Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

1

the purest Nile, enliveaed with interesting circumstances. Sacchetti published tales before him, in which are many anecdotes of Dante and his cotemporaries. 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 Belpbogor.

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 lhould be amazed to find how few circumstances have

• Machiavel, who poffeffed the livelieft wit with the profoandeft reflection, wrote also two comedies, Mandgragora and Clytia, the former of which was played before Leo X. with much magnificence ; the latter is ad imitation of the Caffina of Plautus ; “ Indigna vero homine Chriftiano (fayı Balzac) qui fan&tiores Mufas colit, et, in ludicris quoque, meminisse debet feveritatis.” Epifti Sele&. pag. 203. I have been informed that Machiavel towards the latter part of his life grew religious, and that some pioces of ascetic devotion, composed by him, are preserved in the libraries of Italy. Lord Bacon says remarkably of Machiavel, thạc he tcaches what mee usually do, not what they ought to do.

[merged small][ocr errors]

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 Ariolto and Spencer have borrowed fo largely, are supposed to have had copious imaginations : but may they not be indebted; for their invulnerable beroes, 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 Belleropbon of the ancients ? The cave of Polypheme might furnish out the ideas of their giants, and Andromeda might give occafion 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

B 2

Fairies in the western world. To say that Amadis and Sir Tristan have a classical foundation, may at first fight 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 oor 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 'DON 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 en deavoured, suitably to familiarize the state

liness

liaess 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 t, and Ariosto; but adorned them with so many patural strokes, with such quaintness in his reflections, and such a dryness and archness of humour, as cannot fail to excite laugh

ter,

Our Prior has happily caught his manaer, in many of his lighter tales ; parti

[ocr errors]

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

+ " Poggius Florentinus in hoc numero eloquentium virorum angulare nomen obtinet. Scripfit de nobilitate, de avaritia, de principum infelicitate, de moribus Indorum, FACETIARUM quoque librum unum, Ab adversariis ex: agitatus orationes plerasque invectivas edidit. la epistolis etiam laudatur. Cyropædiam, quam Xenophon illc fcripfit, latinam reddidit, atque Alphonso regi dedicavit, pro qua a rege magnam mercedem accepit." Facius de viris illuftri. bus, Florentia, 1745.

cularly

B3

cularly 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 Vidio Francisci Philelphi; from hence Rabelais inserted it, under another title, in his third book and twentycighth chapter ; it was afterwards related in a book called the HUNDRED NOVELS Ariosto finishes the fifth of his incompasable satires with it; Malespini also made use of it; Fontaine, who imagined Rabelais to be the inventor of it, was the Gxth author who delivered it, as our Prior was the laft; and perhaps not the least spirited.

RABELAIS was not the inventor of

many of the burlesque tales he introduced into bis 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 perilbed and

• See Menagiana, Vol. I. p. 368.

unknown.

« VorigeDoorgaan »