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ENQUIRIES like the present, however unimpor tant to the generality of readers, will not fail of being duly appreciated by those who take an interest in tracing the origin and progress of literary genius, which has perhaps been never more successfully, and even laudably, employed, than in the composition of such works as combine amusement with instruction. Of these the simple and engaging apologues of many ancient writers form a considerable portion, and have always been justly and generally esteemed. This mode of conveying instruction became so attractive in the middle ages, that the ecclesiastics themselves were under the necessity of introdu cing narrations both historical and imaginary into their discourses, in order to acquire that degree of popularity and attention which might other
wise have been wanting, and also for the purpose of inforcing their morality by such examples as should touch the feelings of the hearers, and operate, with respect, at least, to ruder minds, more efficaciously than precept. The work before us was designed to answer these purposes; and it not only proceeded on this ground in common with others of a similar nature, but has even furnished the materials to some of the best writers, and more especially poets, of ancient and modern times.
It will perhaps be expected that some reason should be assigned why the present essay has been attempted, after the labours of Mr. Warton on the same subject, which some may think has been amply and satisfactorily treated, if not exhausted; and if the judgment and accuracy of that pleasing and elegant writer had been commensurate with his taste and industry, the expec tation had been exceedingly well founded. This however is, unfortunately, not the case. He has, in this and many other instances, left much to be done and undone; but we ought to feel very grateful to him for having founded a school that has already produced some accomplished pupils, and will, no doubt, contribute to form many a future one. Thus much seems due to
an amiable man and excellent character, who has been most undeservedly insulted for errors of small moment, and censured for opinions of the most innocuous kind. Even his antiquarian dullness and perseverance have been arraigned, as if in a work like the history of English poetry, genius should have occupied the place of industry, and have created those facts which honest men are content to discover; a method not uncommon with some writers who have derived too much of their importance from the indolence and superficiality of their readers, and who are unwilling to submit to those laws of providence which justly impose on man the duty of penetrating to the mine before he be permitted to enjoy the precious metal. Such was not Warton. His taste and research will remain the admiration of future ages, when the flimsy compositions of some of his opponents shall be totally forgotten. He has effected, however imperfectly, more for the illustration of English poetry than any or all of his predecessors, or than has hitherto been accomplished for the poetry of other nations, by any writer whatever.
Mr. Warton's dissertation would, no doubt, have been rendered more perfect, had he been aware of a fact which had not only escaped his
own attention, but even that of Mr. Tyrwhitt. Neither of these gentlemen, in consulting the manuscripts of the Gesta Romanorum, had perceived that there were two works so intitled, totally distinct from each other, except as to imitation, and certainly compiled by different persons.. Of that treated of by Mr. Warton, it is presumed no manuscript has been yet described; of the other several manuscripts remain, but it has never been printed, except in some translated extracts. It will be better to postpone for the present any further mention of the latter, and to proceed to submit some additional remarks on the other. And first of its use and design.
A particular mode of instruction from the pulpit has been already hinted at, and will admit of some enlargement. Mr. Warton has mentioned one of the earliest instances of introducing Æsop's fables, as recorded by Vincent of Beauvais in the thirteenth century. Supplies of another kind were furnished to those who might be more scrupulous as to the use of profane examples, not only in that great repertory
a p. j. For the benefit of those who may have ar opportunity of consulting the original, a mistake in Mr. Warton's reference to the Speculum historiale is corrected, which should be lib. IV. c. viii,