ePub 版

are first deduced from one poem, and then applied, without distinction, to poems of a different, and almost opposite nature. Indeed, it would be perfectly ludicrous to see Orlando, who is undoubtedly the greatest hero in the poem, engaged in prosecuting any particular design, if we except the love of Angelica; and that it was not Ariosto’s intention to celebrate his passion for her, appears evident from his removing her from the scene altogether, and delivering her up to the possession and embraces of Medoro, who carries her off to India in the twentyninth book.'

A romantic poem, therefore, to be consistent, must be romantic, that is, it must leave the characters to act wildly and romantically, for to make them act reasonably, to make them pursue any fixed design, would be 'to deprive them of their romantic character. Instead, therefore, of endeavouring to defend Ariosto, by maintaining that he has observed the rules of Aristotle, and that he has a chief hero, and a main action, we should adopt the general opinion of the critics, and of the world, that he has neither, and rest our defence on the impropriety of making either one or the other a prominent feature in a romantic epic. .

+ That Ariosto, 'then, did not intend to celebrate any one great and heroic action, through the instrumentality of any one hero, and that he was justified in so doing, must, we think, appear sufficiently evident; but the wildness, boldness, and extravagance of his relations, may, perhaps, appear not so capable of being reconciled to our ideas, even of romantic or poetical probability. The Orlando exhibits characters and personages of every kind, heroes, knights, kings, shepherds, peasants, hermits, -queens, ladies of high birth, abandoned lovers, female warriors, fairies, magicians, demons, giants, dwarfs, flying horses, iron mountains, enchanted palaces, Elysian gardens, in a word, whatever nature can produce, or imagination can conceive. Through these instruments of fiction, he has performed achievements from which the boldest of Homer's warriors would shrink with terror, and removed difficulties which would perplex even the astute goddess of wisdom herself, were she obliged to surmount them. Before we can estimate, however, the degree of probability or improbability that belongs to these relations, it will be necessary to take a view of the origin of romance, and see how far its descriptions and magic scenes can be reconciled with the belief of those who reported them, and to whom they were reported; for a true critic, in judging of the degree of evidence that belongs to any relation, will not study, for a moment, how far it appears probable or improbable to himself, but how far it might appear so in the age and country in which it was written.

• The spirit of chivalry was generated in the dark ages that succeeded the decline of Roman literature, and of Roman power, when the face of Europe was obscured by feudal despotism, and lawless might. Besides the want of subjection to any supreme tribunal under this system, oppression and iniquity were partly secured from the arm of justice by the impenetrable woods and forests that then extended over a great part of Europe. In the midst of these woods were formed subterraneous abodes, in which banditti secured themselves and their ill-got prey from the hands of justice. In such a state of things, we cannot be surprised, that those who possessed the more exalted feelings and generous sympathies of human nature, and who were constant witnesses of oppressed and unrighted innocence, should be seized with that ardour of avenging their wrongs which virtue and humanity, inspire. Such relief, however, could only be afforded them by individual bravery, by those generous few who took delight in travelling through places where evil deeds were most frequently practised, and innocence most frequently exposed. Hence arose the spirit of chivalry; the fame any individual acquired by rescuing innocence from brutal force, was sufficient to inspire another and another to emulate his deeds; and the spirit being once awakened, the flame became general. A similar state of society at present, would, perhaps, excite a similar spirit, but when the laws are sufficient to protect innocence, and defeat the machinations of the unjust, there is nothing to call it forth but a disordered mind. Chivalry, therefore, arose from natural causes, and perished when these causes ceased to exist. We are aware that its extinction is sometimes attributed to the Don Quixote of Cervantes; but it should be recollected, that chivalry was not confined to Spain. It spread its influence all over Europe, though it was at this time rapidly declining, in proportion as the laws extended their protection to the weak, and as the arts and sciences illumined and expanded the human mind. Had Cervantes never written this immortal work, chivalry would have soon become extinct of itself. It would have passed away, like a vapour of the night, before the rising sun of science and civilization; but if the state of society had not been different in the time of Cervantes, from what it was two or three centuries before, the universal darkness which reigned around could never have been dispersed by one solitary star, and Cervantes would have written his Don Quixote in vain. Besides, it is to the expanding knowledge of the age we should attribute this admirable production, not to the individual genius of its author; for had he lived three centuries before, he could never have seen the folly of the times in so clear a point of view. He saw it now clearly, because others

began to see it as well as himself. There is, perhaps, no human production that does not, more or less, breathe the spirit of the times in which it is written, or at least of some considerable portion of it. Butler's ludicrous representation of Hudibras was perfectly in unison with the feelings of thousands besides himself, and if all men had been unqualified admirers of chivalry in the time of Cervantes, he could never have surmounted the prejudices of the age. So far from being able to place the heroes of chivalry in so ridiculous a point of view, he could not even have perceived any thing ludicrous or unnatural in what he had been taught to venerate from his earliest years, nor have made the Spaniards blush at their chivalric genius. They must have first felt themselves its absurdity, more or less, before they could be convinced of it.

While the spirit of chivalry, however, was at its height, the adventures of knight-errants afforded a most romantic and diversified field for the wanderings of the poet. The chivalric adventurer could not himself, at setting out, divine where chance might conduct him. He suffered his steed to follow whatever track he chose, but the poet who accompanied him in imagination, placed him in a thousand situations, and conducted him through a thousand scenes which human foot had never pressed. The most unbounded field was therefore thrown open to the creative imagination of the poet, who peopled it with shadowy shapes, magicians, giants, and all the unreal scenes and personages of ideal being. In fact, the eternal forests that then covered the greater part of Europe were, of themselves, sufficient to excite the spirit of curiosity, and, consequently, of adventure. He who wandered through these woods, and was a constant spectator of nature in all her wild disorder and horrific magnificence, would easily indulge in the most romantic conceptions. Buried in impenetrable gloom, he would imagine to himself all the possible dangers by which he might be sur

fairies, necromancers, giants, goblins, spirits, and all the idle brood of moody imagination. His fears would alter the sensible appearance of remote or indistinct objects, and make them assume those forms which he most dreaded. A mind for any time accustomed to such feelings and apprehensions, could easily credit what would appear palpable fiction to a man who never saw a forest, and was a stranger to those nameless and indescribable feelings which are excited within us by certain appearances of nature. The spirit of romance, therefore, arose from natural causes, and a latitude of description and relation should be allowed to the writers of the time, which cannot be claimed by others. If, therefore, these circumstances, com

bined with the superstition of the age, could give credence to the wildest fictions of imagination, we must not too rigidly examine the probability of Ariosto’s relations : all our objections to them amount to nothing, so far as they are founded on want of probability, while they are sufficiently probable for the age in which they were written. · Ariosto is more esteemed with us than in France, because, in general, we write and judge of works differently from the French. The French writer sketches out the entire plan of his work, and studies to make all the parts accord with each other; but the English writer is apt to forget his logic and metaphysics the moment he sits down to write. He studies to say a great many good things, but does not much relish to study what should be said first, and what last. In this respect, however, he seldom commits any important errors. Naturally possessed of good taste, all glaring misplacements and deviations from propriety appear intuitively to him; but he is at all times more studious of saying what is right, than of accommodating it to its time and place. Even our metaphysical writers, cannot succeed so well as foreigners in the logical arrangement of their works. The Wealth of Nations was written by one of our most sensible philosophers, and yet when it came into the hands of a French translator, he found it extremely defective, in point of order, though he is a professed admirer of the work itself. The genius of the two nations is therefore different, and ac, cordingly Ariosto is less pleasing to the French than to the English critic. The latter determines his merit by his own feelings, the former by his judgement. The latter is pleased with a beautiful passage, without comparing it with any other; the former rejects this pleasure as a delusion, if it contain any sentiment or expression at variance either with the general de sign of the work, or any particular member of it. Hence, Ariosto seldom pleases the French critic, because he will not put on the yoke of servitude, and say every thing in its proper place, because he skips away unexpectedly from his subject, though it must be confessed, he abandons it when we are most desirous of pursuing it. He does so, however, not by chance, but by design ; for invariably throughout the Orlando, the most interesting part is that in which he chooses to drop the subject and fly to some other. He is generally accused of subjecting himself to no rule whatever, of obeying no law, of rejecting all the canons of criticism, and of writing purely as his own fancy dictates. . This appears to us evidently a mistake. There is no poet more observant of order and method, though it is an order and method peculiar to himself. In dropping one adventure and flying to another, he always leaves off where curiosity, is most highly excited. This is what he is chiefly blamed for by the critics, but though it is certain that we cannot well endure disappointment at the very moment our hopes are on the point of being gratified, it is also certain, that there is a pleasure in being held in suspense, when we have nothing to fear and something to hope for. When the lover has succeeded in gaining the heart of his fair one, and prevails on her to appoint the day that is to render him happy, he enjoys, perhaps, during the interval, a more varied and rapid succession of blissful emotions, than he ever experiences afterwards.

ed, or saturated with enjoyment. Suspense or doubt is painful only when exacted either by some craving or desire which we apprehend may never be gratified, or by some impending evil from which we fear we cannot escape. In all other cases suspense is a pleasure, for it rouses all our faculties and prompts us to pursue that enjoyment which smilingly allures us in the distant vista of the imagination. This is always the case in Ariosto. Whenever he stops short, and passes abruptly to some other subject, we know that, bowever painful it is to be disappointed at the moment, it is still a pain mingled with pleasure, a pleasure arising from our past experience, that it is only a temporary suspension of enjoyment, and that if we have patience to read a little farther, we shall become acquainted with the issue of those adventures that have interested us so much already. Had we been gratified at the moment, the pleasure would be only of a temporary character, but from its being thus judiciously delayed, we are continually enjoying it by anticipation; and we pass over the intervening incidents and adventures with a two-fold pleasure, one arising from themselves, the other from the satisfaction of knowing that the moment we have concluded them, we shall be made acquainted with that from which we have already derived so much anticipated enjoyment. He who has his wishes eternally gratified is seldom happy, because constant and unceasing enjoyment destroys the faculty of enjoyment itself, whereas tempered and well regulated enjoyments are a perpetual feast.

That Ariosto was determined, in breaking off his adventures abruptly, by this view of the subject, appears more than probable from the following lines.

“ Come raccende il gusto il mature esca
Cosi mi par, che le mia istoria, quanto,
Or quà, or là piu variata, sià
Meno, a chi l’ndirà noisa sia.”

“ As at the board, with plenteous viands grac'd, .
Cate after cate excites the sick’ning taste,

« 上一頁繼續 »