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Art. 26, Enseignement sur les amis: Introduction

ABBREVIATIONS: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CCC: Corpus Christi College (Cambridge); CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); IMEV Suppl.: Supplement to the Index of Middle English Verse (Robbins and Cutler); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

The Lesson for True Lovers lays out the rules of pure true love, which is called by the poet “fyn amour verroie”(line 108). In the introductory stanza the poet explains that the listener ought to examine his own heart and begin to read there. The song merely puts into words — in plain French (en romauns) — what the true lover already comprehends perfectly because he is so entirely devoted to love. The poet readily allies himself with the tradition of fin amour, which modern scholars often call “courtly love,” a concept explored and amplified by writers of romance like Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France.

Aside from the first and last stanzas, each stanza expounds a rule. The twelve rules may be summarized as follows:
(1) A true lover does not abandon one who falls into poverty.
(2) A true lover loyally ignores slanders said about the beloved.
(3) A true lover turns to the beloved when advice or assistance is needed.
(4) A true lover loyally confides private thoughts to the beloved.
(5) A true lover admonishes the beloved only in private.
(6) A true lover compliments the beloved to others but does not flatter the beloved in person.
(7) Equality of good sense, courtesy, love, and graciousness exists between lovers.
(8) A true lover will defend the beloved, even from a strike or blow.
(9) A true lover does not ask more of the beloved than that person can do.
(10) A true lover will never divulge secrets of the beloved.
(11) If one’s beloved sins in private, a true lover does not tell anyone.
(12) A true lover tells the beloved what is true to his/her honor.
What many of these rules express might also be termed derne love, that is, the intimate workings of a private love shared by two people. This phrase appears in some English secular love lyrics in MS Harley 2253 (e.g., arts. 28, 93), and it is warned against in the first stanza of the next item, The Three Foes of Man (art. 27). In the end, the poet declares that the dictates of true love are to be followed, and all should acknowledge this — laity and clergy — for a loyal heart loves correctly. A closing allusion to liturgical prayer seems to move the piece toward religious parody, but it is probably also meant to suggest that true love is aligned with God’s mercy.

Lesson for True Lovers is somewhat analogous to the brief Anglo-Norman prose Rules of Friendship, which offers twelve rules (ANL 144). This work survives in three manuscripts, with the best text appearing in a book owned by the Ludlow scribe of MS Harley 2253. The book in question is MS Harley 273, where Rules of Friendship occurs on fol. 85ra–va (ed. Hunt, pp. 9–11), and it survives as well in MS Digby 86 and MS Longleat 26. Though the version found in MS Harley 273 was copied by someone else, it is nonetheless among works known to be in the scribe’s possession, which include others on courtesy and friendship. As a poem on friendship and love, this secular text is comparable to the mystical Song on Jesus’ Precious Blood (art. 56). For some commentary on Lesson for True Lovers, see Revard 2007, p. 111.

[Fols. 61v–62v. ANL 144. Långfors, p. 69. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 6. Meter: Fourteen 8-line stanzas, with alternating masculine and feminine rhymes in lines of eight or six syllables: 8a 6b 8a 6b 8a 6b 8a 6b. Layout: No columns; two lines per manuscript line. Editions: Wright 1842, pp. 18–22 (no. 3); Kennedy, pp. 15–23 (no. 3). Other MS: Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 154, fols. 400v–401v (13th cent.); ed. Jeffrey and Levy, pp. 260–67 (no. 51). Translation: Kennedy, pp. 15–23.]

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