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tale of “Sir Topas,” the reporter of “Bevis of Southampton,” “Guy of Warwicke," * Adam Bell," and "Clymme of the Clough," and such other old Romances or historicall rimes, made purposely for recreation of the comon people at Christmasse diners and bride ales, and in taverns and alehouses and such other places of base resort.'
So also Bishop Hall (1598) was a student of these old romances
No man his threshold better knowes than I
Was physick'd from the new-found paradise!' Sir Philip Sidney had · known men that even with reading “Amadis de Gaul,” have found their hearts moved to the exercise of courtesy, liberality, and especially courage.' Milton, speaking of the same class of romances, says that even those books proved to me so many enticements to the love and stedfast observation of virtue. Other champions found different reasons to recommend the reading of romances.
Thomas Heywood in his · Apology for Actors' (1612) argues that plays are beneficial because they have beene the discouerers of many notorious murders, long concealed from the eyes of the world,' and he tells a story of the performance at Amsterdam of the Foure Sonnes of Aymon,' and of the effect produced upon a woman who had murdered her husband. Fynes Morison in his 'Itinerary' (1617) recommends romances as the best means of learning foreign languages. He thought no book better? for the traveller's discourse than “Amadis of Gaul;" for the knights errant, and the ladies of courts, doe therein exchange courtly speeches, and these books are in all languages translated by the masters of eloquence. Nor was it only as a means of acquiring foreign languages that the romantic literature of the Middle Ages was valued in education. Kirkman in 1674 tells us that the book of “ The Seven Wise Masters" is in such estimation in Ireland, that it was always put into the hands of young children immediately after the horn-book.' Sir George Mackenzie, a distinguished lawyer of the 17th century, prefixed to his . Aretina: a Serious Romance, an elaborate • Apologie for Romances. He says that they are generally condemned as the fire and the faggot to kindle and feed the flames of love, as waste of precious time, and as lies. But he declares that, in each respect, the condemnation is unjust. •Who,' he asks, that has seen the Philoclea of Sidney or the Cleopatra of Scuderie will love a modern lady? If the work is abject, it is thrown away; if excellent, time is spent, though not misspent, in its perusal. It cannot be a lie, because it is not intended to deceive. Who, he asks again, need blush to walk in the paths which the famous Sidney, Scuderie, Barkley, or Broghill' have beaten for them? Romance, he argues, is more valuable than History, because the one teacheth us onely what was done, the other what should be done.' Romance presents • Vertue in its holyday robes:' it is “the Vessel which strains the christal streams of Virtue from the Puddle of Interest:' it allures the lazy lady and the luxurious gallant to spend hours in their Chambers, which else the one would consecrate to the Bed, and the other to the Bordell.'
The literary controversy, which is implied in these few scattered quotations, could never have been maintained, if the subject matter were of trifling importance. The fact, that the advantages and disadvantages of the reading of romances have been fiercely discussed for at least six centuries, indicates that they were the favourite diversion of a large section of the community. They have in truth played a prodigious part in the life of our ancestors. Upon them our literature was largely based ; they supplied the colours with which our early writers painted, the threads with which they wove, the patterns they embroidered. They shaped the thoughts, and stored the intellects, of satirists, poets, and dramatists. Walter Mapes,-clarus eloquio,' as Giraldus Cambrensis calls him,-a favourite of Henry II., a distinguished diplomatist, and the reputed author of many Latin works in prose and verse, was voracious in his appetite for popular legends and traditions, and an ardent student of Turpin's fabulous history. He thought it no shame to include an allusion to a lost Anglo-Saxon romance among the spoils which his learning gleaned from Horace, Juvenal, Pliny, Boethius, Jerome, or Bishop Hildebert. He diverted his pen from the composition of grave State papers, or caustic satires and political songs, to the production of the romances of • Lancelot du Lac,' the Quête du Śt. Graal,' and the Mort Artur.' Deeply as the miseries and wrongs of the poor had eaten into the heart of Langland, he shows in • Piers Plowman,' that he knew the story of Fair Rosamond, órymes of Robin Hode' and of “Radolf erl of Chestre,' that he was familiar with the romance of Alexander, the legendary tales of Virgil and Hippocrates, the romance of Guy of Warwick and Felys the Faire.' Chaucer laughed at metrical romances, and told his own tale in prose as an example of the method in which such stories should be treated. In his
strongly-drawn strongly-drawn characters, taken from contemporary society, in his fresh pictures of the incidents of everyday life, in his humour, and his observation, he is the first of our English novelists, if, by a stretch of language, that title can be bestowed upon a poet. Yet his mind was steeped in romantic literature. His references to it are innumerable. All the cycles, whether classical, Carlovingian, or Arthurian, are represented. He knew the famous classical authors both in
and verse; he was familiar with · Petrarke, the laureat poete;' he was intimately acquainted with the Fathers; he borrows from the Distiches of Dionysius, Cato, and the Legenda Aurea' of Jacobus Januensis. Yet, not only does he allude to such romances as Sir Isumbras,' • Sir Percival,' “Sir Guy of Warwick,' “Sir Bevis of Southampton,' and `Horn-child,' but the framework of his stories is taken from Boccaccio, or a common original, from Fabliaux and Contes, from the Gesta Romanorum,' from the • Lais' of Marie de France, from the Trojan War' of Benoît de St. More, from the · Romant de la Rose' of G. de Lorris and Jehan de la Meung, from G. de Machault, Alain de l'Isle, and Guillaume de Guilleville. Morall' Gower, the friend and contemporary of Chaucer, draws the materials of his · Confessio Amantis'from the Bible, Ovid's. Metamorphoses,' the 'Secretum Secretorum,' the chronicles of Cassiodorus and Isidorus. But he also quarries his treasures from the romance of Sir Lancelot, the • Gesta Romanorum,' and the great 'Cronique emperiall’ of the Feats of Alexander the Great. When Shakspeare calls up from his ashes • Auncient Gower to sing a song that old was sung,' it is the tale of Apollonius of Tyre which Gower took from Godfrey of Viterbo, that is chosen as the subject. Occleve compiled his De Regimine Principum' from the Secretum Secretorum,' the work of Guido de Colonna, the game of Chesse moralisede' of Jacob de Cessoles of the Ordre of Prechours.' He quotes from Seneca, Chrysostom, Nicholas de Lyra, Boethius, Anselm (“Cur Deus Homo '); but he was also a student of the “Gesta Romanorum,' Lancelot de Lac,' and the “Sieges of Troy and Thebes.' Lydgate, the pupil of Chaucer, the approbate poet,' solempne clerk,' “philosofre,' 'the most dulcet sprynge of famous rhetoryke,' and one of the favourite writers of the 15th century, takes his story of Dan Joos' from Vincencius in his speculatif historialle' (the •Speculum Historiale’ of Vincent de Beauvais); he quotes from * Tullius with his sugrid tonge,' the aureat dytees of Omerus in Greece,' the tragides divers and unkouth of morall Senec.' Yet he is equally familiar with Vowis of Pecock, or the dozepiere of Fraunce ;' he borrowed his 'Chorle and the Bird' from the “Clericalis Disciplina' of Alphonsus; and he did not disdain to turn his learning to such uses as an English verse translation of the Historia Trojana' of Guido de Colonna, or the poem of the Romance of Thebes, or to compare the Sword of Righteousness, with which Grace-Dieu bids the Pilgrim arm in his version of De-Guilleville's • Pilgrimage,' with the famous weapons of romantic fiction :
For the swerd off King Oger,
Off value to this swerd egal.' Time would fail us, were we to attempt to trace the influence of romantic fiction on the poetry of Barbour, Wyntoun, Dunbar, Douglas, Lyndsay, Skelton, and most of the brightest ornaments of our early literature. Suffice it to say, that everywhere in their writings its mark is broadly traced, and that alike in Spenser's · Faëry Queene,' and Tennyson's - Idylls,' its influence is visible.
Nor need illustrations be sought for in the dark corners of our literature. Medieval romances did not lose their popularity with the invention of printing. On the contrary, though classical literature was made known by translations to English readers, and though singers and minstrels fell into disrepute, the printing-press only multiplied the sphere of their influence. In the reign of Elizabeth, frequent editions of ancient favourites, like Morte Arthure,' were published. A new romance, • The Seven Champions of Christendom,' was composed by Richard Johnson. "Oriental fiction was represented in new translations of the Seven Wise Masters,' and the Gesta Romanorum.' Paynter in his · Pallace of Pleasure,' Fenton in his “Tragicall Discourses, Fortescue in his · Forest of Historyes,' Whetstone in his “Heptameron,' Wotton in his
Courtlie Controversie of Cupid's Cantels,' gave to the English public versions of Italian and French romances. Wolfe, Yonge, and Munday, popularized 'Amadis de Gaul,' the Diana' of Montemayor, “Palmerin d’Oliva,' • Palmerin of England,' and other masterpieces of the romantic fiction of Spain and Portugal. Underdown familiarized English readers with a version of the ancient Greek love-story of Theagenes and Chariclea of Bishop Heliodorus. All the world craved for romances; publishers, authors, and translators only satisfied an existing
The Renaissance culture for a considerable period did not extend beyond the limits of the Court. Burton, writing in 1617, says
• I may
"I may not deny, but that we have a sprinkling of our Gentry, here, and there one, excellently well learned—but they are but few in respect of the multitude, the major part (and some again excepted that are indifferent) are wholly bent for Hawks and Hounds, and carried away many times with intemperate lust, gaming, and drinking. If they read a book at any time, 'tis an English Chronicle, “ Sir Huon of Bordeaux," “ Amadis de Gaul,” &c., a playbook, or some pamphlet of News, and that at such seasons only, when they cannot stir abroad, to drive away time, their sole discourse is dogs, hawks, horses, and what News ?'
Shakspeare was no exception to the rule. With old, as well as new, romances, he was intimately familiar. In his classical allusions, and in his classical plays, the sources of his knowledge must be traced to medieval literature rather than to the authors of Greece and Rome. He breathes the spirit of the Middle Ages. King Lear as a descendant of Æneas, Cymbeline as a prince of the same dynasty; the glory of Hector, the infamy of Achilles, are reminiscences of Benoît de St. More and his despoiler, Guido de Colonna, who invariably exalt the Trojans and depreciate the Greeks. Nor can Shakspeare's frequent allusions be understood without constant reference to medieval romance. When Horner has at his servant Peter with a downright blow, as Bevis of Southampton fell upon Ascapart,' when Justice Shallow boasts of his youthful feats as Sir Dagonet in Arthur's Show,' when Benedick offers to fetch“ a hair from the Great Cham's beard,' when Philip the Bastard speaks of his brother as · Colbrand the giant, that same mighty man,' the commentator, if not the reader, must perceive the allusions to 'Sir Bevis of Southampton,': Morte Arthure, • Sir Huon of Bordeaux,' or “Sir Guy of Warwick.' With the prophetic literature, which played so large a part in medieval history, politics, and social life, Shakspeare was equally familiar. Every peasant in the Middle Ages knew some prophecies of Thomas of Ercildoune, of Bede, Merlin, Banister, Brydlington, Waldhare, Gildas, and Sibylla. Prophecy was a popular engine of politicians, or pretenders, and it is to its use that the Fool in King Lear' alludes, when he says :
"I'll speak a Prophecy ere I go ;