« PreviousContinue »
the purest stile, enlivened 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 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
• Machiavel, who poflefled the livelieft wit with the profoundeft 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 Caffina of Plautus ; " Indigna vero homine Christiano [says. Balzac) qui fan&iores Mufas colit, et, in ludicris quoque, meminiffe debet severitatis." Epift. Selector page 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 thcy cugbi to do.
been ever invented: Facts and events have been indeed varied and modified, but totally new facts have not been createdi The writers of the old romances; from whom Ariosto and Spencer have borrowed fo largely, are supposed to have had copious imaginations : but may they not be indebted, for their invulnerable heroes, their monsters, their cnchantments, their gara dens 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 furnilh out the ideas of their giants, and Andromedà might give occasion for stories of diftreffed damsels on the point of being devoured by dragons, and delivered at such a critical season by their fayourite knights. Some faint traa ditions 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 fight appear paradoxical; but if the fubject werd 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 compofition; as the plots of our moft 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 fupported in a lively manner: POPE has endeavoured, suitably to familiarize the state
liness of our heroic measure, in this ludir crous 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 natural strokes, with such quaintness in his reflections, and such a dryness and archness of humour, as cannot fail to çxçite laugh,
Our Prior has happily caught his man. ner, in many of his lighter tales ; parti
• It is to be lạmented thaç Fontaine has so frequently tranfgressed the bounds of modesty. Boileau did not look ypon Fontaine as an original writer, and urod to fay he had borrowed both his file and matter from Marot and Rabelais,
+ “ Poggius Flarentinus in hoc numero eloquentium virorum fingulare nomen obtinet. Scripsit de nobilitate, de avaritia, de principum infelicitate, de moribus Indorum, PACETIARUM quoque librum unum, Ab adversariis ex agitatus orationes plerafque invectivas edidit. In epiftolis etiam laudatur, Cyropædiam, quam Xenophon ille fcripfit, latinam reddidit, atque Alphonso regi dedicavit, pro qua a rege magnam merodam accepit," Facius de viris illuftriBw. Florentire, 1745.
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 Facetiæ, where it is entitled Visio Francisci Philelphi; 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 * Ariofto 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 laft; 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 satirica! writings, that is, not to be tasted or understood, when the characters, the facts and the follies they stigmatize, are perished and
Şce Menagiana, Vol. I. p. 368.