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THE

CHRISTIAN REMEMBRANCER.

JULY, 1868.

ART. I.-1. Chronicon de Lanercost. (Maitland Club.) 1839. 2. Handlyng Synne. By ROBERT DE BRUNE. (Roxburgh Club.) 3. Book of the Knight de la Tour-Laundry (E.E.T.S.). 1868. THE age of instruction by good stories has passed away. People are much too hard-headed and clear-sighted nowadays to be arrested and impressed by a marvellous tale. They will insist upon finding explanations for the marvels, and explanations are fatal to good stories. The Middle Age was the true period for stories; the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries were especially prolific of them. In the sixteenth century men began to argue and rail, and the day of stories was past. Now, in order to constitute a good story, the narrator should not in any way be tied to actual facts, or even to the probable. He should be allowed without question to expatiate in the realms of history and geography; the elements should be completely at his command; the spiritworld should be perfectly familiar ground to him; the Blessed Virgin, saints, angels, and fiends should be ready actors in the drama; and time and space should be annihilated at his will. Instead of that captious old law, Nec Deus intersit, it should be competent to introduce the Deity at any and every stage, and familiarly to know the secret counsels of Heaven. All these conditions the medieval story-tellers assumed, and therefore no wonder that they told good stories. In those days it never occurred to any one to ask that disagreeable modern question whether the tale were true; all that they regarded was, that it should be edifying; nor, indeed, was the edification very rigorously scrutinized, for it frequently happened that the story was full of the most indelicate details; that the main end, the object, or the moral of the tale should bear upon religion or morality is all that can be said to be required. We are all familiar with mediæval stories in Chaucer, and other books, where not even this was observed; but it is fair to say that the

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majority of stories told in the legends of saints, and in the manuals, religious and moral, which contain such an abundant store of tales, have this characteristic. Of the books we have placed at the head of this article, the 'Lanercost Chronicle' was written by English Franciscan or Minorite friars, the great collectors, manipulators, and dexterous users of these stories; the 'Handlyng Synne' is a book of stories, made by a good canon to enforce religious duties; and the 'Book de la Tour-Laundry' is a collection of stories made in France, by a father, for the use of his daughters. As these latter were also drawn, as is acknowledged, from clerical sources, we have in these three books a fair sample of the sort of stories which were familiarly in the mouth of the religious teacher in the Middle Age.

It has often and with great probability been asserted, that one chief cause of the high popularity which the friars obtained was the amount of good stories that they had at command. They were constantly introducing these into their sermons, thus making their discourses far more attractive than the stiff and dry orations of the parish priest; and we may be sure that in their frequent visits in their districts they were wise enough to soothe the unpalatable demand for alms with the softening influence of a piquant and merry tale.

Now mot a frere studyen and stumblen in tales,
And leven hys matynes and no masse singen,
And loken him lesynges that liketh the puple,

To purchasen him his pursefull to pay for the drynke.'1 They thus made themselves acceptable, not only as quack doctors and pedlars, but also as having at command a wonderful fund of thrilling and sensational interest and amusement. What the trouveur was in the knight's castle, that was the friar in the farm-house or hostelry. The unblushing indecency of many of the stories may prevent their reproduction in modern days, but there is enough and to spare on record, even omitting the indelicate stories, for us to get a fair notion of the sort of tales that the friars told and delighted to record and accumulate, of the seasoning which they provided for their pulpit discourses and their private exhortations in commendation of that highest of all virtues, the contributing towards the support and aggrandisement of the brethren of S. Francis or S. Dominic. It must be confessed that the stories for the most part have somewhat too obvious and palpable a moral, and bear somewhat too distinctly upon the great virtue aforesaid. Nevertheless, this is not the case in all of them, and there are to be found in them many curious illustrations of the manners, customs, and tone of thought of their age.

1 Piers the Ploughman's Crede (ed. Skeat), 1. 591.

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