Page images
[ocr errors]





THE hint of the following piece was taken from Chaucer's House of Fame. The design is in a manner entirely altered, the descriptions and most of the particular thoughts my own: yet I could not suffer it to be printed without this acknowledgment. The reader who would compare this with Chaucer, may begin with his third book of Fame, there being nothing in the two first books that answers to their title: wherever any hint is taken from him, the passage itself is set down in the marginal notes.


The following note was prefixed to the first edition of this poem:

"Some modern critics, from a pretended refinement of taste, have declared themselves unable to relish allegorical poems. It is not easy to penetrate into the meaning of this criticism; for if fable be allowed one of the chief beauties, or, as Aristotle calls it, the very soul of poetry, it is hard to comprehend how that fable should be the less valuable for having a moral. The ancients constantly made use of allegories. My Lord Bacon has composed an express treatise in proof of this, entitled, The Wisdom of the Ancients; where the reader may see several particular fictions exemplified and explained with great clearness, judgment, and learning. The incidents, indeed, by which the allegory is conveyed, must be varied according to the different genius or manners of different times; and they should

never be spun too long, or too much clogged with trivial circumstances, or little particularities. We find an uncommon charm in truth, when it is conveyed by this sideway to our understanding: and it is observable, that even in the most ignorant ages this way of writing has found reception. Almost all the poems in the old Provençal had this turn; and from these it was that Petrarch took the idea of his poetry. We have his Trionfi in this kind; and Boccace pursued in the same track. Soon after Chaucer introduced it here, whose Romaunt of the Rose, Court of Love, Flower and the Leaf, House of Fame, and some others of his writings are master-pieces of this sort. In epic poetry, it is true, too nice and exact a pursuit of the allegory is justly esteemed a fault; and Chaucer had the discernment to avoid it in his Knight's Tale, which was an attempt towards an epic poem. Ariosto, with less judgment, gave entirely into it in his Orlando; which, though carried to an excess, had yet so much reputation in Italy, that Tasso (who reduced heroic poetry to the juster standard of the ancients) was forced to prefix to his work a scrupulous explanation of the allegory of it, to which the fable itself could scarce have directed his readers. countryman, Spenser, followed, whose poem is almost entirely allegorical, and imitates the manner of Ariosto rather than that of Tasso. Upon the whole, one may observe this sort of writing (however discontinued of late) was in all times so far from being rejected by the best poets, that some of them have rather erred by insisting on it too closely, and carrying it too far; and that to infer from thence that the allegory itself is vicious, is a presumptuous contradiction to the judgment and practice of the greatest geniuses, both ancient and modern.”


« EelmineJätka »