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ed their labours, as one of the best known books of chivalry, and therefore the most prominent object for his ridicule. In this case, as in many others, the renown of the victor has carried down to posterity the memory of the vanquished; and, excepting the few students of black letter, we believe no reader is acquainted with Amadis de Gaul, otherwise than as the prototype of Don Quixote de la Mancha. But the ancient knight seems now in a fair way of being rescued from this degrading state of notoriety, and of once more resuming a claim to public notice upon his own proper merits ; having, with singular good fortune, engaged in his cause two such authors as Mr Southey and Mr Rose. As the subject of the two articles before us, is in fact the same, we shall adopt the prose version of Mr Southey, as forming the fullest text for the general commentaries which we have to offer ; reserving till the conclusion, the particular remarks which occur to us upon Mr Rose's poem.
The earliest copy of Amadis de Gaul, now known to exist, is the Spanish edition of Garcia Ordognez de Montalvo, which is used by Mr Southey in his translation. Montalvo professes, in general terms, to have revised and corrected this celebrated work from the ancient authorities. He is supposed principally to have used the version of Vasco de Lobeira, a Portuguese knight, who died in the beginning of the 15th century. But a dispute has arisen, whether even Lobeira can justly claim the merit of being the original author of this famous and interesting romance. Nicolas de Herberay, who translated Montalvo's work into French in 1575, asserts positively, that it was originally written in that language ; and adds this remarkable passage: « J'en ay trouvé encores quelques reste d'un vieil livre escrit à la main en langage Picard, sur lequel j'estime que les Espagnols ont fait leur traduction, non pas de tout suyvant le vrai original, comme l'on pourra veoir par cesluy, car ilz en ont obmis en aucuns endroits et augmenté aux autres.” Mr Southey, however, setting totally aside the evidence of Herberay, as well as of Monsieur de Tressan, who also affirms the existence of a Picard original of Amadis, is decidedly of opinion, that Vasco de Lobeira was the original author. It is with some hesitation that we venture to differ from Mr Southey, knowing, as we well know, that his acquaintance with the Portuguese literature entitles him to considerable deference in such an argument: yet, viewing the matter on the proofs he has produced, and considering also the general history and progress of romantic composition, we incline strongly to think with Mr Rose, that the story of Amadis is originally of French extraction.
The earliest tales of romance which are known to us, are uniformly in verse ; and this was very natural; for they were in a great measure the composition of the minstrels, who gained their livelihood by chanting and reciting them. This is peculiarly true of the French minstrels, as appears from the well-known quotation of Du Cange from the Romance of Du Guesclin, where the champions of romantic fiction are enumerated as the subject of their lays.
books of chivalry in the world, which are not either still extant, or are at least known to have existed originally in the form of metrical romances. The very name by which such compositions are distinguished, is derived from the romance or corrupted Latin employed by the minstrels, and long signified any history or fable narrated in vulgar poetry. It would be almost endless to cite examples of this proposition. The tales of Arthur and his Round Table, by far the most fertile source of the romances of chivalry, are all known to have existed as metrical compositions long before the publication of the prose folios on the same subject. These poems the minstrels used to chant at solemn festivals; nor was it till the decay of that extraordinary profession that romances in prose were substituted for their lays. The invention of printing hastened the declension of poetical romance. The sort of poetry employed by the minstrels, differed only from prose in being more easily retained by the memory; but when copies were readily and cheaply multiplied by means of the press, the exertion of recollection became unnecessary.
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As early as the fifteenth century, numerous prose versions of the most celebrated romances were executed in France and England, which were printed in the course of the sixteenth. These works are now become extremely rare. Mr Southey attributes this to their great popularity. But if their popularity lasted, as he supposes, till they were worn out by repeated perusal, the printers would have found their advantage in supplying the public with new editions. The truth is, that the editions first published of these expensive folio romances were very small. Abridgements and extracts served the purpose of the vulgar. Mean while, the taste of the great took another turn; and the books of chivalry disappeared, in consequence of the neglect and indifference of their owners. More than a century elapsed betwixt their being read for amusement, and sought for as curiosities; and such a lapse of time would render any work scarce, were the editions as numerous as those of the Pilgrim's Progress.
To return to our subject-It appears highly probable to us, that Lobeira's prose Amadis was preceded by a metrical romance, according to the general progress which we observe in the history of similar productions.
Another general remark authorizes the same conclusion. It is well known that the romances of the middle ages were not announced to the hearers as works of mere imagination. On the contrary, they were always affirmed by the narrators to be matter of historical fact; nor was this disputed by the simplicity of the audience. The gallant knights and lovely dames, for whose delight these romances were composed and sung, were neither shocked by the incongruities of the work, nor the marvellous turn of the adventures. Some old tradition was adopted for the subject of the tale; favourite and well-known names were introduced. An air of authenticity was thus obtained; the prejudices of the audience conciliated; and the feudal baron believed as firmly in the exploits of Roland and Oliver, as a sturdy Celt of our day in the equally sophisticated poems of Ossian.—Hence, the grand sources of romantic fiction have been traced to the Brut of Maister Wace, himself a translator of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who put into form the traditions of the bards of Wales and Armorica; to the fabulous history of Turpin, from which sprung the numerous romances of Charlemagne and his twelve Peers; and finally to the siege of Troy, as narrated by Dares Phrygius, and to the exploits of Alexander. Other and later heroes became also the subject of Romance. Such were William of Orange, called Short-nose, Richard of Normandy, Ralph Blundeville, Earl of Chester, Richard Cour de Lion, Robert the Bruce, Bertrand du Guesclin, &c. &c. The barons also, before whom these tales were recited, were often flattered by a fabulous genealogy which deduced their pedigree from some hero of the story. A peer of England, the Earl of Oxford, if we recollect aright, conceited himself to be descended of the doughty Knight of the Swan; and, what is somewhat to our present purpose,