Sivut kuvina


“ The Knight's Tale," whether we consider Chaucer's original poem, or the spirited and animated version of Dryden, is one of the finest pieces of composition in our language. We have treated of its merits so amply in the general criticism on Dryden's poetry, that little remains here save to trace the antiquity of the fable.

The history of Theseus, as, indeed, it is a sort of legend of knight-errantry, was an early favourite during the middle ages. It is probable, that the anecdote of Palamon and Arcite was early engrafted upon the story of the siege of Thebes. But the original from which Chaucer appears to have immediately derived lis materials, is the “ Teseide” of Boccacio, an epic poem, coma posed in oltava rima, of which Tyrwhitt has given an analysis. The work of Chaucer cannot, however, properly be termed a translation; on the contrary, the tale has acquired its most beau. tiful passages under the hand of the English bard. He abridged the prolix, and enlarged the poetical, parts of the work; compressed the whole into one concise and interesting tale; and left us an example of a beautiful heroic poem, if a work is entitled to that name which consists only of two thousand lines.

This romantic legend is, by Chaucer, with great propriety, put into the mouth of the Knight, a distinguished character among the Pilgrims; who, in their journey to the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury, had agreed to beguile the way by telling each a tale in turn. Hence the second title of “ The Knight's Tale."

! TO






The bard, who first adorn'd our native tongue,
Tuned to his British lyre this ancient song ;
Which Homer might without a blush rehearse,
And leaves a doubtful palm in Virgil's verse :
He match'd their beauties, where they most excel ;
Of love sung better, and of arms as well.

Vouchsafe, illustrious Ormond, to behold
What power the charms of beauty had of old ;
Nor wonder if such deeds of arms were done,
Inspired by two faireyes thatsparkled likeyourown.
If Chaucer by the best idea wrought,
And poets can divine each other's thought,
The fairest nymph before his eyes he set,
And then the fairest was Plantagenet ;*
Who three contending princes made her prize,
And ruled the rival nations with her eyes ;
Who left immortal trophies of her fame,
And to the noblest order gave the name.

* Lady Mary Somerset, second wife of the Duke of Ormond, to whom she was married in 1685. She was second daughter of Henry, first Duke of Beaufort.

Like her, of equal kindred-to the throne,
You keep her conquests, and extend your own :
As when the stars in their ethereal race,
At length have rolld around the liquid space,
At certain periods they resume their place,
From the same point of heaven their course advance,
And move in measures of their former dance;
Thus, after length of ages, she returns,
Restored in you, and the same place adorns;
Or you perform her office in the sphere,
Born of her blood, and make a new platonic year.t


* The first patroness of Chaucer was Blanche, first wife of John, Duke of Gaunt, whose death he has celebrated in the “ Boke of the Duchesse.” She was the second daughter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, grandson of Edmund, surnamed Crouchback, brother of Edward I, But I do not know how the Duchess of Ormond could be said to be “ born of her blood,” since she was descended of John of Gaunt, by his third, not his first wife. Dryden, however, might not know, or might disregard, these minutiæ of genealogy.

+ John of Gaunt had by his mistress, Catharine Rouet, whom he afterwards married, three sons and a daughter, who were legitimated by act of parliament. John de Beaufort, the eldest of these, was created Earl of Somerset, and from him the ducal family of Beaufort are lineally descended. The patent of the first duke, the father of this Duchess of Ormond, bears to be, in consi. deration of his services, and of his most noble descent from King Edward III., by John de Beaufort, eldest son of John of Gaunt, by his third marriage,

« EdellinenJatka »