« PreviousContinue »
THE VOW OF THE PEACOCK *. The picturesque is to the Gothic what the classical was to the Grecian -the characteristic of their creations. Each age has left its taste in its remains. The Greek era was impressed with its most sunny and spiritual climate. The great poet, the wonderful philosopher, gave the mind's immortality to their language. Their works were the temple of faultless proportion—the statue of unequalled beauty—the urn, the vase, and the lamp of the most perfect outline. Everything was simple, but of a grace still unequalled. The natural influences of their lovely country were in all their imaginations. The stately column of the cypress—the flowing fall of the acanthus—the soft lines of their azure hills melting in the transparent air—these were the inspiration. These were the materials out of which was framed the most consummate system of beauty. The beautiful was the ideal of Greece. The Gothic, on the contrary, admitted other elements—the wild and the grotesque were in its earliest inventions. The dark forests—the fierce seas, from whence came the first adventurers, gave their own likeness. In the cold climate, too, originated the fantastic. The invention inspired by the clear sunshine, or the silver moonlight, takes a more ethereal form than that whose birthplace is by the kindled hearth, whose red uncertain gleams -fling quaint shadows on the scarcely-lighted walls. Sculpture was the art which embodied the spirit of the Grecian age; while architecture embodied that of the Gothic. One left the statue severe in its marble simplicity—the other left the cathedral stately as a whole, but embellished with strange combinations. Such is the picturesque as opposed to the classical. The picturesque was the characteristic of the age of chivalry—it marked its buildings, its institutions, and its poetry. The conception of a true knight--he sans peur et sans reproche, is a fine one. The knight required all the attributes of the ancient hero, and others of modern necessity. He was to possess not only the high descent, the courage, and the personal strength, but to add to these the later requisites of courtesy, devotion, and love. In this may be traced the influence of Christianity and woman.
To defend the weak-to assist the oppressed—to disdain danger--to be gentle and generous--to speak the truth, and to be faithful to the one chosen lady of his affections, was the devoir of a good knight and true; also, according to one of the Troubadours,
“ Un chevalier n'en doubtez pas
Doit ferir hault à parler bas." It must be allowed that such qualifications would go far towards forming a very perfect gentleman of our own time; but the spirit of those days was essentially fanciful, and on the first general and lofty outline of chivalry were ingrafted a thousand odd and wild exuberances. The absurd followed close on the elevated, like a dwarf attending on some lovely princess. Few things more marked the temper of chivalry than its vows; its love, its religion, and its tendency to exaggeration, are alike to be found in these, its professions of faith; a history of the vows of celebrated knights would, in fact, comprise the history of chivalry, These vows were taken in many different ways, but the most celebrated was that called the “Vow of the Peacock." These noble birds, for so they
*« The Vow of the Peacock," by the author of the “ Improvisatrice," &c. &c.
were styled, represented perfectly, by the brightness and variety of their colours, the majesty of kings, and the splendour of those dresses worn when holding what was called Tind, or full court (Cour plenière). The flesh of the peacock or pheasant was, if the old romances may be credited, the principal nourishment of knights and lords. Their plumage was considered by the ladies of Provence as the richest ornament wherewith to decorate the 'Troubadours. They weaved crowns of the feathers, which were given as prizes to the poetical talents then consecrated to the celebration of valour and gallantry. The day when a solemn vow was to be taken, a peacock, or else a pheasant sometimes roasted, but always decorated with its finest plumes, was brought majestically by dames or maidens on a large dish of silver or gold, into the assembly of knights. Each or all then made the vow on the bird. But perhaps the most accurate idea of such a ceremony will be formed by the following extract from “ Mathieu,” giving an account of a festival held by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy.
“At length the day of the banquet arrived. If the magnificence of the Prince was admired in the abundance and multitude of the services, it shone still more conspicuous in the spectacles, then called interludes (entre-mets), which rendered the feast more amusing and more solemn. There appeared in the hall divers decorations, of machines, figures of men and extraordinary animals, trees, mountains, rivers, a sea and ships. All these objects, mingled with people, birds, and living animals, were in motion about the hall, and on the table, and represented actions relative to the duke's design. It was like the fêtes in the palace of Alcina. It is impossible to imagine, without surprise, what must have been the extent of this hall, which contained a table so spacious, or rather of this vast theatre, with space enough for the movement of such a crowd, and so much machinery; without reckoning the number of guests, and the multitude of spectators. All at once entered a giant, armed like a Saracen of Grenada, in the ancient style. He led an elephant bearing a castle, in which was a dishevelled lady, dressed in long mourning habits, after the fashion of a nun or a devotee. On finding herself amid the assembly in the hall, she recited a triolet, ordering the giant to stop, but he, watching her with a fixed look, continued his advance till he stopped before the table of the duke. At that moment the captive dame, who represented Religion, made a long complaint in verse of the evils she suffered from the tyranny of the infidels, and complained of the delay from those who ought to succour and deliver her. This lamentation ended, Toison d'or (King at Arms of the Order of the Fleece), preceded by a long file of officers, bearing on the wrist a live pheasant, adorned with a collar of gold, enriched with pearls and precious stones, advanced to the Duke of Burgundy, and presented to him two maidens; one was Yolande, his illegitimate daughter, and the other was Isabel of Neufchatel, daughter of the Lord of Monteign, each accompanied by a Knight of the Golden Fleece. At the same time the King at Arms offered the duke the bird which he bore, in the name of the ladies who claimed the protection of their sovereign. “In order,” says the narration, “ to conform to ancient customs, according to which, in great festivals and noble assemblies, is presented unto the princes, lords, and knights a peacock, or some other noble bird, to take upon them yows of service to the dames and maidens who claim their
assistance." The duke, after having attentively listened to the request of the King at Arms, gave him a billet, which was read aloud, and which began with these words—" I vow unto God, my creator, the first all; next unto the most glorious the Virgin Mother, and after to the Ladies of the Pheasant.” The rest contained his sworn promise to carry the war into the country of the infidels for the defence 'of the oppressed church.
The example of the duke was then followed by his whole court, who took divers of these fantastic vows for which chivalry was celebrated ; some swore never to sleep in a bed; others never to eat off linen; others to abstain from meat and wine during certain days in the week tiil the vow was accomplished. A new spectacle closed this ceremony; a lady clothed in a religious habit of white, and bearing on her shoulder a rouleau, enriched with labels of gold, “ Grace à Diu,” came to thank the assembly, and presented twelve ladies, accompanied by so many knights. These ladies represented different virtues, such as Faith, Charity, Justice, &c., and a label on each shoulder bore their names. At last all began to dance in their mumming guise, “Et à faire bonne chere pour remplir, and racherer plus joyeusement la fête.” But the vow was not always attended by such“ pomp and circumstance.” Any lady in distress might claim that assistance which every knight was bound to afford; and such a scene, though not we believe representing any recorded historical fact, was given by Mr. M‘Clise in the picture which suggested the poem now before us. There is something in the romantic devotion of chivalric love peculiarly suited to Miss Landon's style, the very essence of whose poetry lies in the romance of the affections. With verse rather naturally musical than carefully polished; with great felicity of simile, the result of a quick perception of the charm of association; with an overflowing tenderness, the popularity of her writings has consisted in their being entirely feminine. The woman is felt in every line : she makes audible the melody of that warm yet gentle heart in her sex, which all men have possessed or covet to possess. Miss Landon possesses not the elements of the tragic but of the affecting; she only appeals to our sympathies. The natural strain of her mind is melancholy—a melancholy which deepens in every succeeding work. How can it be otherwise? Without the unfair test of supposing particular passages to be the records of individual experience, it is very obvious that her personal feeling gives its colour to the whole. The sickness of hope deferred--the long-lingering pang of early disappointment—the bitterness of the discovered illusion, are too truly expressed not to have been keenly felt. Such a result appeared to us the inevitable consequences of such a career. The imagination cannot exist without strong susceptibility to impression
“ The heart that is soonest awake to the flowers,
Is ever the first to be touched by the thorns." The most successful literary course has its hardships and its mortifications, the more difficult to be borne when the temperament is sensitively alive to praise, and that praise has necessarily become the great object of existence. Triumph inevitably ensures envy, and the effects of envy come more home to us than those of triumph. Our author, in her “ Errinne,” truly asks-
“ What is the gift of fame,
Our life companionable?” The flattered and the admired are rarely the loved. Miss Landon began her literary career a mere child; of course, let her talent have been what it might, with the feelings and inexperience of one. To what disappointment must this have inevitably subjected her. It is impossible to write as she has done without keen affections; we cannot describe that which we do not know: and how often must these affections have been wasted and deceived ? Her own standard would inevitably be too high; above all must the imaginative exclaim
“ And many love me, but by none
Am I enough beloved." Again, it is impossible for the young and the gifted to believe in the small envyings that surround their daily path, till the conviction is forced upon them by the most painful experience. A successful female poet always gives us the idea of a fower upon a glacier. This undercurrent of bitterness is perceptible in all Miss Landon's writings. There are two poems in this volume in which it is so strongly expressed, that we must quote them, in support of our theory, that where the laurel grows the wild flower has no blossom, and the green grass grows not :
“ THE MINSTREL'S MONITOR.
Whose birth-place we know not, and seek not to know,
Is the course of its waves as in music they flow.
Like ivory busks which a fairy hath made;
As though 'twere enamoured itself of its shade.
On the stream, as it loved the bright place of its rest;
Had given to those waters their sweetest and best.
There the first birth of violets' odour showers weep ;
Or sinks in the depths of the harebell to sleep.
The waters fling gaily their spray to the sun;
Who can say whence it springs in its beauty ?-not one.
Read thy fate in yon river, for such is thine own!
Who cares for the lips from whence issue the tone ?
Whence yet the sweet waters of melody came;
The beauty and glory of sunshine and fame.”
more general. This may seem a paradox; but yet the poem which comes home to the many is the one that embodies some individual sentiment.
“ THE MOON.
But lonely all, as if she pined
And felt it was in vain she shined.
Are as a court around her throne;
But what is this? She is alone.
Thy glorious royalty on high?
Thou lovely orphan of the sky.
That grows, my mother Earth, on thee,
To blossom, bloom, droop, die with me.
But with these better could I bear
And be a solitary there." The principal poem is a tale of some length. Its heroine is thus introduced :
“ It was a mournful sight to see
That youthful brow lie down
Without its royal crown;
Upon the floor of stone,
With low perpetual moan;
* Thy heart beats high, but this ends all!'
I said, 'twas sad to see such head
The youthful sleeper slumbering there,