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pieces as used to form the little collections, called, in the quaint language of the times, Garlands. His own work may be considered as a new garland of withered roses. The list concludes with the reign of Charles II. The publication seems to have been made with the strictest attention to accuracy, except that, throughout the whole, the spelling is reduced to the modern standard, for which, wc fear, Mr Ellis may undergo the censure of the more rigid antiquaries. For our part, as all the antique words are carefully retained and accurately interpreted, we do not think that, in a popular work, intelligibility should be sacrificed to the preservation of a rude and uncertain orthography.
ON ELLIS'S SPECIMENS OF EARLY ENGLISH METRICAL ROMANCES. 3 VOLS. 1805. AND ANCIENT ENGLISH METRICAL ROMANCES, SELECTED BY JOSEPH RITSON. * 3 VOLS. 1802. t •
\ The history, the laws, and even the religion of barbarous nations, are usually expressed in verse. Whether poetry is preferred for the sake of the facility with which it may be committed to memory where written records are unknown, or whether the solemnity of these subjects is supposed to require a mode of expression the most distant from that of common life, would be difficult to discover, and superfluous to enquire. But it is sufficiently obvious, that what is preserved only by recitation, must soon be altered and corrupted, enlarged or compressed, so as may best suit the powers of the reciter's memory, or most readily arrest the attention of those whom he wishes to please by the repetition. Thus, in the course of a few generations, the religious poem becomes a mythological fable, and the history degenerates into incredible romance. Still, however, the poetry of an early age continues to be.interesting to the moderns, even when entirely perverted from the purposes to which it was originally applied. The bard may have changed his subject from the facts occurring in his own period, or that of his father's, to the feats of foreign or imaginary heroes : but his work will not the less continue to reflect the manners of the time in which he composed. A Gothic poet, like a Gothic painter, discards all attention to local costume, and pourtrays his characters, his manners, his scenery, according to the characters,
* Joseph Ritson, the ingenious but whimsical and crabbed Antiquarian, died at Hoiton, 23d Sept. 1803. The article in which Slit W. Scott compared the Metrical Romances edited by him, and Mr Gkokce Ellis, appeared in the Edinburgh Review for 1806.
manners, and scenery of his own age. It is therefore no matter whether the scene be laid in Greece or in Taprobana; the description, however unlike what it is intended to represent, will always present a very just picture of the manners of France and England in the feudal times. Accordingly, since the attention of our antiquaries has been turned towards the metrical romances of England and Normandy, we have gained more insight into the domestic habits, language, and character of our ancestors during the dark, warlike, and romantic period of the middle ages, than Leland and Hearne were able to attain from all the dull and dreary monastic annals, which their industry collected, and their patience perused. In fact, to form a just idea of our ancient history, we cannot help thinking that these works of fancy should be read along with the labours of the professed historian. The one teaches what our ancestors thought; how they lived; upon what motives they acted, and what language they spoke; and having attained this intimate knowledge of their sentiments, manners, and habits, we are certainly better prepared to learn from the other the actual particulars of their annals. From the romance, we learn what they were; from the history, what they did; and were we te,be deprived of one of these two kinds of information, it might well be made a question, which is most useful or interesting? In this point of view, we entirely lay aside the consideration which the metrical romances often claim as works of fancy, presenting to the imagination a pleasing detail of romantic adventure, and graced occasionally by poetical flights of considerable merit. With such ideas of the importance of these ancient legends of chivalry, we are bound to express our gratitude to those by whose labours they have been drawn from the dusty and chaotic confusion of public libraries, and presented to the public in a legible and attainable shape.
Bishop Percy, the venerable editor of the "Reliques of Ancient Poetry," was, we believe, the first who turned the public attention upon these forgotten hordes of antiquarian treasure, by an Essay upon Metrical Romance, prefixed to the third volume of his work, in which the merits and qualities of the poetry of chivalry are critically investigated, and a list given of .such metrical romances as had come to the reverend editor's knowledge, to which we are now in a capacity to make large additions. Warton followed Bishop Percy in his taste for the ancient romance, of which he was an indefatigable student. Whenever he has occasion to mention a tale of chivalry, in his " History of Poetry," it seems to operate like a spell, and he feels it impossible to proceed with the more immediate subject of his disquisition, until he has paced through the whole enchanted maze, and introduced his reader into all its labyrinths. Of the great variety of strange and anomalous digressions, with which that work abounds, and which, separately considered, possess inunitc merit II
and curiosity, a large proportion arose solely from his attachment to this romantic lore. But although the curiosity of the public was in some degree excited by the references of these ingenious and inquisitive authors to the poetry of other times, it was not easy to procure for it adequate gratification. The ancient metrical romances were very early superseded by prose works upon the same subjects. These last, although far inferior, in interest and merit, to the poetical tales which preceded them, claimed and obtained a superior degree of credit, founded upon the fiction alleged to be inseparable from metre; upon the degraded state of the minstrels, whose province it was to recite these disparaged rhyming legends; and, above all, upon a grave pretext set up by the author of each prose work, that he had translated it verbatim et literatim from an ancient Greek or Latin original. As no such Greek or Latin original for a romance of chivalry has ever been produced, we may be safely allowed to doubt whether any such ever existed. But our ancestors received these accounts with unhesitating credulity, and gravely read the voluminous romances of Lancelot du Lac, and Palmerin of England, as translations from ancient annals, while they rejected with scorn the rhyming legends of the minstrels on the same subjects. Thus the metrical romances were obliged to give way to the prose works, which were, in fact, borrowed from them; and so complete was the substitution of the one species of fable for the other, that the press, which was then invented about the period of this revolution in public taste, groaned under the splendid folios of the former, while the latter remained in obscure manuscripts, or were only printed in the meanest manner and for the meanest of the people. Thus the very existence of the metrical romance, as a distinct, separate, and more ancient kind of composition, was unknown and unnoticed till the publication of the works which we have mentioned. Even long after that period, printed editions being as rare as manuscripts, remained very little disturbed by those who possessed them, and absolutely inaccessible to every other person. At length, as the taste for old ballads began to awaken that for romantic fiction, Pinkerton and others reprinted in their miscellanies some of the shorter and more ancient of our metrical tales of chivalry; and others were republished singly both in London and Edinburgh. But the first comprehensive and general work, upon this interesting subject, was undertaken by the late Mr Bitson. No one could, in some respects, have been more admirably qualified for the task. Although it is now three years since this publication appeared, yet the subject is so intimately and immediately connected with the more popular and elegant work of Mr Ellis, that, in reviewing the one, we think it a duty we owe to the public to take some notice of the other, and at least point out to their attention the undeserved neglect into which it has fallen.
This collection contains twelve metrical romances of chivalry, selected by the editor as those which, from a general acquaintance with such compositions, he deemed most worthy of publication. There is prefixed a long and elaborate dissertation on Romance and Minstrelsy; and learned notes are subjoined to the collection, with a glossary of obsolete words.
In the important task of arranging and correcting the text of these poems, it is impossible to bestow too much praise upon the editor. To an industry incapable of fatigue, and a fidelity which defied every power of temptation, the late Mr Ritson united acute abilities and an intimate acquaintance with every collateral source from which light could be thrown upon his subject. In possessing, therefore, a collection so important to our ancient literature, we have the satisfaction to know, that the poems published are most strictly and literally genuine, and that they are ably and clearly illustrated in the corresponding notes.
The first romance in the collection is Ywain and Gawain, a most beautiful tale of chivalry, from which Warton has given copious extracts in his History of English Poetry. It is certainly the finest romance in the work, perhaps the most interesting which now exists. It is of French origin, being written, or at least greatly enlarged, by the famous Chretien de Troye, who flourished in the twelfth century. We cannot resist giving a very short summary of the story. Guenever, the wife of the famous Arthur, hearing, upon a time, the knights who guarded her chamber-door, telling to each other their exploits of chivalry, suddenly issues from her apartment, and commands Sir Colgrevance, who was then speaking, to continue his narration. The knight unwillingly obeys, and tells a long and marvellous adventure which had befallen him beside an enchanted well, where he had been finally discomfited by a puissant knight, the guardian of the fountain, the wonders of which are described in strong Gothic painting. Sir Ywain resolves to undertake the adventure, and, having set forth in disguise, slays in single fight the champion of the fountain, upon the threshold of his own castle gate. But the victor, enclosed in the court by the fall of the portcullis, is in the utmost danger from the followers of the slain warrior. He is rescued at length by means of Lunet, a damsel belonging to the castle, who conceals him in a chamber. Here he obtains a sight of the widow7 of the knight of the fountain, and falls desperately in love. His passion is at length successful, through the intervention of the damsel, who very sensibly reminds her lady, that the conqueror must needs more than make up the loss of the vanquished. Sir Ywain marries the dame, with whom he lives in great happiness, until he obtains her permission to visit the court of Arthur, pledging his knightly word to return within the year. But Sir Ywain forgot his promise, a circumstance which did not prevent his becoming distracted for the loss of his lady, when reminded of his breach of faith by a damsel whom she despatched to the court of Arthur, to renounce her husband, and proclaim him dishonoured and truthless. He is restored to his senses by a sage lady, whose enemies he discomfits by his prowess, and then resumes his profession of knight-errantry. While wandering in quest of adventures, he observes a lion combating a dragon, and goes to his assistance, both because the lion was the more noble animal, and on account of the ancient and irreconcilable feud betwixt knights-errant and dragons. The dragon being slain, the grateful lion attaches himself to his ally, and maintains a great part in all his future adventures. They come to the enchanted fountain, where Ywain unexpectedly meets with Lunet, the damsel to whom he had formerly been so much indebted. She is bound to find a champion against a certain day, to fight with her mistress's false steward, who had accused her of treason. Their meeting under circumstances of mutual distress, is very happily described by the old minstrel. Sir Ywain promises to appear and defend her upon the appointed day. In the mean while, he is involved in a variety of adventures, from many of which he is extricated by tho lion; so that the time is nearly past when he appears to combat the steward. Lunet is restored to life and liberty, and by her subsequent address, Sir Ywain is reconciled with his lady.
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"And so Sir Ywaioe and his wile
In joy and blisa they led their life;
So did Lunet and the lionn;
The next romance, called Launfal, though a beautiful fairy tale, might have been as well omitted, as it is published by Mr Ellis in the notes to Way's translation of Le Grand's "Fabliaux." We hope it was not inserted with the peevish purpose of pointing out supposed errors in Mr Ellis's edition, although we observe some explanations of the difficult passages, given with a "not as Mister Ellis says;" and that in cases where the justice of the correction is as uncertain as the dispute is insignificant. The second volume contains Sir Libius Disconius, f. e. Le Beau Decogneu (of which Bishop Percy has given an elegant precis in his Essay on Metrical Bomance); Hornchild, the King of Tars; Emare, and a metrical Chronicle of England. The third volume contains Florence of Borne, the Earl of Tholouse, the Squire of Low Degree, and the Knight of Courtesy and Lady of Faguell. We believe that both the Chronicle of England, and the beautiful fairy tale of Sir Orpheo, might have been greatly enlarged by recourse to the Auchinleck MS. in the Advocates' Library of Edinburgh, to which Mr Bitson seems to have had ready access. Upon