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modern would blush to describe. They, to employ the expression of one of their authors, were not ashamed to name what God had created. Cinthio, Bandello, and others, but chiefly Boc-caccio, rendered libertinism agreeable by the fascinating charms of a polished style and a luxuriant imagination.
This, however, must not be admitted as an apology for immoral works ; for poison is not the less poison, even when delicious. Such works were, and still continue to be, the favourites of a nation stigmatised for being prone to impure amours. They are still curious in their editions, and are not parsimonious in their price for what they call an uncastrated copy*. There are many Italians, not literary men, who are in possession of an ample library of these old novelists.
If we pass over the moral irregularities of these romances, we may discover a rich vein of invention, which only requires to be released from that rubbish which disfigures it, to become of an invaluable price. The Decamerones, the Hecatommiti, and the Novellas of these writers, translated into English, made no inconsiderable figure in the little library of our Shakespeare. Chaucer
* Cinthio's Novels, in two very thick volumes 12mo, are commonly sold at the price of five or six guineas. Bandello is equally high; and even in Pope's time it appears by the correspondence of Lady Pomfret, that a copy sold at fifteen guineas.
had been a notorious imitator and lover of them. His “ Knight's Tale” is little more than a paraphrase of “ Boccaccio's Teseoide.” Fontaine has caught all their charms with all their licentiousness. From such works, these great poets, and many of their contemporaries, frequently borrowed their plots; not uncommonly kindled at their flame the ardour of their genius ; but bending too submissively to the taste of their in extracting the ore they have not purified it of the alloy. The origin of these tales must be traced to the inventions of the Trouveurs, who doubtless often adopted them from various nations. Of these tales, Le Grand has printed a curious collection; and of the writers Mr. Ellis observes, in his preface to “Way's Fabliaux,” that the authors of the “ Cento Novelle Antiche," Boccaccio, Bandello, Chaucer, Gower,-in short, the writers of all Europe, have probably made use of the inventions of the elder fablers. They have borrowed their general outlines, which they have filled up with colours of their own, and have exercised their ingenuity in varying the drapery, in combining the groups, and in forming them into more regular and animated pictures.
We now turn to the French romances of the last century, called heroic, from the circumstance of their authors adopting the name of some hero. The manners are the modern antique; and the characters are a sort of beings made out of the old epical, the Arcadian pastoral, and the Parisian sentimentality and affectation of the days of Voiture. The Astrea of D'Urfé greatly contributed to their perfection. As this work is founded on several curious circumstances, it shall be the subject of the following article ; for it may be considered as a literary curiosity. The Astrea was followed by the Illustrious Bassa, Artamene, or the Great Cyrus, Clelia, &c. which, though not adapted to the present age, once gave celebrity to their authors; and the Great Cyrus, in ten volumès, passed through five or six editions. Their style, as well as that of the Astrea, is diffuse and languid; yet Zaide, and the Princess of Cleves, are master-pieces of the kind. Such works formed the first studies of Rousseau, who, with his father, would sit up all night, till warned by the chirping of the swallows how foolishly they had spent it! Some incidents in his Nouvelle Heloise have been retraced to these sources ; and they certainly entered greatly into the formation of his character.
Such romances at length were regarded as pernicious to good sense, taste, and literature. It was in this light they were considered by Boileau, after he had indulged in them in his youth.
A celebrated Jesuit pronounced an oration against these works. The rhetorician exaggerates
and hurls his thunders on flowers. He entreats the magistrates not to suffer foreign romances to be scattered amongst the people, but to lay on them heavy penalties as on prohibited goods; and represents this prevailing taste as being more pestilential than the plague itself. He has drawn a striking picture of a family devoted to romance reading; he there describes women occupied day and night with their perusal; children just escaped from the lap of their nurse grasping in their little hands the fairy tales; and a country squire seated in an old arm-chair, reading to his family the most wonderful passages of the ancient works of chivalry.
These romances went out of fashion with our square-cocked hats; they had exhausted the patience of the public, and from them sprung NOVELS. They attempted to allure attention by this inviting title, and reducing their works from ten to two volumes. The name of romance, including imaginary heroes and extravagant passions, disgusted; and they substituted scenes of domestic life, and touched our common feelings by pictures of real nature. Heroes were not now taken from the throne : they were sometimes even sought after amongst the lowest ranks of the people. Scarron seems to allude sarcastically to this degradation of the heroes of Fiction; for in hinting at a new comic history he had projected, he tells us that he gave it up suddenly because he had “heard that his hero had just been hanged at Mans.'
Novels, as they were long manufactured, form a library of illiterate authors for illiterate readers; but as they are created by genius, are precious to the philosopher. They paint the character of an individual or the manners of the age more perfectly than any other species of composition: it is in novels we observe as it were passing under our own eyes the refined frivolity of the French; the gloomy and disordered sensibility of the German; and the petty intrigues of the modern Italian in some Venetian Novels. We have shown the world that we possess writers of the first order in this delightful province of Fiction and of Truth; for every Fiction invented naturally must be true. After the abundant invective poured on this class of books, it is time to settle for ever the controversy, by asserting that these works of fiction are among the most instructive of every polished nation, and must contain all the useful truths of human life, if composed with genius. They are pictures of the passions, useful to our youth to contemplate. That acute philosopher, Adam Smith, has given an opinion most favourable to Novels. “ The poets and romance writers who best paint the refinements and delicacies of love and friendship, and of all other private and domestic affections, Racine and Voltaire, Richard