« PreviousContinue »
"And then Sir Bctor threw his shield, his sword, and his helmne from him. And when hee beheld Sir Launcelot's visage, be fell downe in a sowne. And when hee awaked, it were hard for any tongue to tell the dolefull complaints that he made for his brother. Ah, Sir Launcelot, said bee, thou were head of all christian knights, and now I dare say, said Sir Bors, that Sir Launcelot, there thou liest thou were never matched of none earthly knight's hands. And thou were the curtiest knight that ever beare shield. And thou were the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrod horse, and thou were the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman. And thou were the kindest man that ever stroke with sword. And thou were the goodliest parson that ever came among presse of knights. And thou were the meekest man and the gentlest that ever eate in hall among ladies. And thou were the sternest knight to thy mortall foe that ever put speare in the
rest."-Book iii. chap. 170.
We have taken the more notice of this work, not only as it affords a pretty correct idea of what the old chivalric metrical romance consisted, but as it was in Shakspeare's time the favourite book in this branch of literature, and furnished Spenser with many incidents for his "Faerie Queene.' It constitutes, in fact,
an exemplar and abridgment of the marvels of the Round Table, such as were dispersed through a variety of metrical tales, and can only be found condensed in this production, and of which the popularity may be considered as an indubitable mark of the taste of the age in which it was so much admired and cherished.
If it be objected, that, though Morte Arthur was very popular, it did not originate during our period, it may be answered, that many prose imitations of the Anglo-Norman romance, the undoubted offspring of the Elizabethan era, might, if necessary, be mentioned: but one will suffice, and this has been selected from its having obtained an influence over the public mind nearly as long as the Death of Arthur.
We allude to the well-known romance entitled "The Seven Champions of Christendome," written in the age of Elizabeth by Richard Johnson, the author of various other productions during this and the subsequent reign. In what year the first part of the Seven Champions made its appearance is not known; but the second was published with the following title and date:-" The Second Part of the famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendome. Likewise shewing the princely Prowesse of Saint George's three Sonnes, the lively Sparke of Nobilitie. With many memoriall atchieuements worthy the Golden Spurres of Knighthood. Lond. Printed for Cuthbert Burbie, etc., 1597." 4to. Black Letter. If Mr. Warton's opinion be correct, that Spenser was indebted to this work for some incidents in the conduct of his Faerie Queene, the first part must have been printed before 1590; and Mr. Todd, indeed, seems to think that the second part "was published some time after the first;" a supposition which is corroborated by the address to the reader prefixed to the second part, in which, after mentioning "the great acceptance of his First Part," he nevertheless deprecates the severity of criticism to which it had been exposed; "thy courtesy," he says, "must be my buckler against the carping malice of mocking jesters, that being worse able to do well, scoff commonly at that they cannot mend, censuring all things, doing nothing, but, monkey-like, make apish jests at any thing they see in print: and nothing pleaseth them, except it savour of a scoffing or invective spirit;" passages which indicate that the first part of this romance had been for some length of time before the public. We may also add, that Johnson is known to have been a popular writer in 1592, having published in that year his "Nine Worthies of London."
"If we except La Morte D'Arthur, and one or two Spanish romances, which will be afterwards mentioned, the Seven Champions appears to have been the most popular book of its class. It has accumulated in a small compass the most
* Vide Warton's Observations on the Faerie Queene, and Todd's edition of Spenser's Works, vol ii. p lxviii. + Vide Bibliotheca Reediana, No. 2670 and Todd's Spenser, vol. ii. p. lxvii. note k.
remarkable adventures of the ancient metrical romances, and has related them in a rich and figurative, though somewhat turgid style. Justice has been done to this compilation, once so high in repute, both by Percy and Warton: the former speaks of its strong Gothic painting," and of its adherence to the old poetical legends; and the latter declares it to contain "some of the most capital fictions of the old Arabian romance," and instances the adventure of the Enchanted Fountain.†
The various editions of this once celebrated compilation attest the longevity of its fame; and though now no longer the amusement of the learned and the great, yet it is far from being a stranger to the literature of our juvenile libraries. A London impression appeared in 1755, and it has lately been reprinted in a pocketedition of the British Classics.
Having thus brought forward La Morte D'Arthur and the Seven Champions as the most popular prose compilations in Shakspeare's time from the Anglo-Norman metrical romances, we shall proceed to notice two collections which were more immediately built on an oriental foundation, and which have enjoyed, both at the epoch of their first translation into English in the sixteenth century, and subsequently to a very modern date, an almost unrivalled circulation.
A little anterior to the birth of our great poet, W. Copland printed, without date, a romance entitled "The Seven Wise Masters," a direct version from the Latin of a book published in Germany, soon after the discovery of the art of printing, under the appellation of Historia Septem Sapientum. This interesting series of tales has been traced by Mr. Douce to an Indian prototype: to "The Book of the Seven Counsellors, or Parables of Sandebar or Sandabar," an Indian philosopher, who is supposed to have lived about a century before the Christian æra. The work of this sage, it appears, had been early translated into Persic, Syriac, Arabic, and, from this latter into Hebrew by Rabbi Joel, under the title of "Mischle Sandabar," a version which is conjectured to have been made about the middle of the fourteenth century, and is believed to be the only oriental manuscript of these Parables which has been subjected to the press; having been printed at Constantinople in 1517, and at Venice in 1544 and 1608. A MS. of this Hebrew Sandabar is in the British Museum (Harleian MSS., No. 5449), but no English version of it has been hitherto attempted.
The romance of our Indian fabulist made its next appearance, though with some alteratious in the incidents and names, in Greek, under the title of Syntipas, of which many MSS. exist, the greater number professing to be translated from the Syriac; but in the British Museum is preserved a copy from the Persic, of so late a date as 1667.
The first Latin version is said to have proceeded from the pen of Jean de Hauteselve, a native of Lorraine, but the existence of such a copy is now only known, from its having been translated into French verse, by an ecclesiastic of the name of Herbers, who died in 1226, and who, in the opening of his poem, to which he has given the singular title of Dolopatos, confesses to have taken it from thebel Latin" of Hauteselve.
"Another French version, however, of greater importance, as it makes a nearer approach to the remote original, and has been the source of numerous imitations, is preserved in the French National Library, and numbered 7595. It is a MS. in verse, of the 13th century, and was first noticed by Mr. Ellis, through a communication with Mr. Douce, who believes it to be not only the immediate original of many imitations in French prose, but the source whence an old English metrical romance in the Cotton Library (Galba, E. 9.) has been taken.
This poem, a large fragment of which exist in the Auchinleck M.S., is entire in the Cotton Library, and is written in lines of eight syllables. It is entitled
* Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 217.
History of English Poetry, vol. ii. p. 230
"The Proces of the Sevyn Sages," and Mr. Ellis refers its composition to a period not later than 1330.
The copy, however, which has given rise to the greatest number of translations, is that already mentioned under the title of "Historia Septem Sapientum," the first edition of which, with a date, was published by John Hoelhoff at Cologne in 1490. This was very rapidly transfused into the German, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, English, and Scotch languages.
Of the Scotch version, which is metrical, and was undertaken by the translator" at the request of his Ant Cait (Aunt Kate) in Tanstelloun Castle, during the siege of Leith," 1560, the first edition was printed at Edinburgh in 1578, with the following title:-"The Sevin Seages, Translatit out of Prois in Scottis Meter, Be Johne Rolland, in Dalkeith; with ane Moralitie after everie Doctouris tale, and sicklike after the Emprice tale, togidder with ane loving and laude to everie Doctour after his awin tale, and ane exclamation and outcrying when the Empreouris wife after hir fals construsit tale. Imprentit at Edinburgh be John Ros, for Henry Charteries."
The prose translation by Copland, which made its appearance between the years 1550 and 1567, under the title of "The Seven Wise Masters," was one of the most popular books of the sixteenth century. It has undergone a variety of re-impressions, and when no longer occupying its former place in the hall of the Baron and the Squire, descending to a less ambitious station, it became the most delectable volume in the collection of the School-boy. This change in the field of its influence seems to have taken place in little better than a century after its introduction into the English language; for in 1674, Francis Kirkman, publishing a version from the Italian copy of this romance, which he entitles the "History of Prince Erastus, son to the emperor Diocletian, and those famous philosophers called The Seven Wise Masters of Rome," informs us, in his preface, that the book of 'The Seven Wise Masters' is in such estimation in Ireland, that it was always put into the hands of young children immediately after the horn-book."
The "Book of the Seven Counsellors," in short, appears to have been familiarised in the language of every civilised nation in Asia and Europe, and though often interpolated and disguised by the admixture of fables from other oriental collections, and especially from the fables of Pilpay, it has still preserved, through every transfusion, a resemblance of its Indian type. Its admission into English literature contributed to cherish and keep alive the taste for Eastern romance, which had been generated during the period of the Crusades, and adopted by the Anglo-Norman minstrels.
If the collection of oriental apologues, to which we have alluded under the name of Pilpay, had been as early naturalised amongst us, the effect in favour of oriental fable would probably have been greater; but it was the fate of this work, though superior in merit perhaps, and of equal antiquity and similar origin with the Parables of Sandabar, and alike popular in the East, not to have acquired an English dress until the eighteenth century. The Heetopades of Veeshnoo Sarma, the undoubted source of Pilpay's stories, we, at length, possess, in a correct state, forming certainly the most interesting series of fables extant.†
There is another set of tales, however, in their complexion almost entirely oriental, which not only co-operated in their effect, but also in their period of introduction, with the "Seven Wise Masters," from the press of Copland.
• This short summary has been drawn up from the larger account detailed by Mr. Ellis in his specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, vol. iii. p. 1–22.
The common version of Pilpay was published in 1747. It should be remarked, however, that a translation from the Italian of Doni, containing many of the fables of Pilpay, and professedly rendered by Doni, from the Directorium Humanæ Vitæ, vel Parabole Antiquorum Sapientum, was given in English by Sir Thomas North, 4to. 1570, and 1601, under the title of the "Moral Philosophy of Doni." From this source, therefore, Shakspeare and his contemporaries may have been partially acquainted with this collection of tales.
In 1577 Richard Robinson, a voluminous author who lived by his pen, published "A record of ancyent historyes intituled in Latin Gesta Romanorum;' and in a catalogue of his productions, written by himself, and preserved in the British Museum, he says of this work, that it was "translated (auctore ut supponitur Iohane Leylando antiquario) by mee perused, corrected and bettered."'
This is a partial version of one of two distinct works entitled, Gesta Romanorum, collections of tales in the Latin language which, there is reason to suppose, originated in the fourteenth century, and certainly once enjoyed the highest popularity. Of the first, or what may be called the Continental Gesta, Mr. Warton has given us a very elaborate and pleasing analysis. No manuscript of this primary collection is known to exist, but it was printed about 1473; the first six editions of it are in folio without dates; three containing 152 chapters or gests each, and three 181 each, and of those printed with dates, in folio, quarto, octavo, and duo-decimo, a list, amounting to twenty-eight, has beeen published by Mr. Douce, from the year 1480 to 1555 inclusive. A Dutch translation appeared in 1481; a German translation in 1489; the first French translation with a date in 1521; but no English translation until 1703, when only forty-five histories or gests were published, the translator, either from want of encouragement, or from some other cause, having only printed volume the first of his intended version.
"The second or English Gesta must be considered as the discovery of Mr. Douce, for Warton, not perceiving its frequent discrepancy, had confounded it with the original work. It is likewise remarkable, that the circumstances attending its circulation are diametrically different from those accompanying the prior collection; for while numerous MSS. of the English Gesta exist in this country, not one copy in the original Latin has been printed.
It appears from the researches of Mr. Douce, that this compilation very soon followed the original Gesta, and that the first manuscript may with great probability be ascribed to a period as early as the reign of Richard the Second; most of the MSS. however, none of which have ever been found upon the Continent, are of the age of fifth and sixth Henries, and of these twenty-five are yet remaining preserved in the British Museum, at Oxford, and in other collections.
As the English Gesta was intended as an imitation of the Continental collection, many of its stories have, of course, been retained; but these have undergone such alterations in language, and sometimes in incident, together with new moralizations, and new names, as to give it, with the addition of forty tales not found in its prototype, the air of an original work. It is not, however, so extensive as the foreign compilation, the most complete manuscripts containing only one hundred and two stories; yet as the sources from which it has drawn its materials are, with a few exceptions, correspondent, in respect to their oriental origin, with the continental copy, the character which Mr. Warton has given, of the primary will apply to the secondary series.
"This work," he observes, "is compiled from the obsolete Latin chronicles of the later Roman or rather German 'story, heightened by romantic inventions, from Legends of the Saints, oriental apologues, and many of the shorter fictitious narratives which came into Europe with the Arabian literature, and were familiar in the ages of ignorance and imagination. The classics are sometimes cited for authorities; but these are of the lower order, such as Valerius Maximus, Macrobius, Aulus Gellius, Seneca, Pliny, and Boethius. To every tale a Moralization is subjoined, reducing it it into a christian or moral lesson.
"Most of the oriental apologues are taken from the “Clericalis Disciplina,” or a Latin dialogue between an Arabian Philosopher and Edric‡ his son, never printed §, written by Peter Alphon
Douce's Illustrations, vol ii. p. 424.
Two of these tales, chap. 31 and 32, are Immediately taken from "The Seven Wise Masters," and may be found also in the Arabian Nights and Pilpay's Fables.
"Edric was the name of Enoch among the Arabians, to whom they attribute many fabulous composi tions. Herbelot, in V., Lydgate's Chorle and The Bird' is taken from the Clericalis Disciplina." § MSS. Harl. 3861, and in many other libraries. It occurs in old French verse, MSS. Digb. 86. membrar. "Le Romaune de Peres Aunfour coment il aprist et chastia son fils belement."
sus, a baptized Jew, at the beginning of the twelfth century, and collected from Arabian fables, apothegms, and examples.* Some are also borrowed from an old Latin translation of the ** Calilah u Damnah," a celebrated set of eastern fables, to which Alphonsus was indebted. "On the whole, this is the collection in which a curious enquirer might expect to find the original of Chaucer's Cambuscan :—
Of the translations of the English Gesta, which, owing to the Latin original not being known upon the Continent, are solely confined to the English language, three only have been noticed; and of these, the first is a manuscript in the Harleian collection, No. 7,333, of the age of Henry the Sixth, containing but seventy stories, and which Mr. Douce conjectures to have been produced either by Lydgate, Gower, or Occleve, as the English Gesta appears familiar to them, and this version possesses not only several pieces by Lydgate, but some tales from the "Confessio Amantis" of Gower.
The first printed translation is said to have issued from the press of Wynkyn de Worde, though without a date, and this edition has been mentioned and referred to, both by Mr. Warton S and Dr. Farmer. Neither Herbert, however, nor Mr. Dibdin, has been fortunate enough to detect its existence, and if it really had, or has, a being, it is probably either the manuscript version of the reign of Henry the Sixth, or the translation to which Robinson alludes as the work of Leland the antiquary.
We must, therefore, look to Robinson's Translation of 1577, 'as the only one which has met with a general and undisputed circulation; and this was so popular, that in 1601 it had been printed six times by Thomas Easte.** The most enlarged edition, however, of Robinson's version, contains but forty-four stories, and it is, therefore, much to be regretted, that the Harleian manuscript is not committed to the press.
As this was then the only English translation accessible to the public, of a collection of tales which in the original Latin, and under the same name, had amused the learned and the curious for some centuries, both on the Continent, and for nearly the same space of time on our own island, we shall not be surprised if we find, in a subsequent page, that Shakspeare has availed himself of a portion of its contents, especially as its subjects, and the mode of treating them, coincided with his track of reading.
The popularity of Robinson's work seems to have extended to the eighteenth century; for the last edition, which we can now recollect, is dated 1703, and there is reason to think it the fifteenth, while the edition immediately preceding was published in 1689, but fourteen years anteriorly.
If Ascham thought he had reason to complain of the popularity of Morte Arthur, and its associates, he found tenfold cause of complaint in the daily increasing circulation of Italian Romances and Tales; "Ten La Morte d'Arthures," he exclaims, "doe not the tenth parte so much harme, as one of these bookes made in Italie, and translated in Englande."††
The frequent communication indeed with Italy, which took place about the middle of the sixteenth century, had not only induced an indiscriminate imitation
"See Tyrwhitt's Chaucer, vol. iv. p. 325. seq."
Milton's "Il Penseroso." Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. iii. Dissertation on the Gesta Romanorum, p. v. vi.
+ Douce's illustrations, vol. ii. p. 422.
History of English Poetry, vol. ii. p. 18. vol. iii. p. lxxxiii.
According to his own assertion, in the MS. catalogue of his works in the British Museum, to which he has given the title of "Eupolemia." See Douce's Illustrations, vol. ii. p. 423, 425.
Ascham's Schole Master, Bennet's edit. 4to. P. 255.