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An ordinary Song or BALLAD, that is the delight of the

common people, cannot fail to please all such readers as are not unqualified for the entertainment by their affectation or their ignorance ; and the reason is plain, because the same paintings of Nature which recommend it to the most ordinary reader, will appear beautiful to the most refined.

ADDISON, in SPECTATOR, No. 70.

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Poems on King Arthur, etc. The third volume being chiefly devoted to romantic subjects, may not be improperly introduced with a few slight strictures on the old Metrical Romances : a subject the more worthy attention, as it seems not to have been known to such as have written on the nature and origin of books of chivalry, that the first compositions of this kind were in verse, and usually sung to the harp.

VOL. III.

B

ON THE ANCIENT METRICAL ROMANCES, ETC.

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1. The first attempts at composition among all barbarous nations, are ever found to be poetry and song. The praises of their gods, and the achievements of their heroes, are usually chanted at their festival meetings. These are the first rudiments of history. It is in this manner that the savages of North America preserve the memory of past events:* and the same method is known to have prevailed among our Saxon ancestors, before they quitted their German forests.f The ancient Britons had their Bards, and the Gothic nations their Scalds or popular poets, whose business it was to record the victories of their warriors, and the genealogies of their princes, in a kind of narrative songs, which were committed to memory, and delivered down from one reciter to another. So long as poetry continued a distinct profession, and while the Bard, or Scald, was a regular and stated officer in the prince's court, these men are thought to have performed the functions of the historian pretty faithfully; for though their narrations would be apt to receive a good deal of embellishment, they are supposed to have had at the bottom so much of truth, as to serve for the basis of more regular annals. At least, succeeding historians have taken up with the relations of these rude men, and, for want of more authentic

* Vide Lasiteau Mæurs de Sauvages, t. 2.

Dr. Browne's Hist. of the Rise and Progress of Poetry.

+ Germani celebrant carminibus, antiquis (quod unum apud illos memoriæ et annalium genus est) Tuistonem, &c. Tacit. Germ. c. 2.

# Barth. Antiq. Dan. lib. i. cap. 10.—Wormii Literatura Runica, ad finem.

records, have agreed to allow them the credit of true history.*

After letters began to prevail, and history assumed a more stable form, by being committed to plain simple prose, these songs of the Scalds or Bards began to be more amusing than useful. And in proportion as it became their business chiefly to entertain and delight, they gave more and more into embellishment, and set off their recitals with such marvellous fictions as were calculated to captivate gross and ignorant minds. Thus began stories of adventures with giants and dragons, and witches and enchanters, and all the monstrous extravagances of wild imagination, unguided by judgment, and uncorrected by art. f

This seems to be the true origin of that species of romance which so long celebrated feats of chivalry, and which at first in metre, and afterwards in prose, was the entertainment of our ancestors, in common with their contemporaries on the Continent; till the satire of Cervantes, or rather the increase of knowledge and classical literature, drove them off the stage, to make room for a more refined species of fiction, under the name of French Romances, copied from the Greek. I

That our old romances of chivalry may be derived in a lineal descent from the ancient historical songs of the Gothic Bards and Scalds, will be shown below; and indeed appears the more evident, as many of those songs are still preserved in the North, which exhibit all the seeds of

* See" Northern Antiquities, or a Description of the Manners, Customs, &c. of the ancient Danes and other Northern Nations, translated from the French of M. Mallet," 1770, 2 vols. 8vo. (vol. i. p. 49, &c.)

+ Vide infra, pp. 4, 5, &c.
# Viz. Astræa, Cassandra, Clelia, &c,

*

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chivalry before it became a solemn institution. valry, as a distinct military order, conferred in the way of investiture, and accompanied with the solemnity of an oath, and other ceremonies," was of later date, and

sprung out of the feudal constitution, as an elegant writer has clearly shown.t But the ideas of chivalry prevailed long before in all the Gothic nations, and may be discovered as in embryo in the customs, manners, and opinions of every branch of that people. I That fondness of going in quest of adventures, that spirit of challenging to single combat, and that respectful complaisance shown to the fair sex, (so different from the manners of the Greeks and Romans,) all are of Gothic origin, and may be traced up to the earliest times among all the Northern nations.ỹ These existed long before the feudal ages, though they were called forth and strengthened in a peculiar manner under that constitution, and at length arrived to their full maturity in the times of the Crusades, so replete with romantic adventures. ||

* Mallet, vide Northern Antiquities, vol. i. p. 318, &c.; vol. ii. p. 234, &c. + Letters concerning Chivalry, 8vo. 1763.

Mallet. || The seeds of chivalry sprung up so naturally out of the original manners and opinions of the Northern nations, that it is not credible they arose so late as after the establishment of the feudal system, much less the Crusades. Nor, again, that the Romances of Chivalry were transmitted to other nations, through the Spaniards, from the Moors and Arabians. Had this been the case, the first French Romances of Chivalry would have been on Moorish, or at least Spanish subjects: whereas the most ancient stories of this kind, whether in prose or verse, whether in Italian, French, English, &c., are chiefly on the subjects of Charlemagne and the Paladins, or of our British Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, &c., being evidently borrowed from the fabulous Chronicles of the supposed Archbishop Turpin, and of Jeffery of Monmouth. Not but some of the oldest and most popular French Romances are also on Norman subjects, as Richard Sans-peur,

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