17 Pages

The Gay Science

T HE facts given in the foregoing chapter may explain a good deal in the Wife of Bath's Prologue that might otherwise be ascribed to wide poetical licence; but they may seem strangely at variance with the <I Knight's Tale" or the" Book of the Duchess." The contradiction, however, lies only on the surface. N either flesh nor spirit can suffer extreme starvation. When the facts of life are particularly sordid, then that "large and liberal discontent," which is more or less rooted in every human breast, builds itself an ideal world out of those very materials which are most conspicuously and most painfully lacking in the ungrateful reality. The conventional platonism and selfsacrifice of love, according to the knightly theory, was in strict proportion to its rarity in knightly practice. We must, of course, beware of the facile assumption that these medieval mariages de convellance were so much less happy than ours; nothing in human nature is more marvellous than its adaptability; and Richard 11., for mstance, seems to have bought himself with hard

cash as great a treasure as that which Tennyson's Lord of Burleigh won with more subtle discrimination. But at least the conditions of actual marriage were generally far less romantic then than now; and, at a time when the supposed formal judgment of a Court of Love, It that no married pair can really be in love with each other," was accepted even as ben trovato, it was natural that highly imaginative pictures of love par amours should be extremely popular.