anknown. Gulliver in the next century, will be as obscure as Garagantua; and Hudibras and the satire Menippeè cannot be read, without voluminous commentaries.


TAE 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 serious and sublime fpecies; and it were to be wilhed, POPR had exercised his pencil on the pathetic story of the patience of Griấlda, 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

B 4


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

Chaucer's vein of poetry was chiefly turned to the light and the ridiculous. But they who look into Chaucer, will soon be

CON: vinced of this prevailing prejudice, and will find his comic vein, like that of Shakespear, to be only like one of

mercury, imperceptibly mingled with a mine of gold.


CHAUCER is highly extolled by Dryden, in the spirited and pleasing preface to his Fables ; for his prefaces, after all, are very pleasing, notwithstanding the opposite opinions they contain, because his prose is the most numerous and sweet, the most mellore and generous, of any our language has yet produced. His digreflions and ramblings, which he himself says he learned of honeft Montaigne, are interesting and amusing. In this preface is a passage worth particular notice, not only for the justness of the criticism. but because it contains a censure


• Cowley is said to have despised Chancer. I am not surprized at this strange judgment Cowley was indir. putably a Genios, but his taste was perverted and narrowed by a love of witticisms.



in his way;

of Cowley.

« Chaucer is a perpetual foun, tain of good sense; learned in all sciences; and therefore speaks properly on all subjees : As he knew what to say, so he also knows where to leave off ; a continence, which is practised by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients, excepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets is sunk in his reputation, because he could never forgive any Conceit that came

but swept, like a drag-net, great and small. There was plenty enough, but the dishes were ill-forted; whole pyraq mids of sweet-mcats for boys and women; but little of folid meat, for men. All thiş proceeded not from any want of knowledge, but of judgment; neither did he want that, in discerning the beautics and faults of other poets; but only indulged himself in the luxury of writing; and perhaps knew it was a fault, but hoped the reader would pot find it. For this reason, though hc must always be thought a great poet, he is no longer esteemed a good writer ; and for po tea impressions which his works have had

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

in so many successive years, yet at present a hundred books are scarcely purchased once a twelvemonth.” It is a circumstance of literary history worth mentioning, that Chaucer was more than 60 years old when he wrote Palamon and Arcite, as we know Dryden was 70, when he versified it. The lines of Pope, in the piece before us, are spirited and easy, and have, properly enough, a free colloquial air. One passage, I cannot forbear quoting, as it acquaints us with the writers who were popular in the time of Chaucer. The jocose old woman says, that her husband frequently read to her out of a volume that contained,

Valerius whole: and of Saint Jerome part 3
Chryfippus, and Tertullian, Ovid's art,
Solomon's proverbs, Eloisa's loves ;
With many more than sure the church approvese

Pope has omitted a stroke of humour; for in the original, the naturally mistakes the rank and age of St. Jerome : the lines must be transcribed.

[blocks in formation]

Yclepid Valerie and Theophraft,
At which boke be lough alwey full faft ;
And eke there was a clerk sometime in Rome,
A cardinal, that hightin St. Jerome,
That made a boke agent Jovinian,
In which boke there was eke Tertullian,
Chryfippus, Trotula, and Helowis,
That was an Abbess not ferr fro Paris.
And cke the Parables of Solomon,
Ovid' is art, and bokis many a one *

In the library which Charles V. founded in France about the year thirteen hundred and seventy-six, among many books of deyotion, astrology, chemistry and romance, there was not one copy of Tully to be found, and no Latin poct but Ovid, Lucan and Boethius; some French translations of Livy, Valerius Maximus, and St. Austin's City of God. He placed these in one of the towers of the old Louvre, which was called the tower of the library. This was the foundation of the present magnificent royal library at Paris.

The tale to which this is the Prologue, has been vergfied by Dryden; and is sup

[blocks in formation]
« VorigeDoorgaan »