« PreviousContinue »
the pureft file, enlivened with interesting circumstances. Sacchetti published tales before him, in which are many anecdotes of Dante and his cotemporaries. Boccace was faintly imitated by feveral Italians, Poggio, Bandello, Cinthio, Firenzuola, Malefpini, and others. Machiavel himfelf did honour to this fpecies 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 poffeffed the livelieft wit with the profoundeft reflection, wrote alfo 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 Chriftiano (fays Balzac) qui fanctiores Mufas colit, et, in ludicris quoque, meminiffe debet feveritatis." Epift. Sele&t. pag. 207. I have been informed that Machiavel towards the latter part of his life grew religious, and that fome pieces of afcetic devotion, compofed by him, are preferved in the libraries of Italy. Lord Bacon fays remarkably of Machiavel, that he teaches what men ufually do, not what they ought to do.
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 Ariofto and Spencer have borrowed so largely, are fupposed to have had copious imaginations: but may they not be indebted, for their invulnerable heroes, 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 Bellerophon of the ancients? The cave of Polypheme might furnish out the ideas of their giants, and Andromeda might give occafion for ftories of diftreffed damfels on the point of being devoured by dragons, and delivered at fuch a critical feafon 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 impoffible, but thefe have been the parents of the Genii in the eastern, and the B 2 Fairies
Fairies in the western world. To say that Amadis and Sir Triftan have a claffical foundation, may at first fight appear paradoxical; but if the subject were examined to the bottom, I am inclined to think, that the wildeft chimeras in thofe 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 unsuitable match, is supported in a lively manner. POPE has endeavoured, fuitably to familiarize the statelinefs
liness 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 so many natural strokes, with fuch quaintness in his reflections, and fuch a drynefs and archness of humour, as cannot fail to excite laugh
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 used to say 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, PACETIARUM 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, Florentia, 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 Facetia, where it is entitled Vifio Francifci Philelphi; from hence Rabelais inserted 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; Malespini also made use 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 story; 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.