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Fairies in the western world. To fay that Amadis and Sir Triftan have a claffical foundation, may at firft 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 clofe connexion with ancient mythology.
WE of this nation have been remarkably barren in our inventions of facts; we have been chiefly borrowers in this fpecies of compofition; 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 ftory of JANUARY and MAY now before us, is of the comic kind, and the character of a fond old dotard betrayed into difgrace by an unfuitable match, is fupported in a lively manner. POPE has endeavoured, fuitably to familiarize the state
linefs of our heroic measure, in this ludicrous narrative; but after all his pains, this measure is not adapted to fuch fubjects, fo 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 fubjects from Boccace, Poggius +, and Ariofto; but adorned them with fo many natural strokes, with fuch quaintness in his reflections, and fuch a drynefs and archness of humour, as cannot fail to excite laughter.
OUR Prior has happily caught his manner, in many of his lighter tales; parti
It is to be lamented that Fontaine has fo frequently tranfgreffed the bounds of modefty. Boileau did not look upon Fontaine as an original writer, and afed to fay he had borrowed both his ftile and matter from Marot and Rabelais.
"Poggius Florentinus in hoc numero eloquentium virorum fingulare nomen obtinet. Scripfit de nobilitate, de avaritia, de principum infelicitate, de moribus Indorum, FACETIARUM quoque librum unum. Ab adverfariis exagitatus orationes plerafque invectivas edidit. In epiftolis etiam laudatur. Cyropædiam, quam Xenophon ille fcripfit, latinam reddidit, atque Alphonfo regi dedicavit, pro qua a rege magnam mercedem accepit." Facius de viris illuftribus, Florentiæ, 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 Vifio Francifci Philelphi; from hence Rabelais inferted it, under another title, in his third book and twentyeighth chapter; it was afterwards related in a book called the HUNDRED NOVELS * ; Ariofto finishes the fifth of his incomparable fatires with it; Malefpini also made ufe of it; Fontaine, who imagined Rabelais to be the inventor of it, was the fixth 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 ftory; the finest touches of which, it is to be feared, have undergone the ufual and unavoidable fate of fatirical writings, that is, not to be tafted or understood, when the characters, the facts and the follies they ftigmatize, are perished and
* See Menagiana, Vol. I. p. 368.
unknown. Gulliver in the next century, will be as obfcure as Garagantua; and Hudibras and the fatire Menippeè cannot be read, without voluminous commentaries.
THE 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 verfify it on account of its indecency. POPE however has omitted or foftened the groffer and more offenfive paffages. Chaucer afforded him many fubjects of a more ferious and fublime fpecies; and it were to be wifhed, POPE had exercised his pencil on the pathetic ftory of the patience of Grifilda, or Troilus and Creffida, 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 feems to have arifen, that B 4 Chaucer's
Chaucer's vein of poetry was chiefly turned to the light and the ridiculous *. But they who look into Chaucer, will foon be convinced 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 fpirited and pleafing preface to his Fables; for his prefaces, after all, are very pleafing, notwithstanding the oppofite opinions they contain, because his profe is the most numerous and fweet, the most mellow and generous, of any our language has yet produced. His digreffions and ramblings, which he himself fays he learned of honeft Montaigne, are interefting and amufing. In this preface is a paffage worth particular notice, not only for the juftness of the criticism, but because it contains a cenfure
* Cowley is faid to have defpifed Chaucer. I am not furprized at this ftrange judgment Cowley was indifputably a Genius, but his tafte was perverted and narrowed by a love of witticifms.