Song and Legend from the Middle Ages

Author: William Darnall MacClintock


The aim of this little book is to give general readers some idea of the subject and spirit of European Continental literature in the later and culminating period of the Middle Ages—the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries.

It goes without saying that translations and selections are, in general, inadequate to the satisfactory representation of any literature. No piece of writing, of course, especially no piece of poetry, can be perfectly rendered into another tongue; no piece of writing can be fairly represented by detached portions. But to the general English reader Continental Mediaeval liteature, so long as it remains in the original tongues, is inaccessible; and translations of many entire works are not within easy reach.

What translation and selection can do in this case, is to put into the hands of the ordinary student of the Middle Ages sufficient material for forming an estimate of the subjects that interested the mediaeval mind and the spirit in which they were treated. And this is what the general reader desires. Matters of form and expression—the points that translation cannot reproduce—belong, of course, to the specialist.

The claim that so slender a volume of selections can represent even the subject and spirit of so vast a body of literature, is saved from being unreasonable or presumptuous by a consideration of the fact that, from causes easy to trace, the national literatures of Continental Europe had many common characteristics: the range of subjects was not unlimited; the spirit is the same in all.

No English is included for two reasons: Mediaeval English literature is easily accessible to those readers for whom this book is prepared; during the special period in which the best mediaeval literature was developed, England was comparatively unproductive.

The constant aim has been to put before the reader the literature itself, with comment barely sufficient to make an intelligible setting for the selections. Criticism of all kinds has been avoided, so that the reader may come to his material with judgment entirely unbiased. The translations used have been selected largely with a view to their accessibility, so that readers who desire to enlarge the scope of their reading may easily find the books they need. Caxton’s "Reynard the Fox", and "The Romance of the Rose", attributed to Chaucer, were chosen because they convey an impression of the quaint flavor of the original, which is lost in a modern version. The slight adaptations and transliterations made in these two selections are entirely defensible on the score of intelligibility.

Our acknowledgments are due to Prof. William I. Knapp, of the University of Chicago, for the use of books from his valuable library, and for the permission, most highly prized, to print for the first time some of his translations of the Cid ballads.

THE EDITORS. Chicago, April, 1893.


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Chicago: William Darnall MacClintock, "Preface," Song and Legend from the Middle Ages, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. M. Jules Cambon in Song and Legend from the Middle Ages (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed July 4, 2022,

MLA: MacClintock, William Darnall. "Preface." Song and Legend from the Middle Ages, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by M. Jules Cambon, in Song and Legend from the Middle Ages, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 4 Jul. 2022.

Harvard: MacClintock, WD, 'Preface' in Song and Legend from the Middle Ages, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Song and Legend from the Middle Ages, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 July 2022, from