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circumstances have been ever invented.


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 invulne rable 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

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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

lines of four feet, or the French numbers of Fontaine.* Fontaine is, in truth, the capital and unrivalled writer of comic tales. He generally took his subjects from Boccace, Poggius,† and Ariosto; but adorned them with so many natural strokes, with such quaintness in his reflections, and such a dryness and archness of humour, as cannot fail to excite laughter.

Our Prior has happily caught his manner, in many of his lighter tales; particularly in Hans Carvel, the invention of which, if its genealogy be worth tracing, is first due to Poggius. It is found in the hundred and thirty-third of his Facetia, where it is entitled Visio Francisci Philelphi :

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* It is to be lamented that Fontaine has so frequently transgressed the bounds of modesty. Boileau did not look upon Fontaine as an original writer, and used to say, he had borrowed both his stile and matter from Marot and Rabelais.

hoc numero eloquentium viro Scripsit de nobilitate, de ava

+ " Poggius Florentinus in rum singulare nomen obtinet. ritia, de principum infelicitate, de moribus Indorum, FACETIARUM quoque librum unum. Ab adversariis exagitatus orationes plerasque invectivas edidit. In epistolis etiam laudatur. Cyropædiam, quam Xenophon ille scripsit, latinam reddidit, atque Alphonso regi dedicavit, pro qua a rege magnam mercedem accepit." Facius de viris illustribus, Florentiæ, 1745.

lelphi from hence Rabelais inserted it, under another title, in his third book and twenty-eighth chapter. It was afterwards related in a book called the HUNDRED NOVELS.* Ariosto finishes the fifth of his incomparable satires with it. Malespini also made use of it. Fontaine, who imagined Rabelais to be the inventor of it, was the sixth author who delivered it; as our Prior was the last; and perhaps not the least spirited.

RABELAIS was not the inventor of many of the burlesque tales he introduced into his principal story; the finest touches of which, it is to be feared, have undergone the usual and unavoidable fate of satirical writings; that is, not to be tasted or understood, when the characters, the facts, and the follies, they stigmatize, are perished and unknown.

Gulliver in the next cen

tury, will be as obscure as Garagantua: and Hudibras, and the satire Menippeè, cannot be read without voluminous commentaries.

The WIFE OF BATH is the other piece of Chau

cer which POPE selected to imitate.

One cannot


* See Menagiana, Vol. I. p. 368.

but wonder at his choice, which, perpaps, 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 serious and sublime 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 B 4 Shakespeare,

* Cowley is said to have despised Chaucer. I am not surprised at this strange judgment. Cowley was indisputably a genius, but his taste was perverted and narrowed by a love of witticisms.

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