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would frequently see the rich ore of an Ariosto or Tasso, though buried, it may be, among the rubbish and dross of barbarous times.
"Such a publication would answer many important uses it would throw new light on the rise and progress of English poetry, the history of which can be but imperfectly understood, if these are neglected: it would also serve to illustrate innumerable passages in our ancient classic poets, which, without their help, must be for ever obscure."
The publication so much desired, and so eloquently recommended by this learned and ingenious writer, has been at length undertaken and to what he has said in its favour nothing remains to be added but some little information as to the mode in which it makes its appearance.
This collection, then, of ANCIENT ENGLISH METRICAL ROMANCES, consists of such pieces as, from a pretty general acquaintance, have been selected for the best. Every article is derived from some ancient manuscript, or old printed copy, of the authenticity of which the reader has all possible satisfaction; and is printed with an accuracy, and adherence to the original, of which the public has had very few examples. The utmost care has been observed in the GLOSSARY, and every necessary or useful information (to the best of the editor's judgment) is given in the NOTES.
Brought to an end with much industry, and more attention, in a continued state of ill-health and low spirits, the editor abandons it to general censure, with cold indifference, expecting little favour, and less profit; but certain, at any rate, to be insulted by the malignant and calumnious personalities of a base and prostitute gang of lurking assassins, who stab in the dark, and whose poisoned daggers he has already experienced.
ROMANCE AND MINSTRELSY.
§ I. ORIGIN OF ROMANCE.
IF what is called a metrical romance, in its most extensive acceptation, be properly defined a fabulous narrative, or fictitious recital in verse, more or less marvellous or probable, it may be fairly concluded that this species of composition was known at a very early period to the Greeks, and in process of time adopted from them by the Romans. The Iliad of Homer in short, the Odyssey ascribed to the same poet,* the Argonauticks of Onomacritus, or Orpheus of Crotona, those likewise of Apollonius Rhodiust and the Hero and Leander of Musæus, among the
* It seems highly probable that both these poems were not written by the same person. In the latter, the goddess Venus is the wife of Vulcan, who surprises her in the act of adultery with Mars (B. 8):
Mean time the bard, alternate to the strings,
In the former they have no sort of connection. Venus has no husband and Vulcan has a different wife (B. 13):
Charis, his spouse, a grace divinely fair,
With purple fillets round her braided hair."
Such an inconsistency, it is believed, cannot be easily detected in any other poet. It has been, moreover, a very generally received opinion that he was likewise the author of a mock-epic, entitled Batrachomuomachia, or The Battle of the Frogs and Mice. It is by no means probable that the oldest manuscript copies of Homer's poems should exhibit his name in the title, or colophon; and as it never occurs in the book, it must have been retained, if at all, by tradition. It should be remembered at the same time, that he is mentioned by no writer till between 400 and 500 years after his death.
†This poem, according to Quadrio, was treated by many as a Grecian romance of chivalry (Storia d'ogni Poesia, iv., 453). It is the original of the northern romances of Jason and Medea. "Il faut remarquer," observes Huet, "pour l'honneur des troubadours qu' Homère l'a esté devant eux" (De l'Origine des Romans, 1678, p. 123). Virgil makes Dido to reign at Carthage in the time of
former, and the Eneid of Virgil, the Metamorphosis of Ovid,*
The Milesian tales of Aristides, likewise, so famous in their day,
Homer, in fact, is much more extravagant and hyperbolical-or
* Chaucer, in his Dreme, to pass the night away, rather than play at chess,
The ingenious doctor, or Bishop Percy, who has great weight in matters of
History of English Poetry, i., sig. a.
romance. His poetical machinery is composed of the Grecian deities (worshipped and adored by himself and his countrymen), who take a decided part on each side, fight, and are wounded or victorious, like the ordinary mortals with whom they engage. Many of his heroes, at the same time, are the offspring of these identical and illusory divinities; as Helen, for instance, the fatal authoress of this sanguinary ten years' war, was the daughter of Jupiter, the supreme god of the Greeks, by Leda, whose embraces he experienced in the form of a swan; the issue, of course, was an egg, out of which proceeded this female firebrand, who must, however, have been pretty far advanced in years long before her elopement with the juvenile and gallant Paris, having been ravished by Theseus forty years before, and being now, of course, like our Queen Elizabeth, a matchless beauty in her grand climacterick. The two demigods-Castor and Pollux, her brethren—came into the world in the same miraculous way. Achilles, likewise, the celebrated champion of the Greeks, was the son of Thetis, a sea-goddess; as Æneas, the pretended founder of the Roman empire, was of Venus, the goddess of love; and all these fancies of a poetical imagination are to be firmly believed, though nothing more than mere romance. With respect to the famous city of Troy, which stood so long a siege, and was laid "at last in ashes," there is not the slightest evidence that such a place even existed, in or before, that is, the æra fixed upon by this immortal rhapsodist; and the antagonists of Mister Bryant, the only modern author who has attempted to demolish this magnificent but ideal fabric,* have reasoned, like the advocates of Geoffrey of Monmouth, by arguments and authorities-that is, deduced from Homer himself, or writers who lived many centuries after him. Herodotus, however, the father of Grecian history, who flourished (according to his own account) about four hundred years after Homer, whose works he must needs have been familiar with, since he wrote his life, and cites them in his history, is a decisive evidence that no such expedition ever took place.
Being a professed antiquary, he must necessarily, from his assiduous researches into the remotest periods of Grecian history, or at least from the traditions which would be naturally preserved of so important and celebrated an event in the very country from which these heroic kings and princes, with their ships and forces, had proceeded, have known if such an expedition had taken place. He appears, on the contrary, to have known or heard, at least amongst his own countrymen, nothing at all of the matter, except what he himself and everyone else had read in Homer, and certain spurious
*The existence of the Trojan war was disputed by Dio Chrysostom more than a thousand years ago. Even Homer himself has been proved by his last editor, the learned Wolf, incapable to write or read; nor does either writing or reading appear, from his elaborate Prologomena, to have been known till many centuries after the æra of Homer.
Cyprian verses, falsely ascribed to that same illustrious bard; for, going into Ægypt, peradventure for this express purpose: "When inquiring," says he, "whether the Greeks have related falsehoods concerning the deeds performed at Ilium, or not, the priests answered me thus-that they knew, from Menelaus himself, that, Helen being carried off, great forces of the Greeks had come to the assistance of Menelaus into Teucris; which, having landed and fortified a place, sent messengers to Ilium, with whom, also, Menelaus went himself; that these, after they had entered the walls, not only demanded Helen and the treasures which Alexander by robbery had carried away, but also required the atonements of injuries; that the Teucrians, however, both then and afterward, either sworn or unsworn, had related the same things; that they themselves had neither Helen nor the treasures whereof they were accused, but that all those things were in Ægypt; that neither could they suffer themselves to be arraigned with justice of those goods which Proteus, the King of Ægypt, withheld; that the Greeks, thinking themselves derided, had so besieged Ilium, till at length they took it by storm; that the city being taken, when Helen did not appear, and they heard the same defence as before, at last, faith being given to the former words, the Greeks sent Menelaus himself to Proteus. this man arrived in Ægypt, and ascended to Memphis in a ship, the When truth of the matter being explained, and himself welcomed with hospitality, in a most honourable manner, he received Helen full of injuries, and all his treasures.”*
And such was the fable of the Ægyptian priests, which the inquisitive historian appears to have swallowed as perfectly rational, though in diametrical opposition to the infallible Homer.
The Odyssey, whether by that same poet or not, is devoid of truth from beginning to end, and abounds with adventures as hyperbolical or extravagant as those of any French romance. The historian of
English poetry justly observes that "all the romances have an enchantress, who detains the knight from his quest by objects of pleasure; and who is nothing more than the Calypso of Homer, and the Armida of Tasso (or the Alcina of Ariosto).”
Huet, who imagined it of the essence of a romance to be in prose, professes not to treat of those in verse, much less of epic poems; which beside that they are in verse have, moreover, different essentials which distinguish them from romances, though otherwise he admits there is a very great relation; and following the maxim of Aristotle (who teaches that a poet is more a poet by the fictions he invents than by the verse he composes), makers of romances may be ranked among the poets.
After Statius there is no metrical romance writer or epic poet, in the Latin tongue, known to have existed before Joseph of Exeter,
*Euterpe, § 118.