Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

cree had passed on two short successive generations of the virtuous; and I repeated to myself the same verses which I had formerly applied to him:

Ostendunt terris hunc tantum fata, neque ultra

Esse sinent. But, to the joy not only of all good men, but mankind in general, the unhappy omen took not place. You are still living, to enjoy the blessings and applause of all the good you have performed, the prayers of multitudes whom you have obliged, for your long prosperity, and that your power of doing generous and charitable actions may be as extended as your will; which is by none more zealously desired than by

Your Grace's most humble,

Most obliged, and

Most obedient servant,

John Dryden.

1

PREFACE

PREFIXED TO

THE FABLES.

It is with a poet, as with a man who designs to build, and is very exact, as he supposes, in casting up the cost beforehand; but, generally speaking, he is mistaken in his account, and reckons short in the expence he first intended. He alters his mind as the work proceeds, and will have this or that convenience more, of which he had not thought when he began. So has it happened to me; I have built a house, where I intended but a lodge; yet with better success than a certain nobleman, who, beginning with a dog-kennel, never lived to finish the palace he had contrived. *

* This was, I suppose, our author's old foe, Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, the tardy progress of whose great buildings at Cleveden was often the subject of satire:

“ Once more, says fame, for battle he prepares,
And threatens rhymers with a second farce;
But if as long for that as this we stay,
He'll finish Cleveden sooner than his play."

The Review.

From translating the First of Homer's “Iliads,” (which I intended as an essay to the whole work,) À proceeded to the translation of the Twelfth Book of Ovid's “ Metamorphoses,” because it contains, among other things, the causes, the beginning, and ending, of the Trojan war. Here I ought in reason to have stopped; but the speeches of Ajax and Ulysses lying next in my way, I could not balk them. When I had compassed them, I was so taken with the former part of the Fifteenth Book, which is the masterpiece of the whole “ Metamorphoses,” that I enjoined myself the pleasing task of rendering it into English. And now I found, by the number of my verses, that they began to swell into a little volume; which gave me an occasion of looking backward on some beauties of my author, in his former books: There occurred to me the “ Hunting of the Boar,” “ Cinyras and Myrrha," the good-natured story of “ Baucis and Philemon," with the rest, which I hope I have translated closely enough, and given them the same turn of verse which they had in the original; * and this I may say, without vanity, is not the talent of every poet. He who has arrived the nearest to it, is the ingenious and learned Sandys, the best versifier of the former age; if I may properly call it by that name, which was the former part of this concluding century. For Spenser and Fairfax both flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; great masters in our language, and who saw much farther into the beauties of our numbers, than those who immediately followed them. Milton was the poetical son of Spenser, and Mr Waller of Fairfax; for we have our lineal descents and clans as well as other families. Spenser more than once insinuates, that the soul of Chaucer was transfused into his body ; * and that he was begotten by him two hundred years after his decease. Milton has acknowledged to me, that Spenser was his original; and many besides myself have heard our famous Waller own, that he derived the harmony of his numbers from “Godfrey of Bulloigne,” which was turned into English by Mr Fairfax. t

* These translations are to be found in the 12th volume, being placed after the versions of Ovid's “ Epistles."

But to return. Having done with Ovid for this time, it came into my mind, that our old English poet, Chaucer, in many things resembled him, and that with no disadvantage on the side of the modern author, as I shall endeavour to prove when I compare them; and as I am, and always have been, studious to promote the honour of my native country, so I soon resolved to put their merits to the trial, by turning some of the “ Canterbury Tales" into our language, as it is now refined; for by this means, both the poets being set in the same light, and dressed in the same English habit, story to be compared with story, a certain judgment may be made betwixt them by the reader, without obtrud

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

* I cannot find any such passages in Spenser as are here alluded

to.

+ Edward Fairfax, natural son of Sir Thomas Fairfax of Denton in Yorkshire, translated Tasso's celebrated poem, stanza for stanza, with equal elegance and fidelity. His version, entitled “ Godfrey of Bulloigne, or the Recovery of Jerusalem,” was first published in 1600. Collins has paid the original author and translator the following singular compliment:

“ How have I sate, while piped the pensive wind,

To hear thy harp by British Fairfax strung;
Prevailing poet, whose undoubting mind
Believed the magic wonders that he sung."

Ode on Highland Superstitions.

ing my opinion on him. Or, if I seem partial to my countryman and predecessor in the laurel, the friends of antiquity are not few; and, besides many of the learned, Ovid has almost all the beaux, and the whole fair sex, his declared patrons. Perhaps I have assumed somewhat more to myself than they allow me, because I have adventured to sum up the evidence; but the readers are the jury, and their privilege remains entire, to decide according to the merits of the cause; or, if they please, to bring it to another hearing before some other court. In the mean time, to follow the thread of my discourse, (as thoughts, according to Mr Hobbes, have always some connection,) so from Chaucer I was led to think on Boccace, who was not only his contemporary, but also pursued the same studies; wrote novels in prose, and many works in verse; particularly is said to have invented the octave rhyme, or stanza of eight lines, which ever since has been maintained by the practice of all Italian writers, who are, or at least assume the title of heroic poets. He and Chaucer, among other things, had this in common, that they refined their mother-tongues; but with this difference, that Dante had begun to file their language, at least in verse, before the time of Boccace, who likewise received no little help from his master Petrarch; but the reformation of their prose was wholly owing to Boccace himself, who is yet the standard of purity in the Italian tongue, though many of his phrases are become ob-. solete, as, in process of time, it must needs happen. Chaucer (as you have formerly been told by our learned Mr Rymer *) first adorned and amplified our

* It would seem, from this respectful expression, that our author's feud with Rymer (See Vol. XI. p. 6o. Vol. XII. p. 46.) was now composed."

« ПредишнаНапред »