CHRISTMAS POETRY (II)
The French Noel—Latin Hymnoily in Eighteenth-century France—Spanish Christmas Verse—Traditional Carols of Many Countries—Christmas Poetry in Protestant Germany—Post-Reformation Verse in England—Modern English Carols.
The Reformation marks a change in the character of Christmas poetry in England and the larger part of Germany, and, instead of following its development under Protestantism, it will be well to break off and turn awhile to countries where Catholic tradition remained unbroken. We shall come back later to Post-Reformation England and Protestant Germany.
In French * there is little or no Christmas poetry, religious in character, before the fifteenth century ; the earlier carols that have come down to us are songs rather of feasting and worldly rejoicing than of sacred things. The true Noel begins to appear in fifteenth-century manuscripts, but it was not till the following century that it attained its fullest vogue and was spread all over the country by the printing presses. Such Noels seem to have been written by clerks or recognized poets, either for old airs or for specially composed music. " To a great extent," says Mr. Gregory Smith, " they anticipate the spirit which stimulated the Reformers to turn the popular and often obscene songs into good and godly ballads." 2
Some of the early Noels are not unlike the English carols of the period, and are often half in Latin, half in French. Here are a few such " macaronic " verses :—
" Cclebrons la naissance Nostri Salvatoris,