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Till that my heart, too soft beneath such breath,
“His happy manner was a heaven to see
“In this poem,” says Mr. Warton, “the nature of those studies (the Arabian) is displayed, and their operations exemplified: and in this consideration, added to the circumstances of Tartary being the scene of action, and Arabia the country from which these extraordinary presents are brought, induces me to believe this story to be one of the many fables which the Arabians imported into Europe. At least, it is formed on their principles. Their sciences were tinctured with the warmth of their imaginations, and consisted in wonderful discoveries and mysterious inventions. This idea of a horse of brass took its rise from their chemical knowledge and experiments in metals.”
“We must add, that Astronomy, which the Arabian philosophers studied with a singu
lar enthusiasm, had no small share in the composition of this miraculous steed. For
He that it wrought,-
With regard to some points of dispute, which the Squire's Tale involves, we will cite Mr. Hunt against Mr. Hobbes.
"Chaucer's steed of brass," says Mr. Hunt," that was
So horsly and so quick of eye,
is copied from the life. You might pat him, and feel his brazen inuscles. Hobbes, in objecting to what he thought childish, made a childish mistake. His criticism is just such as a boy might pique himself upon, who was educated on mechanical principles, and thought he had outgrown his Goody Two Shoes, With a wonderful dimness of discernment in poetic matters, considering his acuteness in others, he fancies he has settled the question by pronouncing such creations 'impossible ! To the brazier they are impossible, no doubt: but not to the poet. Their possibility, if the poet wills it, is to be conceded; the problem is, the creature being given, how to square its actions with probability, according to the nature assumed of it. Hobbes did not see that the skill and beauty of these fictions lay in bringing them within those very regions of truth and likelihood, in which he thought they could not exist. Hence the serpent Python of Chaucer,
Sleeping against the sun upon a day,
when Apollo slew him. Hence the chariot-drawing dolphins of Spenser, softly swimming along the shore lest they should hurt themselves against the stones and gravel. Hence Shakspeare's Ariel, living under blossoms, and riding at evening on the bat."
This passage is quoted at length, because it is a fair specimen of this popular critic. In this passage, as throughout his work entitled "Imagination and Fancy," he has evinced the predominance, in his own mind, of the latter faculty, "Fancy.” In agreement with his own comparison, he is more like a child in a flower-garden, than a botanist at his herbarium.
According to the same writer, the whole science of versification is a "musical secret," so that Beethovens or Paisiellos are the only real poets; or at least that this “secret” is not attainable to any vital effect, “ save by the ear of genius.”
“ Variety of versification," he says, “consists in whatsoever can be done for the prevention of monotony, by diversity of stops and cadences, distribution of emphasis, and retardation and acceleration of time; for the whole real secret of versification is a musical secret, and is not attainable to any vital effect, save by the ear of genius. All the mere knowledge of feet and numbers, of accent and quantity, will no more impart it, than a knowledge of the Guide to Music' will make a Beethoven or a Paisiello. It is matter of sensibility and imagination; of the beau. tiful in poetical passion, accompanied by musical ; of the imperative necessity for a pause here, and a cadence there, and a quicker or slower utterance in this or that place, created by analogies of sound with sense, by the fluctuations of feeling, by the demands of the gods and graces that visit the poet's harp, as the winds visit that of Æolus."
“Chaucer,” says Mr. Southey,“ is not merely the father of English poetry, he is also one of our greatest poets. His proper station is in the first class with Spenser, and Shakspeare, and Milton ; and Shakspeare alone has equalled him in variety and versatility of genius."
We will close this list of opinions with quotations from Mr. Campbell and Mr. Warton.
The same intelligent writer, Mr. Tyrwhitt, while he vindicates Chaucer from the imputation of leaving English more full of French than he found it, considers it impossible to ascertain, with any degree of certainty, the exact changes which he produced upon the national style, as we have neither a regular series of authors preceding him, nor authentic copies of the work nor assurance that they were held as standards by their contemporaries. In spite of this difficulty, Mr. Ellis ventures to consider Chaucer as distinguished from his predecessors by his fondness for an Italian inflexion of words, and by his imitating the characteristics of the poetry of that nation.
“ He has a double claim to rank as the founder of English poetry, from having been the first to make it the vehicle of spirited representations of life and native manners, and from having been the first great architect of our versification, in giving our language the ten syllable, or heroic measure, which though it may sometimes be found among the lines of more
ancient versifiers, evidently comes in only by accident.”—Campbell's British Poets.
“Enough has been said to prove, that in elevation and elegance, in harmony and perspicuity of versification, he surpassed his predecessors in an infinite proportion; that his genius was universal, and adapted to the themes of unbounded variety ; that his merit was not less in painting familiar manners with humor and propriety, than in moving the passions, and in representing the beautiful or the grand objects of nature with grace and sublimity; in a word, that he appeared with all the lustre and dignity of a true poet, in an age which compelled him to struggle with a barbarous language, and a national want of taste; and when to write verses at all, was regarded as a singular qualification.”—Thomas Warton's History of English Poetry.