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sequently, Homer had but one particular hero, and common sense must have pointed out to him the necessity of introducing no other who was not either immediately or remotely connected with the adventures of this hero, the situations in which he was placed, or the events arising from the conduct which he pursued. Hence arose that unity of action, or concentration of events, from which Homer could not depart, without departing, at the same moment, from the subject which he proposed to treat; and it therefore required neither the acumen of Aristotle, nor the boasted canons of the schools, to convince us of the necessity of such unity. But had Homer not confined himself, at setting out, to one particular hero, and consequently to one main action, would such unity be imperatively required of him ? Virgil trod in the footsteps of Homer so far as regarded the nature of his subject: the execution he handled in a manner peculiar to himself. He opens his poem by saying very explicitly, that he sings of the hero who, after his expulsion from his native country, won and settled in Latium, restored to his gods their neglected rites, and to whom Rome owed all her glories and subsequent renown. How then could Virgil, consistently with common sense, introduce into the Æneid any action or hero not connected with the history and adventures of Æneas, having asserted, in very plain terms, that his history and adventures were all he proposed to treat of. But has Ariosto confined himself to this simplicity and unity of design? has he proposed any particular warrior, or any particular adventure, as the subject of his song? If we can take his own words, and trust to his own authority, he has made no such engagement. He proposes to treat of different heroes, and of different adventures, and in making his proposition, he does not give us the slightest reason to expect, that any of these heroes are to be chief over all the rest; from which it naturally follows, that no particular adventure or action is to drag all the rest in its train; for where there is no principal hero, there can be no principal action. If we will not believe his own words, and maintain that, notwithstanding what he says, he intended a principal hero and a principal action, we are immediately set adrift, and left at liberty to maintain what theory we please. We may insist, that Charlemagne, or Rinaldo, who was as nearly related to him as Orlando, was the chief hero; or we may go over to the hostile camp, and make Agramant, Rodomont, Mandricardo, or Gradasso, the principal hero. But the misfortune is, that in doing so, we cannot deny the same privilege to any other critic who may choose to differ from us in opinion. Either, then, we must believe that Ariosto meant what he said, or we may attribute
to him what meaning we please, in which case the Orlando Furioso will be a subject of eternal dispute. It is difficult, however, to conceive, why we should suppose that Ariosto intended one thing and expressed another, when we are willing to give Homer, Virgil, Tasso, and Milton, credit for having conformed strictly to the design which they proposed at the opening of their poems, and consequently of meaning what they said. All this mistake and misapprehension arise from supposing, that the poet is obliged to conform to certain rules of our own invention, whether they be suited to the nature of his subject or not. The only rule, however, which nature obliges him to observe, is consistency, that is, to take care that no part of his poem should be at variance with what he proposes at setting out. This is the corner stone of the whole foundation. Whatever is irrelevant to it is absurd : whatever agrees with it is unobjectionable. Whoever does what he proposes, does all that we can reasonably require of him; or rather, if he does more or less, he does wrong, because he not only leads us astray, but he is inconsistent with himself; for, in the latter case, he omits something which he promised, a something which perhaps is our chief inducement for reading his poem; and, in the former, he introduces something which he did not lead us to expect, and which, if we expected, would perhaps induce us to turn aside from the poem, and never peruse it. Orlando, it is true, is the greatest warrior that figures in the poem, but it does not follow, that all the rest were intended to march in his train; for Ariosto could not avoid making some particular hero greater than all the rest, as nature had made him such. In a crowd of warriors, some one must be greatest, whether he be represented so or not, but this does not oblige the poet to confine his sole attention to him, 'unless he choose, or propose to do so; and, if not, his exploits and adventures form only a part of the poem, with which the adventures and feats of the others are, or are not, connected only as chance directs. If he sometimes influence or determine the line of conduct which they pursue, so do their line of conduct reciprocally influence and determine his.
To judge, however, of the plan pursued by Ariosto, independently of the latitude which he gives himself at setting out, it is obvious that he could not, consistently, pursue any other plan, while love and chivalric heroism, while romantic warriors, magicians, and enchanters, formed the principal materials out of which his poem was to be composed. Achilles, with all his wrath, had one fixed object in view, the destruction of Troy, though he prolonged the war to avenge himself on Agamemnon. They were patriotic feelings that first induced him to take arms, and all the Grecian and Trojan chiefs were governed by feelings of a similar character. Their actions were, in no instance, determined by motives of a selfish and private nature, if we except Paris alone, the most insignificant character in the poem. Where all were governed by similar feelings, arising from causes directly opposed to each other, it was natural that these feelings should end in accomplishing some great result in which all the parties were interested. The Greeks aimed at the destruction of Troy : the Trojans sought the destruction of the Greeks. One or other event must take place, and did take place. But in the Orlando Furioso every warrior aimed first at gratifying his own particular passion, a passion to which he always sacrificed his public duties and the interests of his party. It was therefore impossible, that they could ever co-operate in producing any great result in which all were equally concerned, because each of them had interests and passions peculiar to himself, to which he sacrificed all other considerations. When Rinaldo is sent by Charlemagne to solicit assistance from the British monarch, he forgets the object of his mission the moment he lands on the British coast; and, instead of proceeding directly to London, directs his course to the court of the Scottish monarch, to fight in behalf of his daughter, Geneura, who was condemned to death on a charge of incontinence. Could it be expected, that a character who thus sacrificed his public duty to his passion for knight-errantry, would contribute much to the completion of any great publíc undertaking. During his absence, Paris was closely besieged by Agramant, and all its hopes were centered in the great Orlando; but so much more powerfully was this hero swayed by his passion for Angelica, than by his patriotic attachment to his country, and his duty to Charlemagne, his uncle, that he stole out of the city by night, and went in quest of a virgin whom he knew not where to find. Throughout the Orlando, in fact, love is the passion to which all other passions and considerations are sacrificed, and nothing could be more inconsistent in Ariosto, than to propose to himself the accomplishment of one great action, where he had not a single warrior to co-operate in its execution, who was not languishing in the silken chains of love; nor, consequently, a single warrior on whose co-operation, or fixed steadiness of mind, he could depend for a moment. Languishing, capricious, jealous, irascible, and whimsical lovers, are, of all other instruments, the most unfit for uniting in the completion of any great design; and even should the poet so manage it as to accomplish such a design through the agency of such stubborn and unmanageable instruments, he could never succeed in convincing us, that its accomplishment was not entirely the work of chance; for whatever prudence and wisdom he might display in devising such circumstances and situations as might tend to bring these wandering and unsettled spirits to co-operate with each other, we feel instinctively, that the most trifling circumstance would upset all his contrivances, and either set them quarrelling with each other, or send them in quest of new adventures. It is obvious, then, that they could never be rendered so subservient to any fixed design of the poet, as the heroes of the Iliad and the Æneid, and consequently Ariosto should not have chosen them if he had such a design in view. Having chosen them, however, the only natural line he could pursue was to let each of them follow the bent of his own nature, without forcing it into a direction which it would have never pursued if left to itself. Had all the characters of the Iliad possessed the unbending, uncompromising, ungovernable spirit of Achilles, could Homer have ever planned the destruction of Troy, and executed it as he has done, through the instrumentality of such characters ? Nothing can be more obvious, than that the Grecian camp would be soon divided against itself, and that the independent chiefs would either break up and retire to their respective states, or destroy each other, if they remained, long before they could succeed in accomplishing the destruction of Troy.
It is evident, then, that the poet who wishes to celebrate some great and heroic action, that requires time, perseverance, and a fixed unalterable determination of mind in those who are to accomplish it, must not choose such hot-headed warriors às Achilles, Orlando, Rinaldo, Ferrau, Mandricardo, &c. and that consequently no poem can be made up of such warriors, where the accomplishment of such a design is in view. The poet, then, has no alternative but that of not selecting such characters at all, if he aim at its accomplishment; or abandoning the design, if he select the characters. Homer, Virgil, and Tasso have chosen the former, Ariosto the latter alternative. He found his genius naturally inclined him to the wild and the romantic, and that he could not indulge this humour in de-, scribing such fixed, steady, and natural warriors as Hector, Æneas, Ajax, Ulysses, &c. Without the agency of such characters, however, he perceived no great design could be accomplished, and that to attempt its execution with wild, ungovernable spirits would be far “outstepping the modesty of Nature.” The characters, however, being dearer to him than the execution of any fixed design, he abandoned the one in order to retain the other. Accordingly, whoever reads the Orlando, without an eye to the Iliad or Æneid, will easily perceive, that Ariosto had no object in view but that of entertaining his readers with the loves and adventures of the dames and knights whom he introduces into the poem, and the heroic,
·VOL. VIII. PART 1.
achievements that naturally arose from them; and if he could have any doubt of this being the fact, Ariosto himself removes it at the very opening of the poem, as we have already observed. He there tells us, in the clearest terms, that he proposes to treat of dames, and knights, and arms, and love, and heroic feats; but he does not say, that he proposes to make any particular knight the hero of his poem, nor any particular feat the main subject of his song. That Ariosto has no chief hero, no main action, is so very obvious, that few critics havé ventured to maintain it. On the contrary, their great charge against him is for having neither. If it be asked, why he should be so generally censured for not having both, we reply, because the critics and the schools have stunned us with the necessity of a chief hero, and a main action; because, for some ages past, the very name of an epic poem instantly suggests the idea of a chief hero and a principal action; or, rather, these two ideas, and that of the poem, form in our minds but one complex idea. This idea we generally form in our youth, when we take up most of our complex ideas without being qualified, and some times without being disposed, to examine how far, and under what circumstances, they are right or wrong. Accordingly, under whatever circumstance any part of the idea presents itself ever after, we find it accompanied with the other, and we have as much difficulty to separate the idea of a chief hero and a main action from our idea of an epic poem, as we have to detach our ideas of ghosts and hobgoblins from our idea of darkness. It is this false combination of ideas, that makes us frequently attach a sense to what conveys no meaning whatever, and makes the greatest absurdity pass for demonstration. That a chief hero and à main action are necessary, under the circumstances which we have already explained, can admit of no doubt; but to render them necessary in a poem, composed of such materials as the Orlando, is to render that necessary which Nature forbids.
From the very nature of romantic poetry, it follows, therefore, that the poet is not at liberty to select any particular hero, and employ him in prosecuting and accomplishing one principal design, because, while he acts consistently with his romantic character, he will be the most improper of all instruments to proceed steadily in the execution of it. Where several warriors are described, it is true that some one must be greatest, but this does not constitute him a chief hero, unless he be employed in prosecuting some particular object; and that none of Ariosto’s characters was fit for such an employment, must appear obvious to every reader of common sense, who suffers not his judgement to be warped by the trammels of the schools, and those canons of criticism which