« PreviousContinue »
A MIDDLE ENGLISH TALE OF TROY.
§ 1. Introductory.
M. Aristide Joly's study of the Roman de Troie of Benoit de Sainte More, following out the suggestions of Dr. Herman Dunger, showed clearly that in Benoit's romance was to be found the first of the many renderings of the Troy Tale produced in Europe during the Middle Ages, and that his was the original source upon which the translators of Italy, Germany and France so freely drew.
The disciple had for very long supplanted his master, but the Roman de Troie of Benoit de Sainte More, and the Historia Troiana of Guido de Columnia have now, at last, fallen into their proper relations, To Benoit and not to Guido belong the rights of seniority and in every respect of superior workmanship.
Yet much still remains to be done in carrying on the History of the Troy Tale in England from the point at which M. Joly leaves off. He makes but brief mention of the three most important English renderings, the Troye Boke of Lydgate, the History of Troy contained in the Hunter M. S. and edited. for the Early English Text Society, and the Troy Tale contained in a M.S. at the Bodleian Library (Laud Misc. 595). This last is still unpublished and beyond M. Joly's few critical remarks 1), and Warton's earlier notice 2) of the existence of the poem, no account of the contents of the M. S. appears to exist.
1) Benoit de Sainte More et le Roman de Troie. Tome 11 p. 466 et seq. 2) Warton, History of English Poetry. Ed. Hazlitt. 111, 93.
J. Hoops, Englische Studien. 29. 1.
Yet they are of great interest and must take an important place amongst English contributions to the Cycle of Troy.
The M. S. itself is contained in a thick oak-bound volume, consisting of some 276 folios, closely and clearly written in a hand-writing of the 15th century. It formed part of the library of Archbishop Laud, and from a halfobliterated entry on the last page something may be learned of its ownership at a much earlier date. The inscription runs as follows:
of london å XIIII°
The Guildhall records preserve the entry of the election of William Philip to the Office of Chamberlain of London on S. Matthew's Day, 14 Edw. IV., he being a goldsmith by profession. He was probably brother to Sir Matthew Philip, LordMayor of London in 1463, also a goldsmith, by company and trade, whose will was proved in 1475, the year named in the inscription. The family may have belonged to Herne, for Sir Matthew had estates in that place, and he was buried, with his wife Christine, in Herne Church; possibly both he and William were sons of a William Philip of Herne who died in 1458.
It is impossible to say whether at the time the M.S. came into the hands of the Chamberlain the poem had already begun to be attributed to the authorship of Lydgate.
A note on the first page, in a handwriting later than that of the M.S. itself, states that in the year 1424 Guido's Historia Troiana was translated thus into English by "John Lydgate, monke of Bury".
Warton pointed out the small likelihood that Lydgate should either »transform his own composition into the short minstrel metre, or write two lengthy poems on the same subject. The style of the poem is certainly different from Lydgate's, a simple, straightforward almost bald narrative.
If the theory of Lydgate's authorship be dismissed, the possibility still remains that the preservation of the poem in its present form was due to its being regarded as his. On the other hand, Ten Brink is of opinion) that "the popularity
1) ten Brink's History of English Literature II 224 (1893).
of the Troy Book in England was largely due to Chaucer's Troilus". One would prefer to believe that the present version of the tale deserved and enjoyed some popularity before either Troilus and Creseide was written or Lydgate's work overshadowed its lesser light. The pains and labour required in transcribing a composition of such length would hardly have been expended upon an entirely unknown or unacceptable poem.
§ 2. Date of the Poem.
Undoubtedly several versions of the Troy Tale existed in England prior to Chaucer and Lydgate, notably those of the Hunter M.S. and of M. S. Harley 525 in the British Museum. To these must be added the Oxford poem. Warton indeed assigns it to the reign of Henry VI, but internal evidences are in favour of the earlier date. Putting aside the question of language and dialect, the general style of the poem impresses the reader as more archaic than Chaucer to a degree for which the author's inferiority in literary skill is not enough
The manner in which the Troilus and Cresseida episode is treated is worth some attention in this connection. There are three references to the story, but they are scarcely more. than references, and the tale is nowhere told so fully as in Guido, upon whose Historia, as may presently be shown, the whole poem is based. These three passages are fair examples of the style of the poem and are given in full.
(1) He [Diomedes] toke his [Troilus'] hors and lad away
He sente it to the semely may
He sayde that Troye scholde be distroyed
He was therfore ful sore anoyed
He durst not wende to Troye azeyn
That thei wolde preye kyng Priamus
To hir therfore Troylus stede he send
(2) He fel him [Diomedes] fro his hors swonande Among her hors ded neyhande
When he was thus on grounde ylayd
Troyle ful foule him missayd
For Brixaida that was his leff
He reuyled him as he were a theff.
(3) Bryxeida that louely was
The Biscopes doghter calcas
Sche wiste wel in hir thoght
Of Troyle scholde sche neuer haue noght