« ElőzőTovább »
language. These ancient strains were, however, sufficiently harsh, dry, and uncouth. And it was to the Italians we owed any thing that could be called poetry : from whom Chaucer copied largely, as they are said to have done from the bards of Provence; and to which Italians he is perpetually owning his obligations, particularly to Boccace and Petrarch. But Petrarch had great advantages, which Chaucer wanted, not only in the friendship and advice of Boccace, but still more in having found such a predecessor as Dante. In the year 1359, Boccace sent to Petrarch a copy of Dante, whom he called his father, written with his own hand. And it is remarkable, that he accompanied his present with an apology for sending this poem to Petrarch, who, it seems, was jealous of Dante, and in the answer speaks coldly of his merits. This circumstance, unobserved by the generality of writers, and even by Fontanini, Crefcembini, and Muratori, is brought forward and related at large, in the third volume, page 507, of the very entertaining
Memoirs of the life of Petrarch. In the
year 1363, Boccace, driven from Florence by the plague, visited Petrarch at Venice, and carried with him Leontius Pilatus, of Thefsalonica, a man of genius, but of haughty, rough, and brutal manners; from this fingular man, who perished in a voyage from Constantinople to Venice, 1365, Petrarch received a Latin translation of the lliad and Odyssey. Muratori, in his 1. book, Della Persetta Poesia, p. 18, relates, that a very few years after the death of Dante, 1321, , a most curious work the Italian poetry, was written by a M. A. di Tempo, of which he had seen a manuscript in the great library at Milan, of the year 1332, and of which this is the title : Incipit Summa Artis Ritmici vulgaris dictaminis. Ritmorum vulgarium feptem sunt genera. I. Eft Sonetus. 2. Ballata.
3. Cantio extenfa. 4. Rotundellus.
Mandrialis. 6. Serventesius. 7. Motus confectus. But whatever Chaucer might copy from the Italians, yet the artful and entertaining plan of his Canterbury Tales, was purely original and his own. This admirable piece, even exclusive of it's poetry, is highly valuable, as it preserves to us the liveliest and exactest picture of the manners, , cuftoms, characters, and habits of our forefathers, whom he has brought before our eyes acting as on a stage, suitably to their different orders and employments. With these portraits the driest antiquary must be delighted; by this plan, he has more judiciously connected these stories which the guests relate, than Boccace has done his novels: whom he has imitated, if not excelled, in the variety of the subjects of his tales. It is a common mistake, that Chaucer's excellence lay in this manner of treating light and ridiculous subjects; but whoever will attentively consider the noble poem of Palamon and Arcite, will be convinced that he equally excels in the pathetic and the sublime. It would be matter of curiosity to know with certainty, who was the first author of this interesting tale. It is plain, by a passage in Boccace, that it was in being before his time. It
has been by some ascribed to a writer almost unknown, called Alanus de Insulis. I have lately met with an elegy in Joannes Secundus occasioned by this Story; it is in his third book, and is thus intitled: * “ In Historiam de rebus a Theseo gestis duorumque rivalium certamine, Gallicis numeris ab illustri
quadam Matrona suavissime conscriptam.” Perhaps this compliment was addressed to Madam de Scudery, who is said to have translated Chaucer into modern French. Among other instances of vanity, the French are perpetually boasting, that they have been our masters in
many of the polite arts, and made earlier improvements in literature. But it may be asked, what cotemporary poet can they name to stand in competition with Chaucer ? In carefully examining the curious work of the prefident Fauchet, on the characters of the ancient French poets, I can find none of this age, but barren chroniclers, and harsh romancers in rhime, without the elegance, elevation, invention, or harmony of Chaucer.
Pasquiere informs us, that it was about the time of Charles VI. 1380, that les chants royaux, balades, rondeaux, and pastorales, began to be in vogue ; but these compositions are low and feeble, in comparison of the venerable English bard. Froissart the valuable historian, about the same time wrote very indifferent verses. Charles of Orleans, father of Lewis XII. left a manuscript of his poems. At his death Francis Villon was thirty-three
and John Marot, the father of Clement, was then born. According to Boileau, whose testimony should be regarded, Villon was the first who gave any form and order to the French poetry.
Villon fceut le premier, dans ces fiecles groffieurs,
But Villon was merely a pert and insipid ballad-monger, whose thoughts and diction were as low and illiberal, as his life.
The House of Fame, as Chaucer entitled his piece, gave the hint of the poem before • L'Art Poet. chan. i.