Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

HISTORY OF FICTION, &c.

CHAPTER V.

Romances of the Peninsula concerning Ama

dis de Gaul and his Descendants.Romances relating to the imaginary Family of the Palmerins.Catalonian Romances.Tirante the White.-Partenopex de Blois.

The reader, who has now toiled through the romances of the Round Table, and those relating to Charlemagne, has not yet completed the whole of his labour :

Alter erit nunc Tiphys, et altera quae vehat Argo
Delectos heroas : erunt etiam altera bella.

VIRG. Ecl. 4.

Had it been my intention, indeed, merely to compose a pleasing miscellany, I should not only refrain from analyzing any other romances of chivalry, but should even have omitted many of which an abstract has been given. But the value of a work of the description which I have undertaken, consists, in a considerable degree, in its fulness. The multiplicity of the productions of any species is evidence of the kind of literature which was in fashion at the time of their composition, and therefore indicates the taste of the age. Even the dulness of the fictions of chivalry is, in some degree, instructive, as acquainting us with the monotonous mode of life which prevailed during the periods which gave them birth ; while, at the same time, by a comparison of the intellectual powers exhibited in romance with the exertions of the same ages in law, theology, and other pursuits, we are enabled to form an estimate of the employment of genius in those distant periods, and to behold in what arts and sciences it was most successfully displayed.

While the other European nations were so much occupied with romance writing, it was not to be expected that the Portugueze and Spaniards should have altogether neglected a species of composition so fascinating in itself, and at this time so much in vogue. The subject of Arthur, and the topics connected with Charlemagne, had been exhausted, and it was now requisite to find a new chief and a new race of heroes. Arthur had been selected as a leader in romance, less perhaps from national vanity than from being in possession of some traditional glory, and thus forming a kind of head and support, by which unity was given to the adventures of subordinate knights. Charlemagne was naturally adopted by the romance writers of the neighbouring country as having many analogies with Arthur. In Portugal, however, where we shall find the first great romance of the series on which we are now entering was formed, there seems to have been no prince nor leader who was thus clothed with traditional fame. Accordingly an imaginary hero was chosen, and, as the first romance which was written in the peninsula was possessed of great literary merit, it had an overpower: ing and subduing effect on succeeding fablers. In imitation of the former author, they continued the family history, supposing, perhaps, that the interest which had been already excited on the subject, which formed the source of their works, would be favourable to their success. This also furnished a certain facility of magnifying their heroes, as it was not difficult to represent each new descendant as surpassing his predecessor. Unfortunately the

successive writers of romance supposed that what had pleased once must please always ; in the same manner as it was long thought necessary that an epic writer should have in his poem the same number of books as Homer, and should employ the same forms of address, comparison, and description. Accordingly the heroes of most romances of the peninsula are illegitimate ; there are usually two brothers, a Platonist and Materialist ; and, in short, a general sameness of character and incident. The opponents of the knights are, however, different from those in the romances of Arthur or Charlemagne; they are no longer the Saxons or Saracens, but the Turks ; and as the Greek empire was now trembling to its base, many of the scenes of warfare are laid at Constantinople. In some of the concluding romances of the series, indeed, happier fictions are introduced, and an attempt is made to vary with new incidents, and the splendour of eastern enchantments, the perpetual havoc which occurs in the preceding fables. But I am, perhaps, anticipating too much the reflections of the reader, and shall therefore, without farther delay, proceed to

« ZurückWeiter »