« PreviousContinue »
man has always delighted to expose it; he has dilated single phrases into whole paragraphs, with that love of lewdness which is so peculiarly and characteristically the disgrace of French literature.
What is become of these books which were once so numerous ? in their own country they are as rare as they are in this. Almost one might suppose that the curate and the barber had extended their inquisitorial scrutiny to the booksellers' shops, and committed editions instead of volumes to the flames.
It is the hypothesis of Warton, that romance was introduced by the Moors into Spain, and from thence diffused over Europe. Writers of equal eminence have controverted this opinion, and advanced others equally hypothetical. Romance, or fictitious narrative, is, in fact, like poetry, common to all countries, and its character is in like manner every where modified by the circumstances of society.
The machinery of the early romance writers is probably rather of classical than of oriental origin. Classical superstitions lingered long after the triumph of Christianity. The Spanish chronicles continually speak of augury. Certain practices of heathen faith were prohibited in Portugal, by
a law enacted during the life of Vasco Lobeira. The Fathers of the Church expressly assert that the gods of the gentiles are the fallen angels; and with this key, a Catholic may believe the whole of Ovid's Metamorphoses. St. Anthony the Great saw and conversed with a centaur, and St. Jerome vouches for his veracity.
Enchanted weapons may be traced to the workshop of Vulcan as easily as to the dwarfs of Scandinavia. The tales of dragons may be originally oriental; but the adventures of Jason and Hercules were popular tales in Europe, long before the supposed migration of Odin, or the birth of Mohammed. If magical rings were invented in Asia, it was Herodotus who introduced the fashion into Europe. The fairies and ladies of the lake bear a closer resemblance to the nymphs and naiads of Rome and Greece, than to the peris of the East.
The reputation of the books of chivalry was declining, when Cervantes destroyed it. George of Montemayor had newly introduced the pastoral romance; his Diana is so dull and worthless a story, that it is wonderful it should ever have been successful enough to provoke imitation. Tales of intrigue were becoming fashionable. Of these Juan de Timoneda, a Valencian, is said to
have been the first writer in Spain. His first work El Patranuelo bears date 1576. These novelas were symptomatic of worse morals than the books of chivalry. The comic romance, of which the heroes are uniformly rogues, was still more mischievous. Lazarillo de Tormes was the first of this class : of the swarm wbich followed, Guzman de Alfarache, and La Picara Justina are the best known. The common ballads of the country were infected, and ruffians and sharpers are still the heroes of the popular songs of Spain. The French romances do not appear to have been naturalised either in Spain or Portugal. Of late indeed we are told by Fischer that two editions of Cassandra have sold in the space of a year and a half at Madrid. It is singular that Calprenade should have found no readers in Spain, till he was no longer read in any other part of Europe.
The books of chivalry have become scarce, in consequence of their popularity. They have probably been fairly worn out by repeated perusal; but as their fashion was gone by, it was useless to reprint them for general sale. Some few are still published for children, and it is no little proof of their merit that they are their favourite books. In England we have Valentine and Orson, and the Seven Champions of Christendom. Parismus and Parismenos, which is among the boys' books mentioned by Uncle Toby and in the very interesting Memoirs of Mr. Gifford, has lost its ground. In Portugal, Turpin's History of Char
lemain and the Twelve Peers is the popular work; the parent of the whole stock, is the last survivor.
Ir remains that I should state in what manner the present version has been executed.
To have translated a closely printed folio would have been absurd. I have reduced it to about half its length, by abridging the words, not the story; by curtailing the dialogue, avoiding all recapitulations of the past action, consolidating many of those single blows which have no reference to armorial anatomy, and passing over the occasional moralizings of the author. There is no vanity in saying, that this has improved the book, for what long work may not be improved by compression ? meagre wine may be distilled into alcohol. The minutest traits of manners have been preserved, and not an incident of the narrative omitted. I have merely reduced the picture, every part is preserved, and in the same proportions. Amadis of Gaul is valuable, not only for its intrinsic merit, as a fiction, but as a faithful representation of manners and morality; and as such, these volumes may be referred to, as confidently as the original. The edition which I have made use of is that of Seville,* 1547. The copy, for
* M. le C. Gordon de Percel in his Bibliotheque des Romans, says the oldest edition of Amadis is that of Seville,
the book itself is exceedingly rare, was from the library of Mr. Heber, a gentleman whose liberality in the disposal of a very valuable collection, leaves his friends less reason to regret that the public libraries of England should be more difficult of access, and consequently less useful, than those of any other country in Europe.
The Comte de Tressan in his free translation, has compleatly modernized and naturalized the character of the romance: his book is what he designed to make it, an elegant work; but the manners and feelings of the days of chivalry are not to be found there; they are all hidden under a varnish of French sentiment. He has scoured the old shield; the glitter which it has gained does not compensate for the loss of its sharpness, nor for the lines that are effaced.
1526. His work is exceedingly inaccurate. He has not mentioned that of 1547. I should conjecture, that there must have been an edition printed at Medina del Campo.
The story of Amadis was certainly popular before the date he has assigned for its first publication. When the Spaniards first saw Mexico, they said to each other it was like the places of enchantment which were spoken of in the book of Amadis. This was in 1549. There is another passage in the excellent history of Bernal Diaz which seems to imply that they knew the original Amadis, not the work of Montalvo ; he says they compared a boastful man who did nothing in battle to Agrayes, Llamavamosle que era otro Agrajes sin obras. It should seem that the character of Agrayes had been modified by Montalvo, Yet, could a manuscript story have been so commonly known as to be the talk of the soldiery ?