'JE MEURS DE SOIF AUPRES DE LA FONTAINE'
WHETHER anything quite so theatrical as a contest of poets actually took place among the guests at the ancestral estate of Charles d'Orleans between December 1437 and the year 1460, we may never know. Pierre Champion, editor and biographer of Charles, suspected that the poetic exchange preserved in two manuscripts of the duke's poems had been overdramatized in the name 'Concours de Blois'.1 We are certain, however, of the possession of ten ballades of varying quality, all beginning with the line, 'Je meurs de soif aupres de la fontaine'.2 Manuscript rubrics assign their authorship to Villon, Montbeton, Robertet, Berthault de Villebresme, Gilles des Ourmes, and Jehan and Simonnet Caillau. An anonymous eleventh poem (123d) begins with the line, 'Je n'ay plus soif, tarie est la fontaine', which Charles himself had used in an earlier ballade (120). Still another poem by the duke (100) begins with the line, 'Je meurs de soif en couste la fontaine'. And several poems that exist only in a third manuscript, studied by Marcel Schwob,3 may represent a continuation of the Blois competition. The Concern of the present note is the origin of the thematic line played upon in these ballades.
The literary depiction of distracted lovers through conventions like the rhetorical contradiction exhibited in this line is familiar enough in the lyrics of the troubadours and trouveres. And from them the conventions can be traced to Petrarch, in whose sonnets they produce such effects as the following:
That an influence more specific than this general convention might have suggested the theme to Charles occurred to Pierre Champion when he discovered the record of a certain real event in the life of the duke. Champion wrote: 'Le 15 mars 1457 Jacob Landreni, menuisier, visitait le puits de "L'ostel de monseigneur" et au mois de mai, apres un labeur de trois semaines, il recevait 4l. 2s. 6d. "pour visiter certain onvrage et engin que ledit seigneur veut faire au puits du chasteau de Blois pour tirer l'eau plus aisement".'4 For Champion, this water, 'difficile a atteindre', became the symbol of Charles's own life, 'de ses desirs peu satisfaits, de tant de contradictions'.5 From a literary standpoint, I find this as unilluminating as the knowledge that Melville had his library painted white while he wrote Moby Dick.
Because both of these explanations are unsatisfactory--the rhetorical being too general, and the biographical too tendentious--I found extremely interesting the existence of a ballade having the model line for a refrain in an early fifteenth-century manuscript in the Trinity Hall Library, Cambridge. This manuscript, no. 12, has as its chief contents a French verse translation of the Consolatio philosophiae of Boethius (a version once erroneowly attributed, oddly enough, to Charles d'Orlelans), la Chatelaine de Vergi, and a long, unpublished work entitled la Regale du monde, which, I am informed, Dr J. C. Laidlaw of Trinity Hall proposes to edit. The poem under discussion is one of five unpublished ballades distributed in the manuscript as follows: ballade I, beginning: 'Qui sez besongnes veult bien faire', appears on fol. 13 between Books I and II of the Boethius; ballade 2, with the refrain: 'Ie truis en vous loiaulte de regnart', appears on fol. 31v between Books II and III of the Boethius; ballade 3--here edited--appears on fol. 74 between Books IV and V of the Boethius; ballade 4, beginning: 'Ie suy tousdiz encontre mal soustenir', appears on fol. 87 between Book V of the Boethius and the Chatelaine de Vergi; and ballade 5, beginning: 'Or voire bien quil me conuient languir', appears on fol. 96v between the Chatelaine and the Regale du monde. In the transcription of ballade 3 that follows, I have expanded normal manuscript abbreviations, and supplied punctuation, capitalization, and apostrophes.
Like the majority of Charles's own ballades, this poem has three strophes of eight lines each, riming a b a b b c b c ; although these lines are decasyllabic rather than his more favoured octosyllables. In its lack of an envoi, this ballade follows the archaic type imitated by Christine de Pizan and Jean le Seneschal and by Charles himself in his early compositions.7 Those ballades of Charles having exactly the combination of prosodic features exhibited in this poem are, in Champion's numbering, 1, 1O, 19, and 78. Furthermore, except for the absence of the envoi, this ballade shares these features with all poems in the Blois contest save 123e (Villon's), 123h, and 123k. Finally, the ballade could also have appealed to Charles in its liberal use of personifications such as Reffus, a name which appears in six of his own poems.
This poem and the four other ballades in the manuscript are not only unpublished; they exist, so far as I can determine, in no other manuscripts. Because of this and the possibility of a connection between Charles and the poem in question, one would like to know whether the duke might have had knowledge of this particular manuscript. This cannot be determined at present beyond mere possibility. The manuscript was written in France, perhaps in 1406, if M. R. James is correct in his interpretation of its colophon: 'Cy fine le liure dez iii estas ou de la regale du monde feny lan iiiie et vi premier jour de feurier veille de la purificacion notre dame appellee la chandelleur priez pour lescripuain.'8 Elsewhere (fol. 13), the scribe names himself, 'G. dictus lanielle'. On fol. 145v, we read that the book was once owned by a 'noble damoyselle mademoiselle de quiercheuille', which may refer to the town of Querqueville on the Channel coast. By 1551 at the latest, the manuscript was in England in the possession of Robert Hare, whose name appears with that date at the top of fol. 1. We know that Charles d'Orleans was in England from 1415 to 1441 as a prisoner-guest in many English castles, including Windsor and Pontefract. His life before and after this captivity was spent in northern France; but beyond placing the man and the manuscript in the right countries during the right centuries, we can add nothing about the possibility of their direct contact. Nevertheless, the apparent priority of the ballade printed here and the similarity of its refrain to recurring key lines in the work of Charles d'Orleans and his circle make it conceivable that the duke may have been more literanly inspired in his choice of the problem-theme for participants in his 'Concours' than Pierre Champion guessed.
R. A. Dwyer
University of Florida
1 Charles d'Orleans: Poesies, ed. Pierre Champion, II, Paris, 1927, pp. 560-1
2 Poesies, I, Paris, 1923. pp.191-203. Numbers 123b, c, e, and g-m.
3 Le Parnasse satyrique du XV' siecle, ed. Marcel Schwob, Paris, 1905. p.96.
4 Pierre Champion, Vie de Charles d'Orleans, Paris, 1911, p. 654
5 Poesies, II, p. 561.
6 MS Trinity Hall Library (Cambridge), No.12, fol. 74. I want to thank the British MSS Project of the Library of Congress for a film of this manuscript.
7 Poesies, 1, p. xxxiv.
8 Montague R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the MSS in the Library of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Cambridge, 1907. pp. 14 and 19.
From French Studies, Volume XXIII: No 3 (July 1969), pp. 225-28
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