Lygende dulenspiegel en.., p.1

  Légende d'Ulenspiegel. English, p.1

Légende dUlenspiegel. English

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Légende dUlenspiegel. English



  Translated from the French By Geoffrey Whitworth


  Lamme and Ulenspiegel at the Minne-Water Frontispiece At Damme when the Hawthorn was in flower Facing page 2 Claes and Soetkin 8 Philip and the Monkey 26 Nele and Ulenspiegel 44 The Feast of the Blind Men 54 The Monk's Sermon 76 Father and Son 94 Ulenspiegel and Soetkin by the Dead Body of Claes 118 "Ah! The lovely month of May!" 174 Lamme succours Ulenspiegel 218 The Mock Marriage 224 Lamme the Victor 232 "'Tis van te beven de klinkaert" 242 The Death of Betkin 248 "The ashes of Claes beat upon my heart" 262 Nele accuses Hans 268 Katheline led to the Trial by Water 278 "Shame on you!" cried Ulenspiegel 284 The Sixth Song 302


  The book here offered in English to the English-speaking public haslong been known and admired by students as the first and perhapsthe most notable example of modern Belgian literature. Its authorwas born of obscure parentage in 1827, and, after a life passedin not much less obscurity, died in 1879. The ten years which weredevoted to the composition of "The Legend of Tyl Ulenspiegel" weredevoted to what proved, for de Coster, little more than a labour oflove. Recognition came to him but from the few, and it was not tillsome thirty years after his death that an official monument was raisedat Brussels to his memory, and an official oration delivered in hispraise by Camille Lemonnier.

  To the undiscerning among his contemporaries de Coster may haveappeared little else than a rather eccentric journalist witharchaeological tastes. For a time, indeed, he held a post on theRoyal Commission which was appointed in 1860 to investigate andpublish old Flemish laws. And towards the end of his life he becamea Professor of History and French Literature at the Military Schoolin Brussels. Never, certainly, has a work of imagination, plannedon an epic scale, been composed with a closer regard for historicaldetail than this Legend. But if our present age is less likely to beheld by this than by those other qualities in the book of vitalityand passion, it can only be that de Coster poured into his work notmerely the knowledge and accuracy of an historian, but the love aswell and the ardour of a poet and a patriot.

  The objection--if it be an objection--that de Coster borrowedunblushingly from his predecessors need never be disputed. His styleis frankly Rabelaisian. The stage whereon his actors play their partsis set, scene almost for scene, from the generally available documentsthat served such a writer as Thomas Motley for his "History of theRise of the Dutch Republic." Even the name, the very lineamentsof Ulenspiegel, are borrowed from that familiar figure of thesixteenth-century chap-books [1] whose jolly pranks and schoolboyfrolics have been crystallized in the French word espieglerie,and in our own day set to music in one of the symphonic poems ofRichard Strauss.

  Yet from such well-worn ingredients de Coster's genius has mixed apotion most individually his own. The style of Rabelais is temperedwith a finish, a neatness, and a wit that are as truly the productof the modern spirit as was the flamboyant jollity of Rabelaisthe product of his own Renaissance age; the sensible, historicalforeground of a Motley becomes the coloured background to a romanticdrama of human vice and virtue, linked in its turn to a conceptionof the cosmic process which has no other home, surely, than in theauthor's brain. While Ulenspiegel himself is now not simply the typeof young high spirits and animal good humour, but a being as complex,as many-sided almost as humanity--all brightness of intellect, allwarmth of heart, all honour, and all dream--the immortal Spirit ofFlanders that knows not what it is to be beaten, whose last song mustfor ever remain unsung.

  What shall we say of those other homely personages who fill thescene--symbols no less of Flemish character at its finest and of theenduringly domestic springs of Flemish national life? Claes the trustyfatherhood, Soetkin the valiant motherhood of Flanders, Nele her trueheart, Lamme Goedzak her great belly that hungers always for more andyet more good things to eat and is never satisfied? Or what, again,of the tragic Katheline, half witch, half martyr, and the centre ofthat dark intrigue which seems to throb like a shuttle through themazy pattern of the plot, threading it all into unity?

  From yet another standpoint: as an envisagement of the horrors of theSpanish Inquisition, de Coster's work is probably without parallelin an already well-tilled field. The sinister figure of the King ofSpain broods over it all like a Kaiser, and the episodes of stake andtorture are recorded with a realism which might appear exaggeratedhad not modern Belgium--though in terms of "scientific warfare"--aneven more devilish tale to tell. The fact is that de Coster's trick ofstating horror and leaving it to make its full effect without a touchof the rhetoric of indignation, proves the deadliest of all corrosiveweapons; and it is hardly surprising that the book had been hailedin some quarters as a Protestant tract. But de Coster himself was inno sense a theological partisan, and his sympathy with the Beggarmensprang from his enthusiasm for national liberty far more than fromany bias towards the Protestant cause as such. That Catholicism hasever been identified with tyranny the best Catholic will most deplore,nor will de Coster's "traditional" irreverence blind such a reader'seyes to the spiritual generosity which permeates the whole work,and is, indeed, its most essential characteristic.

  It remains to add that, in the interests of war-time publishing,the present version represents a curtailment of the Legend as it leftthe author's hands. Here and there also, to maintain the continuity ofincident, the translator has permitted himself some slight modificationof the original text. By this means it is hoped that the proportionsof the whole have been fairly maintained, and that no vital aspectof plot or atmosphere has been altogether suppressed or allowed anundue prominence.

  G. A. W.



  At Damme, in Flanders, when the May hawthorn was coming into flower,Ulenspiegel was born, the son of Claes.

  When she had wrapped him in warm swaddling-clothes, Katheline, themidwife, made a careful examination of the infant's head, and founda piece of skin hanging therefrom.

  "Born with a caul!" she cried out joyfully. "Born under a luckystar!" But a moment later, noticing a small black mole on the baby'sshoulder, she fell into lamentation.

  "Alas!" she wept, "it is the black finger-print of the devil!"

  "Monsieur Satan," said Claes, "must have risen early this morning,if already he has found time to set his sign upon my son!"

  "Be sure, he never went to bed," answered Katheline. "Here isChanticleer only just awakening the hens!"

  And so saying she went out of the room, leaving the baby in the armsof Claes.

  Then it was that the dawn came bursting through the clouds of night,and the swallows skimmed chirruping over the fields, while the sunbegan to show his dazzling f
ace on the horizon. Claes opened thewindow and thus addressed himself to Ulenspiegel.

  "O babe born with a caul, behold! Here is my Lord the Sun who comesto make his salutation to the land of Flanders. Gaze on Him wheneveryou can; and if ever in after years you come to be in any doubt ordifficulty, not knowing what is right to do, ask counsel of Him. Heis bright and He is warm. Be sincere as that brightness, and virtuousas that warmth."

  "Claes, my good man," said Soetkin, "you are preaching to thedeaf. Come, drink, son of mine."

  And so saying, the mother offered to her new-born babe a draught fromnature's fountain.


  While Ulenspiegel nestled close and drank his fill, all the birds inthe country-side began to waken.

  Claes, who was tying up sticks, regarded his wife as she gave thebreast to Ulenspiegel.

  "Wife," he said, "hast made good provision of this fine milk?"

  "The pitchers are full," she said, "but that doth not suffice for mypeace of mind."

  "It seems that you are downhearted over your good fortune," said Claes.

  "I was thinking," she said, "that there is not so much as a pennypiece in that leather bag of ours hanging on the wall."

  Claes took hold of the bag and shook it. But in vain. There was nosign of any money. He looked crestfallen. Nevertheless, hoping tocomfort his good wife--

  "What are you worrying about?" says he. "Have we not in the bin thatcake we offered Katheline yesterday? And don't I see a great piece ofmeat over there that should make good milk for the child for threedays at the least? And this tub of butter, is it a ghost-tub? Andare they spectres, those apples ranged like flags and banners allin battle order, row after row, in the storeroom? And is there nopromise of cool refreshment guarded safe in the paunch of our fineold cask of cuyte de Bruges?"

  Soetkin said: "When we take the child to be christened we shall haveto give two patards to the priest, and a florin for the feasting."

  But at this moment Katheline returned, with a great bundle of herbsin her arms.

  "For the child that is born with a caul," she cried. "Angelica thatkeeps men from luxury; fenel that preserves them from Satan...."

  "Have you none of that herb," asked Claes, "which is called florins?"

  "No," said she.

  "Very well," he answered, "I shall go and see if I cannot find anygrowing in the canal."

  And with that he went off, with his line and his fishing-net, knowingthat he would not be likely to meet any one, since it was yet an hourbefore the oosterzon, which is, in the land of Flanders, six o'clockin the morning.


  Claes came to the Bruges canal, not far from the sea. There, havingbaited his hook, he cast it into the water and let out the line. Onthe opposite bank, a little boy was lying against a clump of earth,fast asleep. The boy, who was not dressed like a peasant, woke up atthe noise that Claes was making, and began to run away, fearing nodoubt that it was the village constable come to dislodge him from hisbed and to hale him off as a vagabond to the steen. But he soon losthis fear when he recognized Claes, and when Claes called out to him:

  "Would you like to earn a penny, my boy? Well then, drive the fishover to my side!"

  At this proposal the little boy, who was somewhat stout for his years,jumped into the water, and arming himself with a plume of long reeds,he began to drive the fish towards Claes. When the fishing was over,Claes drew up his line and his landing-net, and came over by the lockgate towards where the youngster was standing.

  "Your name," said Claes, "is Lamme by baptism, and Goedzak by nature,because you are of a gentle disposition, and you dwell in the rueHeron behind the Church of Our Lady. But tell me why it is that,young as you are, and well dressed, you are yet obliged to sleep outhere in the open?"

  "Woe is me, Mr. Charcoal-burner," answered the boy. "I have a sisterat home, a year younger than I am, who fairly thrashes me at theleast occasion of disagreement. But I dare not take my revenge uponher back for fear of doing her some injury, sir. Last night at supperI was very hungry, and I was clearing out with my fingers the bottomof a dish of beef and beans. She wanted to share it, but there wasnot enough for us both, sir. And when she saw me licking my lipsbecause the sauce smelt good, she went mad with rage, and smote mewith all her force, so hard indeed that I fled away from the house,beaten all black and blue."

  Claes asked him what his father and mother were doing during thisscene.

  "My father hit me on one shoulder and my mother on the other, crying,'Strike back at her, you coward!' but I, not wishing to strike a girl,made my escape."

  All at once, Lamme went pale all over and began to tremble in everylimb, and Claes saw a tall woman approaching, and by her side a younggirl, very thin and fierce of aspect.

  "Oh, oh!" cried Lamme, holding on to Claes by his breeches, "hereare my mother and my sister come to find me. Protect me, please,Mr. Charcoal-burner!"

  "Wait," said Claes. "First of all let me give you this penny-farthingas your wages, and now let us go and meet them without fear."

  When the two women saw Lamme, they ran up and both began to belabourhim--the mother because of the fright he had given her, the sisterbecause it was her habit so to do. Lamme took refuge behind Claes,and cried out:

  "I have earned a penny-farthing! I have earned a penny-farthing! Donot beat me!"

  By this time, however, his mother had begun to embrace him, while thegirl was trying to force open his hands and to get at the money. ButLamme shouted:

  "The money belongs to me. You shall not have it."

  And he kept his fingers tightly closed. But Claes shook the girlroughly by the ears, and said to her:

  "If you go on picking quarrels like this with your brother, he that isas good and gentle as a lamb, I shall put you in a black charcoal-pit,and then it won't be I any longer that will be shaking you by the ears,but the red devil himself from hell, and he will pull you into pieceswith his great claws and his teeth that are like forks."

  At these words the girl averted her eyes from Claes, nor did she gonear Lamme, but hid behind her mother's skirts, and when she got backinto the town, she went about crying everywhere:

  "The Charcoal-man has beaten me, and he keeps the devil in his cave."

  Nevertheless she did not attack Lamme any more; but being the biggerof the two, she made him work in her place, and the gentle simpletonobeyed her right willingly.

  Now Claes, on his way home, sold his catch to a farmer that often usedto buy fish from him. And when he was home again, he said to Soetkin:

  "Behold! Here's what I have found in the bellies of four pike, ninecarp, and a basketful of eels." And he threw on the table a coupleof florins and half a farthing.

  "Why don't you go fishing every day, my man?" asked Soetkin.

  "For fear of becoming a fish myself, and being caught on the hook ofthe village constable," he told her.


  Claes, the father of Ulenspiegel, was known in Damme by the nameof Kooldraeger, that is to say, the Charcoal-burner. Claes had ablack head of hair, bright eyes, and a skin the colour of his ownmerchandise--save only on Sundays and Feast Days, when his cottageran with soap and water. He was a short, thick-set man, strong,and of a joyful countenance.

  Towards the end of the day, when evening was coming on, he wouldsometimes visit the tavern on the road to Bruges, there to rinse hischarcoal-blackened throat with a draught of cuyte; and then the womenstanding at their doorways to sniff the evening dew would cry out tohim in friendly greeting:

  "A good night and a good drink to you, Charcoal-burner."

  "A good night to you, and a lively husband!" Claes would reply.

  And sometimes the girls, trooping home together from their work inthe fields, would line up in front of him right across the road,barring his way.

  "What will you give us for the right of passage?" they would cry. "Ascarlet ribbon, a buckle of gold, a pair of velvet slippers, or aflorin piece for alms?"

  But Claes, holding one of the girls
fast by the waist, would giveher a hearty kiss on her fresh cheek or on her neck, just whicheverhappened to be nearest, and then he would say:

  "You must ask the rest, my dears, of your sweethearts."

  And off they would go amidst peals of laughter.

  As for the children, they always recognized Claes by his loud voiceand by the noise his clogs made on the road, and they would run upto him and cry:

  "Good evening, Charcoal-burner."

  "The same to you, my little angels," he would answer; "but come nonearer, lest perchance I turn you into blackamoors."

  But the children were bold, and oftentimes would make the venture. ThenClaes would seize one of them by the doublet, and rubbing his blackenedhands up and down the little fellow's nose, would send him off allsooty, but laughing just the same, to the huge delight of the others.

  Soetkin, wife of Claes, was a good wife and mother. She was up withthe dawn, and worked as diligently as any ant. She and Claes labouredtogether in the field, yoking themselves to the plough as though theyhad been oxen. It was hard work dragging it along, but even the ploughwas not so heavy as the harrow, that rustic implement whose task itwas to tear up the hardened earth with teeth of wood. But Claes andhis wife worked always with a gay heart, and enlivened themselves withsinging. And in vain was the earth hard, in vain did the sun hurldown on them his hottest beams, in vain were their knees stiffenedwith bending and their loins tired with the cruel effort of draggingthe harrow along, for they had only to stop a moment while Soetkinturned to Claes her gentle face, and while Claes kissed that mirrorof a gentle heart, and straightway they forgot how tired they were.

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