CAXTON'S "right pleasant and goodly historie of the Four Sons of Aymon" is englisht from the French prose romance "Les Quatre Filz Aymon," which is a rendering more or less free of an ancient chanson de geste bearing the same name, though more often entitled "Renaud de Montauban." The earliest extant text of the chanson is a remaniment of the end of the 12th century.*. [For the history of the chanson de geste see Histoire Litteraire de la France, vol. xxii. pp. 667-700; Renaud de Montauban, edited by H. V. Michelant Stuttgard, 1843; and M. Longnon's paper in Romania, for 1878. The general introduction to this series might also be examined together with M. Gaston Paris' Histoire Poétique de Charlemagne, pp. 19, 139, 298.]
The conversion of the poem into prose was not accomplished before the close of the 14th century. None of the prose manuscripts are earlier than the 15th century. Of them the British Museum has three MSS., all in writing of the 15th century. In one,*. [Cat. of Romances, Brit. Museum, J. H. Ward, pp. 619-622.] a large vellum folio, about 1445 A.D., the story is illustrated by nine miniatures; in the borders of the first appear the arms of John Talbot, first Earl of Shrewsbury, and those of Henry VI. and his Queen Margaret of Anjou empaled. It is similar to the usual printed edition, from the third chapter of that edition to the end. Another manuscript, a vellum folio of the 15th century, is also a prose version, to which is prefixed a fragment of a metrical version of the story, the text of which closely resembles that published by Bekker in his Introduction to "Fierbras"; another metrical fragment is added at the conclusion of the prose tale, which contains the adventures of Maugis, how he became Pope under the name of Innocent, hears Charlemagne's confession, and is stifled by the Emperor in a cave near Naples.Page vi
The third manuscript at the British Museum contains a much briefer text than that of the printed editions, and is imperfect at the end.
The French prose rendering of this romance is much inferior to the poem in every sense, and cannot properly be deemed a direct reproduction of it, although it follows the thread of the narrative throughout, sometimes closely enough, at others wandering to a considerable distance; but even while following, it robs the original of half its beauties through its prosaic rendering. The valuable historical allusions are for the most part cast to the winds, the names abstracted, the circumstances altered, the speeches shortened or omitted, the sequence of the story being frequently unsettled.
The palm for superior dramatic treatment must also be given to the chanson's version of the chess-murder, on which the mincing of the prose version has a damaging effect. The toning down of the ferocity of the chanson destroys the prose relation completely as a picture of old time. The story also can ill afford the omission made in the prose of the curse with which Foulques of Morillon is first introduced—
The curse has an important bearing on the events which follow, and gives, in fact, a key to the venom with which Foulques is pursued throughout the story.
The prose loses much by its rejection of the first embassage of Charlemagne to Beuves d'Aigremont. The murder of Enguerran, which precedes that of the second ambassador, Lohier, the king's son, lays a far broader basis for the Emperor's revenge, on which the story is built, than the single murder of Lohier in the prose version.
In connection with this, it may be well to notice the omission of another striking passage from the prose, in which Charlemagne swears vengeance on the murderers of his son and nephew—Page vii
The circumstance, which we know from history, of Charlemagne having had a son who died young, gives an interest to this passage, which should have pleaded for its preservation, and for that of several others which allude to the same murder. The exclusion of many such passages of historical interest is a matter of regret. One passage may be instanced in which mention is made of the monastic foundations of Gerard de Roussillon, to which pious works the name of Doon de Nanteuil is joined with that of his brother. Of them it says—
Of the early printed editions of the French prose romance, which are numerous, the British Museum possesses four, two of Paris and two of Lyons. One alone of these editions is dated, that of Lyons, 1539. The general catalogue of the Museum gives as probable dates to the others, 1480, 1520, 1525 respectively. The edition said to be of Lyons, with the supposed date of 1480 attached to it, is a folio volume whose typography is singularly beautiful. The letters all stand out distinctly, the type is large, and the words are amply spaced. Ornamental capitals head the paragraphs throughout. Caxton's translation of Les Quatre Fils Aymon, which he undertook "at the desire of John Erle of Oxenforde," seems to have been undoubtedly made from this edition, as in portions of the story where these various editions differ from each other, that of the 1480 edition is invariably adopted by Caxton. In his translation of this work, Caxton shows himself piously literal. Words and phrases, both foreign and unusual, he transferred bodily to his text; nothing ever deterred him, simply because it was French; he wandered along every winding of the sentences he was rendering, and broughtPage viii them over with all their sinuosities into the English. In consequence, his translation is perhaps one of the most literal that has ever been produced in the English language, and though to some extent stilted and even awkward, yet it is impossible not to admire his faithfulness to his original; and the very quaintness of those peculiarities of language sometimes adds a charm to his composition.
The few instances where Caxton has differed from the French will be seen by the collations which have occasionally been marked in foot-notes on the pages of this work.
As a picture of the language of the time, his "Four Sons of Aymon" is highly curious and interesting. He continues the use of double negatives—so common in Chaucer and other Early-English writers. That this was not merely an imitation from the French, is shown by Caxton making use of two where his original gives him warrant only for one. On p. 65, l. 24, "Charlemagne made Aymon to swere that he should never gyue no help to his children"; p. 18, l. 10, "for doubte of death shall not leue nothynge unsayd of hys message to the duke benes." On p. 255, l. 27, "All my lymmes shaken for angre, nor I can not stande upon my feet." In the French there is but one negative. Ed. 1480. Caxton frequently omits the pronominal subject of a verb in the clauses of a sentence, which succeed the leading one, so that often the drift of the narrative alone leaves the reader to decide the subject of the verb thus omitted. This practice with him is generally an imitation of his original. On p. 238, l. 24, "The frenshemen had wounded hym wyth two speres well depe in to the flesshe and was taken for prysoner." The French is (Ed. 1480) "et lavoient naure de deux espees bien parfond en la cher et fut prins pour prisonnier."
Caxton uses many words in the plural which are now allowed only in the singular, this also is usually in obedience to his original. On p. 262, l. 29, "armed with his own armures"; on p. 235, l. 32, "But their corages were never the lesse therfore." Occasionally a word occurs in the singular where a plural is now used: on p. 182, l. 31, the troops are ordered to come, "well garnysshed of vytaylle for the space of vii. yeres." The Midland plural in en occurs frequently: on p. 3, l. 16, "virtues which ben digne"; p. 5, l. 2,Page ix "chapytres whiche speaken of many faire matters"; p. 13, l. 27, "Bayard is yit a lyve in the forest of Ardeyne as men sayen." The Southern plural in eth also occurs: on p. 70, l. 26, "thise ben the folke of themperour Charlemayn that goeth to Ardeyn." Sometimes the plural form now used is found in the singular: on p. 75, l. 32, "Themperour Charlemayn of fraunce lete you wyte by us that ye sende to hym Guycharde."
The possessive case of nouns in Caxton is made, as usual, by the addition of s or es: thus on p. 77, l. 19, "Charlemayn's folke"; p. 13, l. 17, "for goddes sake"; though it is sometimes made in is, p. 25, l. 8, "Bayardis back." On p. 283, l. 1, there is a singular example, "his face towarde the horse taylle."
Caxton almost invariably uses ye for the nominative and you for the objective case of the pronoun. There is an exception on p. 172, l. 31, due possibly to the compositor setting the MS. 'yu' = thou, as 'you':—"I wote not what you sayste thou arte more like a foole than a bysshop." Also on p. 142, l. 7, "I praye the for the love that you haste to thy god, that thou gyve me trewes."
Which is constantly used for persons, and so used is generally preceded by the definite article. That and that that are frequently used instead of what, whose occurrence is rare in comparison with these substitutes: on p. 70, l. 32, "I conne you nother thank nor grace of that that ye saye." This (= pl. thise) is frequently used for these: on p. 184, l. 20, "I will departe the londe of Gascoyn to this yonge knyghtes for theyr herytage." Other is invariably used for others, and self for selves: on p. 98, l. 28, "Reynawde mounted upon Bayarde and the other also lighted upon theyr horses." A very common use in Caxton—as in many other writers—is that of the past participle losing its final n, and assuming an infinitive form after an auxiliary verb. On p. 3, l. 12, "the clerkes haue had great knowledge by innumerable volumes of bookes which haue be made"; p. 14, l. 3, "Iherusalem was take agayne of the Christen." A great many old or peculiar forms of the past tenses and participles occur: on p. 137, l. 20, "he hewe"; p. 79, l. 11, "flancardes all tobrosten"; p. 176, l. 22, "Euery man putted hymself for to renne." The word conne, to be able, is constantly used; and a similar use isPage x made of may, on p. 227, l. 16, "For wyte that yf I telled you not, ye sholde not maye knowe it." The form mowe of this verb sometimes occurs: on p. 167, l. 25, "ye shall mowe know the beste horse of your royame." Giving a future auxiliary to the verb will is curious. On p. 64, l. 21, "il vous rendra au roy" is translated, "he shall wyll yelde you to the kynge." A striking feature of Caxton's English is the number of reflective verbs with which it abounds. On p. 4, l. 11, "Whyche booke I haue endevorde me to accomplyshe." P. 236, l. 18, "Yet shall I selle me full dere or I deye." An example may be given of verbs completed by prepositions: p. 6, l. 30, "and gaue them of havoyre so much, that they myghte well make war with agenst the king." Caxton has many substitutes for present participles, which reduces their use considerably, as on p. 70, l. 27, "These ben the folke of themperour that goeth to Ardeyn"; p. 74, l. 32, "sende a messager to Reynawde for to tell hym that he yelde you Guycharde."
He makes use also of a great many particles needless in modern English, by the omission of many others in places where they are now deemed indispensable. A few characteristic sentences will illustrate his practice in this respect. On p. 154, l. 30, "ioye began to be grete in the castell as god had descended there"; p. 87, l. 10, "So he swere god"; p. 109, l. 3, "he was so wery he myghte no more."
The adverb very had hardly come into use: it has many forerunners, such as full, sore, right, etc.
Nother is constantly used for neither; sith and syn for the later since. Ne is sometimes used for nor, in second alternatives, as on p. 317, l. 31, "I saw neuer nether crysten man, nother sarrasyn, soo goodly a prynce, ne soo curteys as ye be one."
An-angered is an intensitive by which Caxton translates the French 'enragé.' But yf is another old expression continued by him for unless: on p. 101, l. 9, "it sholde hurte hym sore but yf he myghte take theym."
The use of doo with the infinitive—'doo make' = cannot be made,—is another continuation by Caxton of an older usage, and is a great contrast to modern English: on p. 18, l. 28, "I shall dooPage xi hange"; p. 7, l. 21, "And dyd doo make the castell of Montawban." Sometimes the verb make is substituted for do, in its sense of 'perform,' as on p. 84, l. 4, "the grete fayttes of armes that he made there."
Caxton makes use largely of articles where they are now omitted, and omits them frequently in places where they are always used, as on p. 6, l. 5, "it bare a great dommage to the realme"; p. 8, l. 32, "Mawgys broughte suche a succourses."
The order of words in sentences is frequently changed in Caxton's text, as in earlier English: on p. 87, l. 18, Reynawde "wente to chasse in woodes & in ryvers as often as hym playsed" = it pleased him; on p. 117, l. 23, "euerybody had of it pyte."
The original edition of Caxton's "Four Sons of Aymon" has neither title-page, printer's name, place, nor date. It is a folio volume, and the fortunate possessor of the only copy known is Earl Spencer. The celebrated founder of the Althorp Library, Earl George, acquired it by purchase in the year 1822. Of its previous history we can discover nothing. The date assigned to it by Blades, in his life of Caxton, is 1489, and has been adopted from the circumstance, that the works issued from Caxton's fount No. 6 range from 1489 to 1493. Although Earl Spencer's copy is unique, it is not perfect. It lacks Caxton's prologue and colophon. To its owner I return the warm thanks of the Society and myself for generously sending his treasure to the British Museum for so many months for our use. The General Catalogue of the British Museum mistakingly represents that institution as the possessor of two leaves of another copy of Caxton's "Four Sons of Aymon." Unfortunately, however, there is really only one leaf, for the second is apparently an extract from some work of devotion or popular theology, and though resembling in both type and style the leaf to which it is attached by the compiler of the Catalogue, has no connection with it. The genuine leaf is the beginning of chapter xxv, and is similar to the corresponding leaf in Copland's edition. Even the vignette which heads the leaf is the same, and is a repetition from the block used for chapter ix. Four leaves of the same edition were discovered by Mr. Blades to be in the possession of Mr. Green of Bishops StortfordPage xii in 1882. They are portions of signature E, and do not therefore supply the defects of the Althorp copy.
A second edition, as we learn from the colophon of the third edition, was "Imprinted at London by Wynken de Worde, the viii. daye of Maye, and the yere of our lorde. M.cccc.iiii." One leaf only of this edition is known to be extant. It was discovered in 1882 in a volume of early-printed fragments by Mr. Henry Bradshaw, and is now in the Cambridge University Library.
Copland's third edition was issued on 6th May 1554; the colophon describes it as printed for Thomas Petit, not for Robert Toye, as asserted by the Catalogue of the Harleian Library. It was no doubt printed for both these and other booksellers, as the 'trade' editions of Chaucer were. The prologue to this edition is undoubtedly a literal reprint of Caxton's original preface, and it thus supplies one of the chief defects of the Althorpe copy.*. [For the bibliography of the romance, see two letters by Mr. W. Blades, and one by Mr. S. L. Lee, Athenæum, Aug. 19, 26, and Sept. 9, 1882.] Although no edition later than Copland's is now known, entries in the Stationers' Registers point to the conclusion that the romance was twice reprinted before the close of the century. Licences to reissue it were granted in March 1582 (Arber's Transcript, ii. 408), and in February 1598-9 (ibid. iii. 137). On 22nd Feb. 1598-9 a printer was licensed to print "the last part of the ffowre sons of Aymon" (ibid. iii. 139).*. [In Arber's Transcript, iv. 459, is an assignment of 'The four sonns of Aymon' by Wm. Stansby, and his widow Elizabeth after his death, to Master Bishop, on 4 March, 1639.]
The success of the story of the Sons of Aymon gave birth to many and various editions. The name and adventures of Renaud were a passport to success of which poets availed themselves, and on all sides there are testimonies to the universal fame of Bayard. His namesake, "sans peur et sans reproche," is said when besieged in Mezières, recalling the feats of the noble steed through the identity of their names, to have answered the summons to surrender, sent him by Prince Henry of Nassau, with the proud reply, "A Bayard of France will never yield to a cart-stallion of Germany." The noble Bayard carried the Sons of Aymon everywhere, and all lands were eager to possess them and offer them a home. Horse and riders were depicted upon the walls of castles and convents. "OnPage xiii the walls," says Roquefort, "of the nunnery of St. Reynold in Cologne, is a painting of four Paladins, mounted upon Bayard, and Reynold is distinguished among them by an aureole, the sign of saintship."*. [Poésie Françoise dans les xij.th et xiiith Siècles, p. 141. Roquefort.]
It is well known that the mediæval romance of France became the property of cultivated Europe. From its source was supplied the fuel of the worldly imagination, and Renaud taking a prominent part was translated universally, and imitated in all fashions. In the 13th century Maerland could speak of having read the history of the Four Sons of Aymon in his native Flemish, "Hiemskindre, dat ic las."*. [Reiffenberg, Philippe Mouskes, vol. ii. ccxiv.] This translation is said to be due to Nicholas Vesboschten, and it became the source of a German translation of the 13th century.*. [Hist. poet. de Charl., G. Paris, p. 139.]
Through what channel the story of the Sons of Aymon found passage to Iceland is uncertain. It is still a question whether the Icelandic versions originated from French manuscripts brought into Norway, which were read by the Scandinavian reciters, or whether they were learnt in France and brought over orally. The numerous manuscript copies testify to its popularity, the oldest of which may be referred to the middle of the 13th century. Here the story has acquired a new name. The Saga of Earl Magus adopts altogether a strange character, it knows nothing at all of the sojourn of the Sons of Aymon in Mountauban, mingles the story with that of Gerard, in whom some recognize the hero of Vienne, brings Charlemagne to live at Worms, and makes the chateau of Aymon Buslaraborg in Germany, giving that of Strasburg to Magus. The Saga was published for popular reading at Reikavick in 1858.
In Italy Renaud shone as the hero of every style of poetry, whether chivalrous, amorous, or comic. The "Quatre Fils d'Aymon" formed one of the volumes of the 13th century "Reali di Francia." Renaud is one of Pulci's heroes; in Boiardo the Emperor Gradasse is obliged to raise 150,000 men to conquer Bayard; and Renaud, side by side with Roland, divides the honours of the famousPage xiv "Orlando Innamorata" of Ariosto. Tasso's "Rinaldo" is based immediately on the French romance of the Four Sons.
Outside the world of letters altogether, the story has left its trace in the popular traditions of certain portions of France, Belgium, and Germany, chiefly in the neighbourhood of the Ardennes. The name of the Four Sons of Aymon still clings tenaciously to the ruins of the rock-built Chateau of Ambleve, as does that of Bayard to a chateau at Dhuy. The whole North of France is associated with the story, and the neighing of Bayard is still believed to be distinctly heard through the valleys of the Ardennes. In the beginning of the 18th century the presses of Troyes found full employment in its reproduction. To this day Chateau-Renaud, surrounded by the waters of the Meuse, is still believed to be the neighbourhood of the retreat of Maugis and Bayard, and the Castle of Renout's Steen, in the Province of Liege, is freely abandoned to them in the surrounding universe of popular tradition. In Brittany, a rude dramatization of the original Epic witnesses to the popularity of the story at the present day. During the celebration of the Kermesse, a Belgium popular feast, which is said to date back to the year 891, an enormous horse bearing four knights, and decorated with their escutcheons, paraded the streets of Louvain in 1490, behind the corps of the University. "As late as the year 1825," says Reiffenberg, "Bayard repaired to Mechlin, to crown a feast framed on the oldest models which was held there; and at Dortmund, in Westphalia, Renaud is still held in heroic and saintly esteem." M. Léon Gautier also calls our attention to the pictures decorating the chimneys of the peasant in France, where, by the side of rude representations of the battle of Austerlitz and the Wandering Jew, is seen that of the Four Sons of Aymon.
Proofs of the popularity of the English translation of the romance are not far to seek. We know not only (as we have shown) that reprints of it were numerous, but that the reprints were widely read and appreciated during the later years of the 16th century. The book is one of those which Cox, the Quixotic old captain of Coventry, who took prominent part in the Kenilworth festivities of 1575, had at his fingers' end. Francis Meres, in the PalladisPage xv Tamia, 1598 (p. 268b), mentions the work among others as "no lesse hurtfull to youth then the workes of Machiavell to age." Wherever, in fact, in Elizabethan literature romances are under discussion, the "Four Sons of Aymon" is brought into court, and receives some sort of tribute to its popularity. The least equivocal of its commendations is the mention in "Henslowe's Diary" of the fact that the story was dramatized, and arrangements made for its production on the stage at the time that Shakespeare and his companions were proving the potentialities of the English drama. The entries in the theatrical manager's diary runs as follows:—
"Layd owt for the componye, the 10 of desembr 1602 unto Robarte Shawe for a boocke of the 4 sonnes of Amon the some of . . . . . xls."*. [p. 230.]
"Memorandum that I Robert Shaa have receaued of Mr. Phillip Henshlowe the some of forty shellinges upon a booke called the fower sonnes of Aymon, which booke, if it be not played by the Company of the Fortune nor noe other company by my leaue, I doe then bynd my selfe by theis presentes to repay the sayd some of forty shillinges upon the delivery of my booke att Christmas next, which shall be in the yeare of our Lord God 1603 and in the xlvjth yeare of the Raigne of the Queene. per me ROBT. SHAA."*. [p. 233.]
Proof is extant of the production of the play by a company of English actors at Amsterdam, but nothing is known of Robert Shaw or Shaa beyond the facts that he was an actor at Philip Henslowe's theatre, received many small loans from his employer, and occasionally assisted him in the management (Henslowe's Diary, pp. 96 et seq.). It does not appear that the play was published.
Thomas Heywood, in his Apology for Actors, 1612 (repr. in Somers' Tracts (1810), iii. 574-600), the Third Booke, argues that, among the benefits of plays, they "haue beene the discouerers of many notorious murders, long concealed from the eyes of the world" (sign. G, bk.; Somers, iii. 598). And after citing an instance of this 'at Lin in Norfolke,' and another of marauding Spaniards at 'a place called Perin [i. e. Penryn] in Cornwall,' being frightened into flight by a battle on the stage, he goes on with the followingPage xvi case of the play of the Four Sons of Aymon and Renaud's murder (sign. G 2; Somers, iii. 599).
"Another of the like wonder happened at Amsterdam in Holland: A company of our English Comedians (well knowne) trauelling those Countreyes, as they were before the Burghers, and other the chiefe inhabitants, acting the last part of the 4 sons of Aymon, towards the last act of the history, where penitent Renaldo, like a common labourer, liued in disguise, vowing, as his last pennance, to labour & carry burdens to the structure of a goodly Church there to be erected, whose diligence the labourers enuying, since, by reason of his stature and strength, hee did vsually perfect more worke in a day, then a dozen of the best, (hee working for his conscience, they for their lucres,) wherevpon, by reason his industry had so much disparaged their liuing, conspired amongst themselues to kill him, waiting some opportunity to finde him asleepe, which they might easily doe, since the sorest labourers are the soundest sleepers, and industry is the best preparatiue to rest. Hauing spy'd their opportunity, they droue a naile into his temples, of which wound immediately he dyed.
"As the Actors handled this, the audience might on a sodaine vnderstand an out-cry and loud shrike in a remote gallery; and pressing about the place, they might perceiue a woman of great grauity, strangely amazed, who, with a distracted & troubled braine, oft sighed out these words: 'Oh, my husband, my husband!' The play without further interruption proceeded; the woman was to her owne house conducted, without any apparent suspition, euery one coniecturing as their fancies led them. In this agony shee some few daies languished; and on a time, as certaine of her well-disposed neighbours came to comfort her, one amongst the rest being Churchwarden, to him the Sexton posts, to tell him of a strange thing happening him in the ripping vp of a graue: 'See here (quoth he) what I haue found!' and shewes them a faire skull, with a great nayle pierst quite through the braine-pan; 'but we cannot coniecture to whom it should belong, nor how long it hath laine in the earth, the graue being confused, and the flesh consumed.' At the report of this accident, the woman, out of the trouble of her afflicted conscience, discouered a former murder. For 12 years ago, by driuing that nayle into that skull, being the head of her husband, she had trecherously slaine him. This being publickly confest, she was arraigned, condemned, adiudged, and burned.
"But I draw my subiect to greater length then I purposed: these, therefore, out of other infinites, I haue collected both for their familiarnesse and latenesse of memory."