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THE first dawnings of polite literature in Italy,
tales of his country, and delivered them in the purest stile, enlivened with interesting circum
Sacchetti published tales before him, in which are many anecdotes of Dante and his contemporaries. Boccace was faintly imitated by several Italians, Poggio, Bandello, Cinthio, Firenzuola, Malespini, and others. * Machiavel himself did honour to this species of writing, by his Belphegor.
To produce, and carry on with probability and decorum, a 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 damisels 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 clasB 2
* Michiavel, who possessed the liveliest wit with the profoundest reflection, wrote also two comedies, Mandgragora and Clytia, the former of which was played before Leo X. with much magnificence; the latter is an imitation of the Cassina of Plautus : “ Indigna vero homine Christiano (says Balzac) qui sanctiores Musas colit, et, in ludicris quoque, meminisse debet severitatis.” Epist. Select. pag. 202. I have been informed that Machiavel, towards the latter part of his life, grew religious, and that some pieces of ascetic devotion, composed by him, are preserved in the libraries of Italy. Lord Bacon says remarkably of Machiavel, that he teaches what men usually do, not what they ought to do.
sical 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 connection 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 plays, both in tragedy and comedy, may witness, which have generally been taken from the novels of the Italians and Spaniards.
The story of JANUARY and May, now before us, is of the comic kind ; and the character of a fond old dotard betrayed into disgrace by an unsuitable match, is supported in a lively manner. Pope has endeavoured suitably to familiarize the stateliness of our heroic measure in this ludicrous narrative; but, after all his pains, this measure is not adapted to such subjects, so well as the