Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 felected 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 fcrupulous, 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 serious and fublime fpecies; and it were to be wished, 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 circumftance 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 prose 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 criticifm, but because it contains a cenfure

Cowley is faid to have defpifed Chaucer. I am not furprized at this flrange judgment Cowley was indif putably a Genius, but his tafte was perverted and narrowed by a love of witticifms.

of

;

of Cowley. "Chaucer is a perpetual fountain of good sense; learned in all sciences and therefore fpeaks properly on all fubjects: As he knew what to fay, fo he also knows where to leave off; a continence, which is practised by few writers, and fcarcely by any of the ancients, excepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets is funk in his reputation, because he could never forgive any Conceit that came in his way; but swept, like a drag-net, great and small. There was plenty enough, but the dishes were ill-forted; whole pyramids of fweet-meats for boys and women; but little of folid meat, for men. All this proceeded not from any want of knowledge, but of judgment; neither did he want that, in difcerning the beauties 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 not find it. For this reafon, though he must always be thought a great poet, he is no longer efteemed a good writer; and for ten impreffions which his works have had

in

in fo many fucceffive years, yet at present a hundred books are fcarcely purchased once a twelvemonth." It is a circumftance 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 verfified it. The lines of POPE, in the piece before us, are fpirited and eafy, and have, properly enough, a free colloquial air. One paffage, I cannot forbear quoting, as it acquaints us with the writers who were popular in the time of Chaucer. The jocofe old woman fays, that her husband frequently read to her out of a volume that contained,

Valerius whole: and of Saint Jerome part;
Chryfippus, and Tertullian, Ovid's art,
Solomon's proverbs, Eloifa's loves;
With many more than fure the church approves *.

POPE has omitted a ftroke of humour; for in the original, fhe naturally mistakes the rank and age of St. Jerome the lines muft be transcribed.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Yclepid Valerie and Theophraft,

;

At which boke he lough alwey full fast
And éke there was a clerk sometime in Rome,
A cardinal, that hightin St. Jerome,
That made a boke agenft Jovinian,
In which boke there was eke Tertullian,
Chryfippus, Trotula, and Helowis,
That was an Abbefs not ferr fro Paris.
And eke 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 feventy-fix, among many books of devotion, aftrology, chemistry and romance, there was not one copy of Tully to be found, and no Latin poet but Ovid, Lucan and Boethius; fome French tranflations of Livy, Valerius Maximus, and St. Auftin'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 prefent magnificent royal library at Paris.

THE tale to which this is the Prologue, has been verfified by Dryden; and is fup

• Ver. 671.

pofed

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »