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THE first dawnings of polite literature in Italy are found in tale-writing and fables.

To produce, and carry on with probability and decorum, à series of events, is the most difficult work of invention; and if we were minutely to examine the popular stories of every nation, we should be amazed to find how few circumstances have been ever invented. Facts and events have been indeed varied and modified; but totally new facts have not been created. The writers of the old romances, from whom Ariosto and Spenser have borrowed so largely, are supposed to have had copious imaginations; but may they not be indebted, for their invulnerable heroes, their monsters, their enchantments, their gardens of pleasure, their winged steeds, and the like, to the Echidna, to the Circe, to the Medea, to the Achilles, to the Syrens, to the Harpies, to the Phryxus, and the Bellerophon, of the ancients? The cave of Polypheme might furnish out the ideas of their giants, and Andromeda might give occasion for stories of distressed damsels on the point of being devoured by dragons, and delivered at such a critical season by their favourite Knights. Some faint traditions of the ancients might have been kept glimmering and alive during the whole barbarous ages, as they are called; and it is not impossible but these have been the parents of the Genii in the Eastern and the Fairies in the Western world. To say that Amadis and Sir Tristan have a classical foundation, may, at first sight, appear paradoxical; but if the subject were examined to the bottom, I am inclined to think, that the wildest chimeras in those books of chivalry, with which Don Quixote's library was furnished, would be found to have a close connexion with ancient mythology.

We of this nation have been remarkably barren in our inventions of facts; we have been chiefly borrowers in this species of composition, as the plots of our most applauded tragedies and comedies may witness, which have generally been taken from the novels of the Italians and Spaniards.




THE Wife of Bath is the other piece of Chaucer which Pope selected to imitate. One cannot but wonder at his choice, which perhaps nothing but his youth could excuse. Dryden, who is known not to be nicely scrupulous, informs us, that he would not versify it on account of its indecency. Pope, however, has omitted or softened the grosser and more offensive passages. Chaucer afforded him many subjects of a more sublime and serious species; and it were to be wished Pope had exercised his pencil on the pathetic story of the patience of Grisilda, or Troilus and Cressida, or the Complaint of the Black Knight; or, above all, on Cambuscan and Canace. From the accidental circumstance of Dryden and Pope's having copied the gay and ludicrous parts of Chaucer, the common notion seems to have arisen, that Chaucer's vein of poetry was chiefly turned to the light and the ridiculous. But they who look into Chaucer will soon be convinced of this prevailing prejudice, and will find his comic vein, like that of Shakspeare, to be only like one of mercury, imperceptibly mingled with a mine of gold.

Mr. Hughes withdrew his contributions to a volume of Miscellaneous Poems, published by Steele, because this prologue was to be inserted in it, which he thought too obscene for the gravity of his character.

"The want of a few lines," says Mr. Tyrwhitt, "to introduce The Wife of Bath's Prologue, is perhaps one of those defects which Chaucer would have supplied, if he had lived to finish his work. The extraordinary length of it, as well as the vein of pleasantry that runs through it, is very suitable to the character of the speaker. The greatest part must have been of Chaucer's own invention, though one may plainly see that he had been reading the popular invectives against marriage and women in general; such as the Roman de la Rose, Valerius ad Rufinum de non ducenda uxore, and particularly Hyeronymus contra Jovinianum. The holy Father, by way of recommending celibacy, has exerted all his learning and eloquence (and he certainly was not deficient in either) to collect together and aggravate whatever he could find to the prejudice of the female sex. Among other things he has inserted his own translation (probably) of a long extract from what he calls, Liber aureolus Theophrasti de nuptiis. Next to him in order of time was the treatise, entitled, Epistola Valerii ad Rufinum de non ducenda uxore, ns. Reg. 12. D. iii. It has been printed (for the similarity of its sentiments

I suppose) among the works of St. Jerome, though it is evidently of a much later date. Tanner (from Wood's MS. Collection) attributes it to Walter Map. (Bib. Brit. y. Map). I should not believe it to be older; as John of Salisbury, who has treated of the same subject in his Polycrat. 1. viii. c. xi., does not appear to have seen it. To these two books Jean de Meun has been obliged for some of the severest strokes in his Roman de la Rose; and Chaucer has transfused the quintessence of all the three works (upon the subject of matrimony) into his Wife of Bath's Prologue and Merchant's Tale."

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