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With banners white and red, blue, black, and green,
This stanza is remarkable, not only for the striking and picturesque manner in which the advance of "numbers numberless" is described, but for the introduction of a simile, in the line printed in italic, copied from Dante, (Inf. XV.)
"Come 'l vecchio sartor far ne la cruna.”
The words of Zinabi are,
"Si come la nell ago il vecchio sarto.*"
Perhaps, after all, this might be a proverbial expression, in the time of both the poets. Oliver hastens to awaken his cousin Orlando, and to tell him of the danger; but the son of Aglante, vexed to be roused out of his sleep so early, replies somewhat angrily, and with a degree of coarseness not well suited to our modern ideas of refinement.
"Tu puzzi da vino, e sei ancora imbriaco."
He is, nevertheless, soon convinced, by his own eyes, that the terrible enemy is at hand. Oliver requires Orlando to blow his_powerful horn, that Charles might hear it at St. Jean piè de Porto, and come instantly to their assistance; but Orlando entertains too much contempt for the Pagans to comply:
Why should I sound it in such fearful haste?
But sounded frighten'd by such poor array.
'With Durlindana, thy good sword, in hand:
Shall never greet thee more with love's delight:
* It is printed Si come la nel lago, &c.; but this is only an error of the press.
Nobody but Orlando would think of charging Oliver with cowardice; and throughout the poem the latter is less of the mere hero, and more of the human being, with the feelings and pulses of humanity, than his somewhat boastful and perhaps fool-hardy cousin. This is especially shewn in the two stanzas, last quoted; and we may say of Orlando and Oliver, what every body feels, and therefore has been over and over again said, of Achilles and Hector, that though we may admire the first, we love the last the one interests the curiosity, the other the heart. While pointing out this distinction between Orlando and Oliver, we may take the opportunity of praising the general individuality, and the absence of mere abstraction, in all the characters in this poem. There is always some point, some peculiarity, that differs one Paladin, or one personage, from another. Upon the illustration of this position, we regret that we have not more space to dwell.
The Christians prepare on the instant, and the dreadful conflict begins; Turpin having addressed the Christians in a vigorous speech, ending,
"Since on the rood for us our Saviour died,
All the peers perform wonders; and among them, Baldwin, the young son of Ganelon, greatly distinguishes himself. By noon, the first hundred thousand of the Pagans are disposed of; but nine thousand Christians are killed, and two thousand more wounded. The fight is then renewed under Grandonio, who leads two hundred thousand Pagans to the field. Here, again, we find the peculiar bravery of young Baldwin dwelt upon, for the sake of introducing an incident of a peculiar kind. Baldwin, in presence of Orlando, mentions the success he had met with; when the Paladin openly attributes it to an agreement made between Ganelon and the Pagans, that they should not assail his son's person, whose armour and device he had made known to them.
"Baldwin reply'd, 'My father's treachery,
If he be false, proves not his son so too.
As now is charg'd against my sire by you.
I swear, by our just God, if it be true,
That by your father we are not betray'd,
Cast off that shield and crest the Pagans know,
If Gan have not this damned compact made.'
"Now more than all his gen'rous valour shines:
Nor paus'd the foe, nor at the blow repines.
Orlando saw young Baldwin's forehead cleft,
This test was not only cruel, but most unfair; however, Orlando makes amends by taking instant vengeance on the enemy. Four of the Paladins are killed by the army of Grandonio, and several others wounded; and towards the evening, Balsinello, King of Barbary, takes his station on the field with one hundred thousand fresh troops. The Christians, weak, reduced, and disheartened, still maintain their stand, and Orlando and Oliver, embracing, agree to die struggling to the last extremity. We now approach the catastrophe, the interest of which is worked up with considerable force and ingenuity.
"On ev'ry side was great Orlando found,
Giving and taking most despiteful blows,
While from their wounds in tides the black blood flows.
And spread destruction 'mid his coward foes;
"Walter Montlion, although wounded sore
As he fought reckless in his fierce despite,
Who fled whene'er he desp'rate came in sight;
Thus but six Paladins were left to fight,
Marsilio now enters the field with a large reserve, but Orlando hunts him over the plain until he takes shelter in a cavern.
At this period, Orlando, Oliver, and Turpin, are the only Paladins left alive, the rest being overwhelmed by a torrent of enemies, yet dying upon heaps of Pagans that had fallen by their hands. We know nothing finer or more impressive of its kind than the death of the hardy generous Oliver, whom the reader follows over the bloody field with most earnest anxiety. In almost his last moments it will be seen that he affords another instance of the prevalence of those affections that distinguish him so importantly from Orlando. We should mention that, independently of many mortal hurts before inflicted, he has just received a fatal wound from the gigantic Caliph of Baldracha. Nevertheless,
"He scour'd that memorable field amain
Till now all sight and consciousness he lost,
Orlando, that great Paladin, he crost,
By one dread blow upon his helm embost:
'My dear and noble cousin (then he said)
Hast thou our faith, our God, and Christ, rejected?"
I knew you not, nor here to meet expected :
'That to my sister, whom so dear you prize,
Amidst the hottest battle let me die !'
He scarce had strength remaining to comply,
'Now strongly strike, my valiant coz! (he cried)
And woe to him his way that came before.
* They were brothers, by marriage, as well as cousins.
Full thirty Pagans by his weapon died
Weak as he was, with ev'ry sense forlore: Him and his steed could no obstruction stay 'Till he cut through the scatter'd foes' array."
His horse carries him to his tent, and, alighting, Oliver dies upon his knees in the act of prayer. This is a noble incident, and worthily related by the author. The death of Turpin is not so striking: he and Orlando retire from the field for a few moments, when the bold archbishop dies of fatigue and loss of blood; and the angels,
"Amid sweet songs and hymns of joy and grace,
Orlando is then only left by all his great companions, and he fervently prays to be allowed to die upon the spot. A voice from Heaven promises that he shall soon rejoin the Paladins, and just afterwards his young squire, Terigi, arrives.
"The count receiv'd him with a kindly gladness,
On foot towards the hill with progress slow:
With Durlindana struck a furious blow,
Full oftentimes again he struck his sword
Upon the jagged rock its blade to break,
Th' unequall'd God, and of his sword 'gan speak :
'Had I but known thy virtue from the first
I ne'er had doubted, temper'd as thou art,
Then putting horn to mouth, his mighty heart,
And from his visage made the red blood start.