the true moderns in the French literature of the 
fifteenth century ? Those, no doubt, whose works approach 

The Advent of the New Form 305 

nearest to what the following century produced of beauty. 
Assuredly it is not, whatever their merits may have been, 
the grave and pompous representatives of the Burgundian 
style : not Chastellain, La Marche, Molinet. The novelties 
of form which they affected were too superficial, the foundation 
of their thought too essentially medieval, their classical whim- 
sies to naive. Should one look for the modern element in the 
refinement of form ? Sometimes this form, though most 
artificial, has so much grace that the sweet melody makes 
us forget the emptiness of meaning. 

"Plusiers bergiers sont en lacz mortelz telz 
Heurtez, boutez, que pou leur d&luit duyt. 
Et leurs moutons en maus fortunez nez, 
Venez, vanez, de fers mal parez rez, 
Leurs bledz emblez, ayans sauf conduit vuyd, 
La nuit leur nuit, la mort qui destniit ruit, 
Leur fruit s'en fuit venant aperte perte : 
Mais Pan nous tient en asseurance experte." - 1 

This was written by Jean Lemaire de Beiges. Much more 
might be said on this elaboration of a purely formal beauty in 
poetry. But, taking all in all, it is not here that the future of 
literature lies. If by moderns we understand those who have 
most affinity with the later development of French literature, 
the moderns are Villon, Charles of Orleans and the poet of 
ISAmant rendu Cordelier, just those who kept most aloof from 
classicism and who did not strain after over-nice forms. The 
medieval character of their motifs robs them not in the least 
of their aspect of youth and of promise. It is the spontaneity 
of their expression which makes them moderns. 

Classicism then was not the controlling factor in the advent 
of the new spirit in literature. Neither was paganism. The 
frequent use of pagan expressions or tropes has often been 
considered the chief characteristic of the Eenaissance. This 
practice, however, is far older. As early as the twelfth century 
mythological terms were employed to express concepts of the 

QOvOrHJ. SJULOUilOX UB cuAO '.t 1 - ouxau. JLUVTJ. * ~-- - *. 

that it little tends to their delight. And their sheep, born in an evil hour, 
Are hunted, exhausted, shorn by ill-sharpened shears, Their corn is stolen, 
having a fruitless safe-conduct, The night is noxious to them; destructive 
death rushes in, Their fruit flies, as open ruin comes, But Pan holds us in bis 
expert protection. 

306 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

Christian faith, and this was not considered at all irreverent 
or impious. Deschamps speaking of "Jupiter come from 
paradise," Villon calling the Holy Virgin " high goddess/ 3 the 
humanists referring to God in terms like " princeps superum " 
and to Mary as " genetrix tonantis," are by no means pagans. 
Pastorals required some admixture of innocent paganism, by 
which no reader was duped. The author of the Pastoralet 
who calls the Celestine church at Paris " the temple in the 
high woods, where people pray to the gods/' declares, to dispel 
all ambiguity, " If, to lend my Muse some strangeness, I 
speak of the pagan gods, the shepherds and myself are Christ- 
ians all the same/' In the same way Molinet excuses himself 
for having introduced Mars and Minerva, by quoting " Reason 
and Understanding," who said to him : " You should do it, 
not to instil faith in gods and goddesses, but because Our Lord 
alone inspires people as it pleases Trim and frequently by 
various inspirations." 

The purity of Faith was more seriously threatened when, as 
in the following lines, a certain respect for pagan cults, and 
notably of sacrifices, is manifested. 

"Des dieux jadis les nations gentiles 
Quirent 1'amour par humbles sacrifices, 
Lesquels, pose* que ne fussent utiles, 
Furent nientmoins rendables et fertiles, 
De maint grant fruit et de haulx b6n6fices, 
Monstrans par fait que d'amour les offices 
Et d'honneur humble, impartis oft qu'ils soient 
Pour pereer ciel et enfer suffisoient." 1 

This is a stanza of the Dit de Verite, the best poem of Chastel- 
lain, which was inspired by his fidelity to the duke of Burgundy, 
and in which,, forgetting his ordinary grandiloquence a little, 
he gives free rein to his political indignation. 

To find paganism, there was no need for the spirit of the 
waning Middle Ages to revert to classic literature. The pagan 
spirit displayed itself, as amply as possible, in the Roman de la 

1 Formerly the gentile nations of the gods Craved love by humble sacrifices, 
Which, taken for granted that they were useless, Were nevertheless profitable 
and prolific Of much important fruit and of high benefits, Which shows by 
facts that offices of love And of humble homage, rendered wherever they 
were, Were sufficient to pierce heaven and hell. 

The Advent of the New Form 307 

Eose. Not in the guise of some mythological phrases ; it was 
not there that the danger lay, but in the whole erotic con- 
ception and inspiration of this most popular work of all. From 
the early Middle Ages onward Venus and Cupid had found a 
refuge in this domain. But the great pagan who called them 
to vigorous life and enthroned them was Jean de Meun. By 
blending with Christian conceptions of eternal bliss the boldest 
praise of voluptuousness, he had taught numerous generations 
a very ambiguous attitude towards Faith. He had dared to 
distort Genesis for his impious purposes by making Nature 
complain of men because they neglect her commandment of 
procreation, in the words : 

" Si m'a'ist Diex li crucefis, 
Moult me repens dont homme fis." x 

It is astonishing that the Church, which so rigorously re- 
pressed the slightest deviations from dogma of a speculative 
character, suffered the teaching of this breviary of the aristo- 
cracy (for the Boman de la Rose was nothing less) to be dis- 
seminated with impunity. 

But the essence of the great renewal lies even less in pagan- 
ism than in pure Latinity. Classic expression and imagery, 
and even sentiments borrowed from heathen Antiquity, might 
be a potent stimulus or an indispensable support in the process 
of cultural renovation, they never were its moving power. 
The soul of Western Christendom itself was outgrowing medi- 
eval forms and modes of thought that had become shackles. 
The Middle Ages had always lived in the shadow of Antiquity, 
always handled its treasures, or what they had of them, in- 
terpreting it according to truly medieval principles : scholastic 
theology and chivalry, asceticism and courtesy. Now, by 
an inward ripening, the mind, after having been so long 
conversant with the forms of Antiquity, began to grasp^its 
spirit. The incomparable simpleness and purity of the ancient 
culture, its exactitude of conception and of expression, its 
easy and natural thought and strong interest in men and in 
life, all this began to dawn upon men's minds. Europe, 
help me God who was crucified, I much repent that I made man. 

308 The Waning of the Middle Ages 

after having lived in the shadow of Antiquity, lived in its sun- 
shine once more. 

This process of assimilation of the classic spirit, however, 
was intricate and full of incongruities. The new form and the 
new spirit do not yet coincide. The classical form may serve 
to express the old conceptions : more than one humanist 
chooses the sapphic strophe for a pious poem of purely medieval 
inspiration. Traditional forms, on the other hand, may con- 
tain the spirit of the coming age. Nothing is more erroneous 
than to identify classicism and modern culture. 

The fifteenth century in France and the Netherlands is 
still medieval at heart. The diapason of life had not yet 
changed. Scholastic thought, with symbolism and strong 
formalism, the thoroughly dualistic conception of life and the 
world still dominated. The two poles of the mind continued 
to be chivalry and hierarchy. Profound pessimism spread a 
general gloom over life. The gothic principle prevailed in 
art. But all these forms and modes were on the wane. A 
high and strong culture is declining, but at the same time and 
in the same sphere new things are being born. The tide is 
turnine, the tone of life is about to change. 


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Abbeville, 13 

Abuze en Court, ' , by Charles 

Rochefort, 120, 192 
Achfry, Luc d' , 86 
"Adam and Eve,*' by Van Eyck, 

258, 289 
Adoration of the M#gi, by the 

Brothers of Limburg, 269, 273 
Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, 

The, by Ruysbroeck, 179, 180 
Adrianople, 83 
JEneas Sylvius Kccolomini, Pope 

Pius II, 12 
Agincourt, Battle of, 62, 85, 86, 

89, 122, 129 

Agricola, Rodolph , 143 
Ailly, Pierre d' , 119, 137, 138, 146, 

162, 195, 247, 298 
Alain, see La Roche 
Alexander the Great, 59, 60, 61 
Alost, 262 
Altar of Merode, by Robert Campin, 


Amadis of Gaul, 68 
Amant rendu cordeUer de ^observance 

d? Amour, ' , 99, 286 ss., 305 
Amboise, Cardinals of, 293 
Angers, 166, 169 
Anjou, Louis of, 39, 85, 166 
" Annunciation," by Jan van Eyck, 


Antwerp, 80, 142, 232, 290 
Arbre des Batatites, V, by Honore 

Bonet, 87, 92 ss., 212 
Arc, Joan of , 63, 151, 216, 222 
Ardres, Meeting of, 6 t 
Areopagite, Pseudo-Dionysras the, 

201 ss., 245 

Ariosto, Ludovico , 69, 122 
Armagnacs, Party of the , 3, 14, 17 
Armenia, Le*on de Lusignan, King 

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Armentidres, Peronelle , 109 ss. 
Arnolfini, Giovanni, 237, 254, 279 
Arras, 175, 232 

Arras, Peace Congress of, 6, 300 
Arras, Treaty of, 1436, 12 
Arras, Vauderie d'-, 18, 218 
Arrestz d'Amxwr, by Martial dAu- 
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Ars monendi, 132 

Artevelde, Philip of, 25, 90, 115 

Arthur, King, 9, 59, 61, 72 

Artois, Robert of, 78 

Aubriot, Hugues , 148 

Aurai, Battle of, 166 

Autun, Altar of, 232, 240 

Auxerre, 137 

Auxiliary Saints, see Holy Martyrs 

Avignon, 14, 79, 126, 168, 177, 208, 291 

Avis, Order of, 75 

Baerze, Jacques de , 228 

Baker, John ,207 

Ball, John , 53 

Ballade de Fougeres, La, by Alain 

Chartier, 76, 210 
BaUade des Dames du Temps jadte, 

by Villon, 125 
des Seigneurs, 125, 126 
Balue, Jean, bishop of Evreux, 34 
Bamborough, Robert, 59, 87 
Barante, Prosper de , 222 
Basele, Monne de , 34 
Basin, Thomas , bishop of lasieux, 

Bataille de Karesme et de Charnage 

La, 193 
"Bath of Women," by Jan van 

Eyck, 243 

Baudricourt, Robert de , 216 
Bavaria, John of, elect of LiSge, 38 
Bavaria, Isabella of , See Isabella 
Bavaria, Margaret of, Duchess of 

Burgundy, 170 
Bayard, Pierre de Terrail, Seigneur 

Ji- 72 88 

Beaugrant, Madame de , 17 
Beaumanoir, Robert de , 59, 87, 166 
Beaumont, Jean de , 70, 81 
Beaune,^ Altar of, 232, 240 
Beauneveu, Andre 1 , 238 
Beaut<, Castle of, 270 
Beauvais, Vincent of, 100 
Bedford, John of Lancaster, duke of 

, 75, 162 
Begards, 179 
BelonlafoUe, 17 
Benedict Xin, pope at Avignon, 

10, 14, 79, 208 



Berlin, 142, 237, 239, 254 
Bernardino of Siena, 161, 165, 182 
Berry, John, Duke of, 85, 87, 130, 

134, 150, 168, 225, 226, 238 
Berthelemy, Jean, 180 
Bethlehem, 215 
Btisac, Jean , 148 
" Bien public," War of the, 63 
Bi&vre, Castle of, 270 
Binchois, Gilles , 247 
Bladelin, Pierre , 239 
Bfason des Coulewrs, Le , 107 
Blois, Charles of, 166, 167 
Blois, Jehans de , 167 
Boccaccio, Giovanni , 300 
Boiardo, M. M. , 69 
Bois, Mansart du , 3 
Bois-le-Duc, 246 
Bonaventura, John, see Saint B. 
Bonet, HonorS, 87, 92, 93, 212 
Boniface VIII, Pope , 129 
Boniface, Jean de , 80 
Borgia, Cesare , 85 
Borromeo, Saint Charles, 165 
Boucicaut, Jean le Meingre, Mare 1 - 

chal , 62, 63, 69, 102, 103, 133 
Boucicaut, Le Lime des faicts du 

Mareschal, 55, 63 
Bouillon, Godfrey of, 61 
Boulogne, 72 

Bourbon, House of , 76, 302 
Bourbon, Jacques de , 164 
Bourbon, John of, 80 
Bourbon, Louis of , 103, 168 
Bourg en Bresse, 86 
Bourses, 269 

Bouts, Dirk, 224, 229, 239, 292 
Bouvier, Gilles le dit le hraut 

Berry, 58 
Brethren of the Common Life, 157, 

174 ss., 181,299 
Brethren of the Free Spirit, 179, 


Breughel, Peter, 193, 279, 281, 282 
Broederlam, Melchior , 152, 

Brotherhood of the Rosary, 180, 181, 

Bruges, 14, 15, 123, 130, 224, 226, 

229, 231, 232, 239, 273, 292, 302 
Brugman, Jan , 179 
Brussels, 3, 6, 35, 142, 224, 232, 239, 

265, 290, 291 

Bueil, Jean de, 62 ss., 162 
Bunyan, John , 147 
Burckhardt, Jacob , 58, 59 
Burgher of Paris, Diary of a , 3, 20, 

34, 134, 192 
Burgundians, Party of the , 3, 12, 

14, 122, 192, 214 

Burgundy, Ann of , duchess of 

Bedford, 162 

Burgundy, Anthony of , 97 
Burgundy, Court of , 6, 11, 31, 

38, 42, 89, 167, 168, 191, 226, 302 
Burgundy, Dukes of , 25, 30, 31, 

34, 48, 61, 76, 82, 83, 140, 215 ; 

See Philip the Bold, Jean sans 

Peur, Philip the Good, Charles 

the Bold 
Burgundy, House of , 9, 12, 18, 

48, 170 

Burgundy, Mary of, 17, 43, 142 
Burne-Jones, Edward , 67 
Busnois, Antoine , 238 
Bussy, Oudart de , 4 
Byron, 125 

Caesar, Julius, 59, 60, 61 
Calabria, 169 
Cambray, 232. See Ailly 
Campin. See Fl&nalle 
Capistrano, John , 165 
Carmelites, Monastery of the , at 

Paris, 140 
Carthusians, 179 
Casibus virorum illustrium, De , 

by Boccaccio, 300 
Cassinelle, La, 107 
Caxton, William , 236 
Celestines, Monastery of the , at 
Avignon, 126, 168 ; at Paris, 163, 
164, 165, 168, 209, 306 
Cent Ballades, Livre des , 69, 102 
Cent Nouvelks Nouvelles, Les, 98, 

99, 113, 161, 286 
Cephalus and Procris, 95 
Chaise-Dieu, la , 131 
Champion, Pierre , 20 
Champion des Dames, Le , by 

Martin Lefranc, 219 
Champmol, Carthusianmonastery,234 
Chansons de Geste, 272 
Chansons de Namur, Le& , by Jean 

le Maire, 55 
Chapel des Fleurs-de-lis, Le , by 

Philippe de Vitri, 65 
Charlemagne, 61 
Charles V, Emperor, 44, 85, 290 
Charles V, King of France, 15, 162 
Charles VI, King of France, 8, 38, 39, 
40, 63, 85, 90, 91, 97, 145, 160, 208, 
209, 225 

Charles VII, King of France, 6, 23, 39 
Charles VIII, King of France, 236 
Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, 
earlier count of Charolais, 7, 13, 17, 
18, 31, 32, 35, 41, 60, 75, 97, 123, 
207, 216, 229, 232, 247, 248, 263 ss,; 
290, 301 



Oharlieu, Monastery of , 298 

Charny, Geofficoi de , 92 

Charolais, 77 

Charolais, Count of. See Charles 
the Bold 

Chartier, Alain, poet, 52, 76, 120, 
197, 210, 259 BS., 269, 283, 284 

Chastellain, Georges, 2, 7, 8, 11, 
25, 31, 32, 35, 38, 41, 48 ss., 55, 
66, 68, 60, 89, 90, 97, 121, 125, 
132, 144, 190, 215, 240, 262 ss., 
272, 273, 282, 293, 294, 300, 302, 
305, 306 

Ch&telier, Jacques du , bishop of 
Paris, 19 

Chatti, 80 

Chaucer, Geoffrey , 301 

Chevalier, Etienne , 142 

Chevrot, Jean. See Touinay, bishop 

Chopinel, Jean , 96, 100 ss., 109, 
288, 307 

Cicero, 53, 71, 298, 299 

Gloria mulieribus, De , by Boccaccio, 

Clemanges, Nicolas de , 51, 104, 
120, 137, 143, 144, 145, 149, 298 

Clement VI, Pope, 199 

Clercq, Jacques du , 20, 50, 148, 
218, 240 

Cleves, Adolphus of , 42 

Clopinel. See Chopinel 

CQBUT, Jacques , 115 

CoZmbra, John of , prince of Portu- 
gal, 6 

Coitier, Jacques , 170 

Col, Gontier, 104, 105, 120, 298 

Col, Pierre, 104, 298 

Colchis, 76 

Cologne, Herman of , 235 

Colombo, Michel, 293 

Combat of the Eleven, 88 

Combat of the Thirty, 59, 87 

Commines, Philippe de , 56, 60, 91, 
116, 169 ss., 216 

Complaincte de Eco, by Coquillart, 

Complaints du povre cotnmun . . .de 
France, 52 

Constance, Council of . 175 

Constantinople, 10, 169 

Contemptu Mundi, De , by Pe- 
trarch, 299 

Contra Peregrinantes, by Frederick 
ofHeilo, 145 

Contra vanam curiostiatem, by Jean 
Gerson, 139 

Contra vitia superstitionum, by Denis 
the Carthusian, 220 

Convivio, by Dante, 26 

CoquiUart, Guillaume , 156, 210 
Coucy, Castle of, 61 ; Enguerrand 

de , 168; House of, 76 
Couderc, C. , 249 
Courtenay, Peter, 87 
Courtray, 232 
Cranach, Lucas , 289 
Craon, Pierre de , 16 
Cricy, Battle of, 33, 61 
Oroy, Antoine de , 231 
Croy, Family of, 239, 263 
Croy, Philippe de , 248 
Cu&r 6? Amours espris, by Kinff 

Bene, 267, 284 * 

Currial, Le , by Alain Chartier, 120 
Qyprus, Peter of Lusignan, King of 

Danse awe Aveugles., by Pierre 

Michault, 277 

Dante, 18, 26, 95, 194, 288, 294 
David, Gerard, 224, 226, 251, 292 
David, King, 61, 179, 257 
Debat des Hfrauts d'Armes de France 

et d'Angleterre, 91 
Debat dou Cheval et dou Levrier, by 

Froissart, 277 
Debat du Laboureur, du Prestre et du 

Gendarme, by Bobert Gaguin, 62, 


Decamerone, by Boccaccio, 300 
Denis. See Areopagite 
Denis the Carthusian, 124, 125, 144, 

170 ss., 174, 182, 190, 194, 196 ss., 

201 ss., 220, 242, 245 ss., 299 
Denys le Chartreirs. See Denis the 

" Descent from the Cross," by Rogier 

van der Weyden, 291 
Deschamps, Eustache , 23 ss., 38, 

54, 61, 91, 93, 97, 118, 119, 125, 

143, 146, 152, 155, 156, 157, 217, 

248, 250, 270, 271, 274, 280, 281, 

282, 294, SOI,' 304, 306 
Des trois Chevaliers et del Chainse, 71 
Devanter, 34 
"Devotio Moderna," 145, 160, 174 

ss., 178 ss., 205, 238 
Dijon, 233; Tabernacle at, 228, 281 
Dijon, Ducal palace at , 32 
Directory of the Life of Nobles, by 

Denis the Carthusian, 124 
Discours de ^excellence de virginite^ 

by Gerson, 27 
Dte de Vfrtie, Le, by Chastellain, 

Diversis didboli tentationibus, De , 

by Gerson, 178 
" Dolce stilnuovo," 95 
DominicaBfl, 180, 181, 220 


Domremy, 216 
Donatus morahsatus, 
Douai, 232 

Ftemalle, Robert Oampin, called the 

Master of, 279 
"Flight into Egypt," by Breeder- 

lam, 281 


Duraad, Gufflaume , 194 
Durand Grille, E. , 256 
r, Albreeht-, 244, 290 

Eck, Johannes, 163 
Eckhart, Master, 203, 204 
Edward III, King of England, 9, 78, 

Edward IV, King of England, 11, 

MA 1 t\t\ 

Foulques'de Toulouse, 197 

Fradin, Antoine , 4 

Franc Gontier, Le ZW* <&-, 117 ss., 

123 ; Le$ contrediz , 123 
France, Court of-, 31, 38, 42, 167 
France, House of, 170 
France, Kings and Queens of, 39, 

41, 42, 302 

> of Wales, the Black 

Prince, 9 

Emerson, R. W. , 36, 94 
Emprise du Dragon, 72, 73 
Ep&tre au Dieu d 1 Amours, L-, by 

Christine de Pisan, 102 
Entire d'Othta d Hector, by Christine 

"de Pisan, 292, 293 
Erasmus, Desiderius, 23, 157, 256 
Escouchy, Mathieu d'-, 20, 21, jtf 
Escu vert a la dame blanche, 

"Ordre del' ,63,70 

Escurial, 291 . 

Espinette amoureuse, L , by .broia- 

Estavayer, Gerard d,8b 

Este, Ippolito d' , Cardinal, 122 
Estienne, Henry, 157 ,- 7 , fl 

Etat de la Maison du due Charles 
de Bourgogne, L'-, by La Marche, 

OO Qfl 

Exclwnaciw des Os Sainct Innocent, 

Exposition sur Vfrite mal pnse, by 

Chastellain, 293 

Eyck, Brothers van, 222, 244, 2 /a 
Eyck, Hubert van ,281 
Evck, Jan van, 225 ss., 233, 237, 

240 ss., 243 ss., 252 ss., 262 ss., 

266, 279, 289, 290, 291 

Farinata degli TJberti, 198 

Fastolfe, Sir John > 129 

Fazio, Bartolomeo , 243, 245, 255, 


F^nelon, Francois de la Mothe , 


Fenin, Pierre de , 17 
Ferrer, Vincent-, 4, 5, 165, 174 

Fillastre, GuiUaume , Cardinal, 211 
Ffflastre, Guillaume , bishop of 

Tournay, 76, 77 
Fismes, Castle of, 280 
Flanders, Louis of Male, Count of, 

poetry, 125 
Frankenthal, 151 
Fraterhouses. See Brethren of the 

Common Life 

Frederick III, Emperor, 142 
Fresne de Beaucourt, G. au , ^u 

216, 219, 227,' 238, 248, 267 ss., 

272, 277, 280 
Froment, Jean, 20 
Fusil, 77 

Gaguin, Robert-, 52, 120, 156, 210, 


Galois, 78 

Garin le Loherain, 61 
Garter, Order of the, 75 
Gaston Ptobus, Count of Foix, 163 
Gaston Ptebus, son of the Count of 

Foix, 267, 268 
Gauvain, 60 
Gavre, Battle of, 215 
Geertgen of Sint Jan, 267 
Genas, Francois de ,170 
Geneva, 182 
Genoa, 63, 243 

George I, King of England, 74 
Germain Jean-, bishop of Chalons, 

Gerson, Jean-, 16, 51, 104 ss., 114, 
125, 137, 139-169, 173 ss,, 178 ss., 
189 190 194, 211, 219, 242 
Ghent, 41, 90, 144, 151, 215, 226, 

232, 266, 289 
Gideon, 76, 77 
Ctiostre, 30 
Giotto, 291 

Glasdale, William , 129 
Gloucester, Humphrey, Duke ot , 

Gloucester, Thomas of Woodstock, 

Duke of ,85 
Godefroy, Denis, 142, 143 



Goes, Hugo van der , 226 

Goethe, 36, 131 

Golden Fleece, Order of the, 58, 

75 as., 218, 231, 236, 239 
Gonzaga, Francesco, 85 
Gorcum, 7, 232 
Granada, 81 
Grand Turk, 81, 85, 169 
Granson, Battle of-, 60, 123 
Granson, Othe de , 75, 86, 102, 283, 


Gregory the Great, Pope , 53 
Groningen, 175 
Guelders, Dukes of-, 171 
Guernier, Laurent , 214 
Guesclin, Bertrand du , 61, 80, 88, 

166, 225 
Guinevere, 121 
Guyenne, Oharles of , 213, 214 

Haarlem, 239, 267 

Hacht, Hannequin de , 235 

Hagenbach, Pierre de , 8 

Hague, the , 8, 266 

Hainault, House of , 76 

Hainault, William, Count of, 88 

Hales, Alexander of, 199, 245 

Hannibal, 60 

Hans, acrobat, 17 

Hauteville, Philippe d' , 103 

Hector, 61 

Heilo, Frederick of , 145 

E&neries, Seigneur de , 263 

Henouars, 39 

Henry III, King of France, 44 

Henry IV, King of England, 74, 85 

Henry V, King of England, 40, 59, 

84, 85, 86, 89, 129 
Henry VI, King of England, 10, 39, 


Hercules, 59, 232 
Herodotus, 216 
Hesdin, 4, 85, 191, 226, 236 
" Heures d'Affly," Les belles, 267, 

Histovre des Dues de Bourgogne, by 

De Barante, 222 
Holanda, Francesco de , 244 
Holbein, Hans , 130, 131 
Holy Martyrs, Fourteen, 151, 154, 

155 ^ 

Hdtel Dieu, at Paris, 163 
Hours of Turin, 239 
Houthem, 144, 266 
Huet, G4d<Son , 131 
Hugh of Saint Victor, 204, 245 
Hugo, Victor, 222 
Huguenin, Squire, 63 
Huguenots, 68 
Hundred Years* War, 51, 129 

Hungary, Crown of-, 10 
Hutten, Ulrioh von , 22, 23 

Imitation of Jesus Christ, The, 

205, 238 

Innocent VHI, Pope , 220 
Innocents, Church and Churchyard 

of the, in Paris, 4, 19, 130 ss. 
Innocents Day, 138, 139 
Isabella of Bavaria, Queen of France, 

51, 97, 145, 214, 225, 236 
Isabella of Bourbon, Countess of 

Oharolais, , Consort of Charles the 

Bold, 41, 43 

Isabella of Castile, queen of Spain, 35 
Isabella of France, queen of England, 

Isabella of Portugal, Duchess of 

Burgundy, 264 

James, William , 66, 167, 176 

James I, King of England, 44 

Jannequin, 247 

Jason, 76, 236 

Jean sans Peur, duke of Burgundy, 
4, 9, 12, 18, 34, 40, 41, 76, 83, 103. 
104, 122, 142, 208, 209, 211, 214, 

Jerusalem, 83, 84 ; Kingdom of , 10 

Joab, 208 

John the Good, King of France, 75, 

Joseph of Arimathea, 241 

Josquin de Prs, 247 

Josuah, 61 

Jouvenoel, Le, 63, 87, 93, 212 

Jouvenel, Jean, 52 

Judas Maccabaeus, 61 

"Judgment of Cambyses," by Ger- 
ard David, 224, 292 

"Judgment of the Emperor Otto," 
by Dirk Bouts, 224, 292 

Kempis, Thomas & , 145, 160, 205, 


Kerelslied, 51 
Knights of the Bath, 74 

La Borde, L. de , 85 

La Bruyere, Jean de , 52 

La dime de Sainte Palaye, 80 

La Hire, Etienne de Vignolles dit , 


Lalaing, Jacques de , 62, 64, 116 
Lcdamg, Le Livre des Faits du bon 

Chevalier Messire Jacques de , 64 
La Marche, Olivier de , 7, 12, 25, 

32, 33, 56, 90, 125, 127, 14, 190, 

206 ss., 215, 216, 231, 238, 248, 

249, 262, 300, 302, 305 



Lamb," '* Adoration of tho- , by 
the Brothers Van Eyck, 224, 238, 
244, 257, 258, 259, 262, 273, 291 
Lancaster, House of, 11 
Lancaster, John of Gaunt, Duke of 

, 85, 225 

Lancelot, 9, 59, 60, 69, 73, 121 
Lannoy, Baudouin de , 254 
Lannoy, Family of, 239 
Lannoy, Ghillebert de , 162 
Lannoy, Jean de , 231 
La Noue, Francois de , 68 
Lapsu et reparatione justitice, Liber 
de , by Nicolas de Clemanges, 51 
La Roche, Alain de la, 180 ss., 189 
La Salle, Antoine de , 135 
La Tour Landry, Chevalier de , 

78, 112 ss., 146, 163 
La Tr&noffle, Guy de , 87, 227 
Lausanne, 219 
Laval, Jeanne de , 269 
Lazarus, 132 
"Leal Souvenir," by Jan van Eyck, 


Le Fdvre, Jean, 129, 130 
Lefdvre de Saint Bemy, Jean , 58, 


Lefranc, Martin , 219 
Legris, Estienne , 106 
Leipsic, 289 
Lelinghem, 224 

Le Maire de Beiges, Jean, 55, 305 
Leo X, Pope, 62 
Liber de Virtutibus Philippi duels 
Burgundies, by Jean Germain, 142 
Liege, bishopric of , 14 
Lille, 8, 60, 80, 104, 141, 229, 231, 

232, 290, 298 
Linxburg, Brothers of , 238 ss., 270, 

273, 280 ; Paul of, 270, 281 
Lisieux, 106 
Lithuania, 84 
Livre de Orainte Amoureuse, Le , by 

Jean Berthelemy, 180 
Livre du chevalier de la Tour Landry 
pour Venseignement de ses fittes, 
&wre du vow Dit, Le , by Guillaume 

de Machaut, 109 ss. 
Livy, Titus, 62, 300 
Loches, Forest of, 42 
London, 166 

Longuyon, Jacques de , poet, 61 
Lorraine, Ben, Duke of-, 139, 301 
Lorris, Guillaume de , 96, 100 ss. 
Louis IX, King of France, 62, 160, 


Louis XI, King of France, 4, 11, 34 ss., 
40, 42, 75, 116, 133, 139, 168 ss., 
172, 213, 248, 268, 290 

Louis XIV, King of France, 31, 39 
Louvain, 232, 292 ; University of , 

218 239 

Louvre, 134, 240, 256, 291 
Loyola, Saint Ignatius de , 165 
Lucca, 237 
Luna, Peter of . See Benedict 

Lunettes des Princes, Les , by Jean 

Meschinot, 295 
Lusignan, Castle of , 231; Pierre 

de , 76 

Luther, Martin-, 153, 194 
Luxembourg, Andr6 de , 168 ; Pierre 

de , 128, 165, 167 ss., 177 
Luxemburg, 85, 163 ; House of, 168 
Lyon, Espaing du , 269 
Lys, river, 289 

Macabre, Dance of, 129, 130 
Machaut, Guillaume de , 61, 107 ss., 

273, 274, 300 
Madrid, 291 
Mahabharata, 66, 77 
41 Madonna of the Chancellor Bolin," 

by Jan van Eyck, 240, 256, 257 
Mahuot, 89, 90 

Maillard, Olivier, 5, 140, 211 
Male, Emile , 130 
Malleus MaUficarum, by Henry 

Institoris and Jacob Sprenger, 

181, 220 

Malouel, Jean , 235 
Man with the Glass of Wine," 

"The ,253 

Marchant, Guyot , 130 ss. 
Margaret of Anjou, Queen of Eng- 
land, 11, 73, 300 
Margaret of Austria, 237 
of York, Duchess of Burgundy, see 

Margaret of Scotland, Queen of 

France, 197 

Marignano, Battle of , 247 
Marmion, Colard, 232 ; Simon , 232 
Marot, Clement , 106, 259 
Martial d'Auvergne, 109, 131, 135, 


Martianus Capella, 186 
Martin V, Pope , 182 
"Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus," 

"of Saint Hippolytus," by Dirk 

Bouts, 292 
Maximilian, King of the Bomans, 

15, 142, 226 
Mechlin, 60 

Medici, House of, 30 
Medici, Lorenzo de* , 169 
Meditationee vitce Christi, 241 



Mehun sur Yevre, 238 

M iUador, by Froissart, 56, 68 

Melun, Madonna of, 142 

M&usine, 231 

Memling, Hans, 222 

Menot, Michel , 145 

Merovingians, 169 

MerveiUes du Monde, Les, by Chas- 

teUain, 121 
Meschinot, Jean, 24, 52, 120, 122, 

268, 274, 295 
Metsys, Quentin , 244 
Metz, 20, 167 

Meun, Jean de . See Chopinel 
M&zieres, Philippe de , 15, 16, 75, 

79, 91, 164, 209, 218, 299 
Michault, Pierre, 75, 277 
Michelangelo, 235, 244, 257, 290, 291 
Michelle de France, Duchess of Bur- 

gundy, 34, 41 
Middelburg, in Flanders, 239 ; Altar 

of, 239 

Middelburg, in Zeeland, 239 
Mi&ot, Jean, 292 
Miliis, Ambrose de , 120, 298 
Minims, Order of the, 169, 170 
Mirabeau, Marquis de , 52 
Mwovrde M ariage, Le , by Eustache 

Deschamps, 217 
Mirror of Eternal Salvation, The, 

by Ruysbroeck, 180 
Molinet, Jean, 52, 56, 57, 142, 161, 
190, 210, 216, 247, 290, 294, 295, 
302, 306, 306 

Mons, 15, 232; en Vuneu, 89 
Monstrelet, Enguerrand de , 56, 89, 


Montaigu, Jean de , 4 
Montereau, Murder of, 9, 83, 142 
Montferrant, 302, 303 
Montfort, Jean de , 166 
Montlhery, Battle of, 21, 116 
Montreuil, Jean de, 104, 119, 298 ss. 
Moors, 81 

Morgante, by Pulci, 69 
Moses, 257 ; WeUof ,,at Dijon, 234ss. 
Moulins, Denys de , bishop of 
Paris, 19, 20 

Najera, Battle of, 88 

Nancy, 301 ; Battle of, 216 

Nantes, 293 

Naples, Ferdinand, King of, 169 

National Gallery, 237, 254 

" Nativity," by Geertgen of Sint Jan, 


Navarrete. See Najera 
Neo-Platonism, 186 

Nietzsche, Friedrich , 215 

Notre Dame de Paris, by Victor 

Hugo, 222 

Notre Dame of Paris, 134, 168, 236 
Novis Jestivtiatibus non instifaendis, 
by Nic. de Clemanges, 137 

Occamites, 186 

Okeghem, John of, 238, 247 

Or, Madame d' , 17 

Orange, William of, 44, 290 

Oresme, Nicholas, 299 

Orgemont, Pierre d' , 15 

Orlando Innamorato, by Boiardo, 69 

Orleans, 5, 129 

Orleans, Charles of, 98, 163, 239, 

253, 283, 285 ss., 305 
Orleans, House of, 9, 12, 76, 122 
Orleans, Louis, duke of , 9, 61, 76, 

85, 108, 120, 122, 141, 163, 167, 

168, 208, 209, 211, 214 
Orloge Amwreus, Z* , by Froissart, 

Otio religiosorum, De , by Petrarch, 


Oudenarde, 232 
Ovid, 288, 298 

Paele, George van de , 239, 273 
Palaeologus, John, Emperor of 

Constantinople, 10 
Palamedes, 73 
Parement et Triumphe des Dames, 

j,e , by Olivier de La Maxche, 

1 9f\ 197 1 QO 

Paris,' 3, 4! 10, 14, 16, 17 ,19, 21 34, 
38, 39, 41, 51, 61, 93, 130 ss., 140, 
162, 163, 164, 170, 179, 192, 214, 
215, 220, 236, 247, 256, 289, 306 

Paris, Geffroi de^-, 210 

Paris, University of, 39, 168, 195, 

Parlement of Paris, 4, 20, 39, 50 
Pas d'Armes del'Arbre Charlemagne, 
72, 73 ; de la Bergere, 121 ; dela 
Fontaine des Pleurs, 72, 73 ; de la 

r Chastellain, 
Passe 9 Temps tfOysivete, by Bobert 

r of the , ?5, 79, 91, 164 
, 122, 294, 300, 306 

, by Christine 

de Pisan, 121 

Paule. See Saint Francois 
Pays de Vaud, 86 
Pelias, 300 
Penthesilea, 61 
Penthfevre, Jeanne de , loo 



Perceforest, 68, 71 

P6ronne, 20 ; Treaty of , 75 

Petit, Jean, 208 ss., 211 

Petit Jefaan de Saintre, Le , by 

Antoine de la Salle, 80 
Petrarch, 71, 95, 111, 117, 119, 259, 299 
Petrograd, 257 
Petnis Christus, 291 
Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, 
18, 38, 39, 83, 85, 87, 103, 151, 168, 
226, 227, 233, 234, 272 
Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, 6, 
8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 23, 34= ss., 40, 
41, 75, 80, 83, 84, 85, 89, 97, 103, 
130, 163, 167, 170, 191, 211, 216, 
218, 219, 225, 226, 231, 236, 249, 
251, 263 ss., 282, 289, 293, 306 
Philip Le Beau, Archduke of Aus- 
tria, 35, 142, 290 

Piers Plowman, The Vision of Wil- 
liam concerning , 162 
41 Pieta," Avignon School, 291 
by Rogier van der Weyden, 291 
by Petrus Christus, 291 
by Geertgen of S. Jan, 291 
Pisa, Campo Santo at , 130 
Pisan, Christine de , 38, 63, 102 ss., 
114, 121, 145, 250, 274 ss., 292, 301 
Plato, 288 
Platonism, 95, 185 
Ptessis les Tours, 169 
Ploermel, 87 
" Plourants," 235 
Plouvier, Jacotin , 89, 90 
Poitiers, Ali&aor de , 36, 43, 206 
Poitiers, Battle of, 61, 83, 92 
Polignac, House of, 226 
Ponchier, Etienne , bishop of Paris, 


Porcupine, Order of the , 76 
Porete, Marguerite , 179 
Pot, Philippe , 9, 81 
Praguerie, 63 
Pres, Josquin de , 247 
Preux, Les Neuf . See Worthies 
Processiones, De modo agendi , by 

Denis the Carthusian, 144 
Proverbes del Vilain, 51 
Provins, 214 
Prudentius, 186 
Prussia, 84 
Pulci, Luigi , 69 
" Purification of the Virgin," by the 

Brothers of Lixnburg, 281 
Pyramus and Thisbe, 95 

Quadriloge invectif, by Alain Char- 
tier, 52 

Quatre Dames, Le Lwre des , by 
Alain Charter, 259 

Quatuor hominum novissimis, De 

125, 132, 198 
Quentin, Jean , 170 
Quesnoy, 232 
Quinze Joyes de Mariage, Les , 

114, 142, 145, 288 

Babelais, Francois, 107, 157, 279, 


Rallart, Gaultier , 34 
Ravestein, Philippe de , 123 
Raynaud, Gaston , 119 
Rebreviettes, Jennet de , 81 
Reconfort de Madame du Fresne, Le , 

by Antoine de la Salle, 135 
Reformatione, De , by Pierre d'Ailly, 

RegnauU et Jehanneton, by King 

Rene, 269 
Reims, 40, 111, 169 ; Notre Dame 

of, 177 
Reims, Guy de Roye, Archbishop of 

, 177 

Rembrandt, 237 
Rene* of Anjou, titular King of Sicily, 

10, 59, 73, 120, 121, 127, 163, 249, 

267, 269, 284 

Rerum memorandarum libri, by Pe- 
trarch, 299 
Resource du petit peuple, by Jean 

Molinet, 52 

Rhetoricians, 230, 262, 273 
Ribemont, 21 
Richard II, King of England, 9, 44, 

85, 91, 225 

Richard, Friar , 4, 220 
Richard of Saint Victor, 204, 245 
Rickel, 171 

Robertet, Jean, 283, 302 ss. 
Roche-Derrien, La , 166 
Rochefort, Charles , 120, 192 
Rolin, Nicolas, 42, 231, 232, 240, 

Roman de la Rose, 77, 96, 100 ss., 

113, 114, 123, 142, 191, 192, 242, 

274, 285, 295, 298, 306 ss. ; Riper- 

toire du , 106 ; moralise, 106 
Rome, 59, 60, 62, 171 
Romulus, 60 
Ronsard, Pierre, 106 
Rosebeke, Battle of, 90 
Rotterdam, 9, 162 
Rouen, 213, 293 
Round Table, 30, 59, 92 
Roye, Jean de , 34, 214, 289 
Rozmital, Leon of, 38 
Ruremonde, 171 
Ruysbroeck, Jan , 179 ss., 203 ss., 



Saint Achatius, 155 

Saint Adolphus, 144 

Saint Adrian, 156 

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, 165 

Saint Andrew, 231 ; brotherhood of 

,17; cross of , 14,85 
Saint Anthony, 156, 157 
Saint Augustine, 220, 245 
Saint Barbara, 155, 193 
Saint Bernard, 173, 174, 180, 200, 

204, 241 

Saint Bernardin. See Bernardino 
Saint Bertulph, 151 
Saint Blaise, 155 
Saint Bonaventura, 188, 194 
Saint Bridget of Sweden, 175 
Saint Catherine of Siena, 175, 179, 180 
Saint Christopher, 155, 156, 193 
Saint Colette, 164, 170, 173, 176, 238 
Saint Corneille, 157 
Saint Cosme, near Tours, 169 
Saint Cyriac, 155 
Saint Damian, 157 
Saint Denis, 155; town of, 4, 39, 
110, 225 

" Sainte Ampoule," 169 

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, 150 

Saint Erasmus, 155, 292 

SaintEustace, 155; Churchin Paris, 17 

Saint Eutropius, 157 

Saint Fiacrius, 157 

Saint Francis of Assisi, 162, 164, 252 

Saint Francis de Paula, 37, 165, 168 ss. 

Saint Francis Xavier, 165 

Saint George, 155, 273 ; Swordof , 61 

Saint Giles, 155, 156, 198 

Saint Hippolytus, 292 

Saint Ignatius. See Loyola 

Saint James, 150 

Saint Jerome, 243 

Saint Joan of Arc. See Arc 

Saint John the Baptist, 140, 157, 
243, 258 

Saint John, Order of, 66, 74 

Saint Joseph, 139, 140, 152 ss., 279, 281 

Saint Katherine, 151, 155 

Saint Laud, Cross of, 169 

Saint Lie, 177 

Saint Ltevin, 144, 266 

Saint Louis. See Louis IX 

Saint Margaret, 151, 155 

Saint Maur, 156 

Saint Michael, 151, 273 

Saint Nicholas, 198 

Saint Nil, 170 

Saint Omer, 71 

Saint Pantaleon, 155 

Saint Paul, 183 

Saint Peter, 194, 199; corporal of , 

Saint Peter's Abbey at Ghent, 151 

Saint Pius, 157 

Saint Pol, Hdtel de , 208 

Saint Pol, Jean de , lord of Haut- 

bourdin, 71 
Saint Pol, Louis de Luxembourg, 

count of , 34, 248 
Saint Quentin, 21 
Saint Quiricus, 198 
Saint Koch, 150, 154, 156 
Saint Romuald, 150, 170 
Saint Rosa of Viterbo, 128 
Saint Sebastian, 156, 157 
Saint Stephen, 142 
Saint Thomas Aquinas, 150, 200, 220, 


Saint Valentine, 156 
Saint Vitus, 155 
Saint Yves, 166 
Saint Zanobi, 169 
Salazar, Jean de , 248 
Salisbury, William Montague, Earl 

of, 78 

Salmon, Pierre , 14 
Salutati, Coluccio , 299 
Samson, 257 

Sancerre, Louis de , 39, 102 
Saracens, 92 
Saturn, 292 

Saumur, Castle of, 270 

Savonarola, Girolamo , 5, 297 

Savoy, Ame" VII of, 86 

Savoy, House of, 76, 170 

Saxony, Duke of , 85 

Scipio, 71, 300 

Scorel, Jan van , 244 

Selonnet, 92, 93 

Semiramis, 61 

Sempy. See Croy, Philippe de- 
Seneca, 53 

Senlis, 298 

Serbia, 83 

Seven Sacraments," "The, by 
Bogier van der Weyden, 232, 239 

Shakespeare, 294 

Sicily, Crown of , 10 

Sicily, Herald, 107 

Siena. See Bernardino 

Sluter, Glaus, 222, 233 ss., 252 

Sluys, 7, 9, 226, 281, 295 

Songe du Vi&il Pelerin, e by 
Philippe de Mezierea, 218 

Sorel, Agnes, 142 

Sotomayor, 88 

Sprenger, Jacob , 181 

Standonck, Jan, 170 

Star, Order of the, 75, 77, 86, 92 

States of Blois, 1433; Orleans, 

1439 ; Tours, 1484, 52 
Stavelot, Jean de , 38 



Strassburg, 144 

Sufiolk, Michael de la Pole, earl of 


Sutnmia Desiderantes, Papal bull, 220 
Suso, Henry, 136, 137, 180, 182, 

Sword, Order of the , 76 

Tacitus, 80 

Taine, Hippolyte , 93 

Tartars, 92 

Templars, 66, 74 

Temple de Bocace, Le, treatise by 

Chastellain, 11, 300 
Testament, Le 9 by Villon, 20 
Teutonic Knights, 66, 74 
Tewkesbury, Battle of, 11 
Theocritus, 29 
Thomas, Pierre , 164 
"Three Marys at the Sepulchre," 


Thucydides, 216 
Tirlemont, 232 
Tomyris, 61 

Totenfanz, by Goetfce, 131 
Touraine, Jean de , dauphin of 

France, 85 
Tournay, 50; Jean Ghevrot, bishop 

of, 42, 232, 239 ; Jean de Thoisy, 

bishop of , 41 
Tours, 169 

Trastamara, Don Henri de , 88 
Trazegnies, Gillon de , 62 
Tr6guier, 166 

Trent, Council of, 111, 155 
Tres riches heures de Chantilly," 

Les , by the Brothers of Lim- 

burg, 269 

Tnonj?, by Petrarch, 299 
Tristram, 62, 69 ; and Yseult, 274, 275 
Troilus, 59 
Troyes, 40 
Tuetey, A., 20 

Turks, 9, 81, 83, 92, 171, 231, 239 
Turlupins, 128, 179 
Twelfth Night or What you Will, 44 

TJgolino della Gherardesca, 198 
Umbria, 150 

Unigemtots, Papal bull, 199 
Upton, Nicolas , 77 
Urbauists, 14 

Utrecht, 14 ; Tower of, 238 ; bishop- 
ric of, 8, 14 

Valenciennes, 2, 89, 97, 123, 232, 266, 

VaWorum per Frcmciam mendi- 

cantwm varia astucia, De , by 

Robert Gaguin, 157 
Valois, House of, 166, 234, 272 
Varennes, Jean de , 177, 211, 299 
Vaucouleurs, 216 
Velazquez, Diego, 17 
Venetians, 62 

Venus, 100 ss., 193, 290, 307 
Vere, Robert de , 44 
Victorious, 204. See Hugh, Richard 
Vienne, Council of , 15 
Vigneulles, Philippe de , 20 
Villiers, George , Duke of Bucking- 
ham, 44 
Villon, Francois, 20, 123, 125, 128, 

132, 133, 149, 210, 222, 253, 

261, 283, 302, 304, 305, 306 
Vincennes, Castle of , 270 
Virgil, 298 
Viris illustribus, De , by Petrarch, 

"Visitation," by the Brothers of 

Limburg, 281 
Vita et regimine episcoporum, etc., 

De , by Denis the Carthusian, 196 
Vita nuova, 96 

Vita solitaria, De , by Petrarch, 299 
Vitri, Philippe de , bishop of 

Meaux, 55, 117, 118, 299 
Vivat rex 9 Sermon by Gerson, 51 
Vwu du Heron, 70, 78 ss., 81 
VCBUX du Paon, Les , by Jacques de 

Longuyon, 61 

" Vceux du Faisan," 78, 80, 81 
Voir Dit. See Livre 
Vydt, Judocus , 239 

Watteau, Antoine , 286 
Wenzel, King of the Romans, 9 
Werve, Claus de , 233 
Westminster Abbey, 226 
Weyden, Rogier van der , 222, 224, 

227 ss., 240, 243, 255, 291 
Windesheim, Canons of , 157, 174 

BS., 181, 198, 205, 238 
Worthies, The Nine , 61, 299, 301 
Wurtemberg, Henry of , 251 

Xavier. See Saint Francis 

York, Edmund, Duke of, 85; Ed- 
ward of , 129; House of , 11; 
et of , Duchess of Bur- 
, 123, 216, 229 
Ypres, f 

Zeelaad, 77 
ZwoUe, 181 

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2 Edward Arnold & Go's Autumn Announcements. 

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4 Edwwd Arnold & Co.'s Autumn Announcements. 

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6 Edward Arnold & Go's Autumn Announcements. 





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8 Edward Arnold <Ss Co.'s Autumn Announcements. 

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Edward Arnold & Go's Autumn Announcements. 9 

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10 Edward Arnold & Co.'s Autumn Announcements. 




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Edward Arnold & Go's Autumn Annwncements. 11 

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12 Edward Arnold & Go's Autumn Announcements. 

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Edward Arnold & Co.'s Autumn Announcements. 13 

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is to many people the most attractive and the most exquisite of contemporary 
novelists. . . . Never was a more convincing, a more pathetic, or a more 
amusing picture drawn of the Ruling Kace in India. . . . 

" It is an ironic tragedy, but also a brilliant comedy of manners, and a 
delightful entertainment. Its passages of humour or beauty might, quoted, 
fill several columns.'* 

Reviewed by SYLVIA LYND in " Time and Tide " : " Beader, lo here, at 
last, a great book. There have been brilliant books in recent years, witty 
books, original books, books written in limpid and exquisite English ; but 
not until now has there been a book that was all these things. . . . 

" ' A Passage to India ' is a delicious and terrible book. . . ." 

From The Spectator t " Of all the novels that have appeared in England 
this year, Mr. Forster's is probably the most considerable. . . . 

** * A Passage to India ' is a disturbing, uncomfortable book. Its surface 
is so delicately and finely wrought that it pricks us at a thousand points. 
. . . The humour, irony, and satire that awake the attention and delight 
the mind on every page all leave their sting." 

14 Edward Arnold & Co.'s Autumn Announcements. 

Uniform Edition of 

Mr. E. M. Forster's Earlier Works. 

A new uniform edition can now be obtained of the following books. 
Bound in cloth, 5s. net per volume. 


" Mr. Forster's new novel clearly admits him to the limited class of writers 
who stand above and apart from the manufacturers of contemporary fiction." 

" It is packed with wonderful impressions and radiant sayings." Evening 

" We have originality and observation, and a book as clever as the other 
books that Mr. Forster has written already." Times. 


"This novel is a very remarkable and distinguished piece of work. Its 
abundant cleverness fills even the more strenuous passages with vivacity. 
The strength of the book consists in its implicit indictment of the mean, 
conventional, self -deceitful insincerity of so much of modern English edu- 
cated middle-class life. This is certainly one of the cleverest and most 
original books that have appeared from a new writer since George Meredith 
first took the literary critics into his confidence." Daily Telegraph. 


"A remarkable book. Not often has the reviewer to welcome a new 
writer and a nej^ novel so directly conveying the impression of power and 
an easy mastery of material. Here there are qualities of style and thought 
which awaken a sense of satisfaction and delight ; a taste in the selection 
of words ; a keen insight into the humour (and not merely the humours) 
of life ; and a challenge to its accepted courses. It is told with a deftness, 
a lightness, a grace of touch, and a radiant atmosphere of humour which 
mark a strength and capacity giving large promise for the future." Daily 


Crown 8vo. 6s. net. A few copies still obtainable. 

" There is no doubt about it whatever. Mr. E. M. Forstet is one of the 
great novelists. All will agree as to the value of the book, as to its absorb- 
ing interest, the art and power with which it is put together, and they will 
feel with us that it is a book quite out of the common by a writer who is 
one of our assets, and is likely to be one of our glories." Daily Telegraph. 

Edward Arnold & Go's Autumn Announcements. 15 




With Map. Demy 8vo. Third Impression. 14s. net. 

Morning Post. " Every whit as enthralling as ' Beasts, Men and Gods.' " 

Spectator." The most salient feature of Dr. Ossendowski's book is its 

revelation of the author's complex character. We are deeply impressed by 

his power of telling a story, for every chapter is not only interesting, it is 

exciting. One of the most exciting and vivid narratives we have ever read." 




With Illustrations and Map. Demy 8vo. 12s. 6d. net. 

Mr. EOBACE HUTOHINSON in The Queen." It is a book to be much com* 
mended to the expert and to the general reader alike." 


By B. J. BRADY, 


With Illustrations and Map. Crown too. 7s. 6d. net. 

Liverpool Courier. " Beads like a novel and sounds like a poem." 



One Volume. With Portrait. Demy 8vo. 16s. net. 


With 33 Full-page Illustrations and 2 Maps. Med. 8vo. 

25s. net. 

16 Edward Arnold <fe Co.'s Autumn Announcements. 







With Illustrations. Demy Bvo. 16s. net. 

" This thoughtful and well-ordered book, full of strange facts and shrewd 
comment, deserves careful study. The illustrations are delightful, and have 
evidently been selected with great care and judgment.'' Times Literary 





Crown Svo. 7s. 6d. net. 

Sir WM. BEVEEIDGE in the Weekly Westminster. "A remarkable book 
compact of vigorous argument and marshalled facts and wide personal ex- 
perience. It can be read by anybody and ought to be read by everybody." 





Illustrated. Demy 8vo. 10s. 6d. net. 

"This book is well worth reading, and although of particular interest to 
the medical profession, should be much more widely appreciated. Both medi- 
cal and lay readers will find it full of interesting facts and permeated through- 
out with shrewd common sense.'* The Lancet. 



One Volume. Demy Svo, 12s. 6d. net. 

" We can thoroughly recommend this book to both jurists and medical 
men." British Medical Journal.