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ALES are the learning of a rude age. In the progress
of letters, speculation and enquiry commence with re
finement of manners. Literature becomes sentimental and discursive, in proportion as a people is polished : and men must be instructed by facts, either real or imaginary, before they can apprehend the subtleties of argument, and the force of reflection.
Vincent of Beauvais, a learned Dominican of France, who flourished in the thirteenth century, observes in his Mirror of History, that it was a practice of the preachers of his age, to rouse the indifference and relieve the languor of their hearers, by quoting the fables of Efop: yet, at the same time, he recommends a sparing and prudent application of these profane fancies in the discussion of sacred subjects “. Among the Harleian
a SPECUL. Hist, Lib, iii. c. viii. fol. 31. b. edit. Ven. 1591. VOL. III.
manuscripts in the British Museum we find a very antient collection of two hundred and fifteen stories, romantic, allegorical, religious, and legendary, which were evidently compiled by a professed preacher, for the use of monastic societies. Some of these appear to have been committed to writing from the recitals of bards and minstrels : others to have been invented and written by troubadours and monks 6. In the year 1389, a grand system of divinity appeared at Paris, afterwards translated by Caxton under the title of the Court of SAPYENCE, which abounds with a multitude of historical examples, parables, and apologues ; and which the writer wisely supposes, to be much more likely to interest the attention and excite the devotion of the people, than the authority of science, and the parade of theology. In consequence of the expediency of this mode of of instruction, the Legends of the Saints were received into the ritual, and rehearsed in the course of public worship. For religious romances were nearly allied to songs of chivalry; and the fame gross ignorance of the people, which in the early centuries of christianity created a necessity of introducing the visible pomp of theatrical ceremonies into the churches, was taught the duties of devotion, by being amused with the achievements of spiritual knight-errantry, and impressed with the examples of pious heroism. In more cultivated periods, the DecaMERON of Boccace, and other books of that kind, ought to be considered as the remnant of a species of writing which was founded on the simplicity of mankind, and was adapted to the exigencies of the infancy of society.
Many obsolete collections of this fort still remain, both printed and manuscript, containing narratives either fictitious or historical,
Of king and heroes old,
• MSS. HARL. 463. membran. fol.
• Milton. AT A VACATION EXERCISE, &c,
But among the antient story-books of this character, a Latin compilation entitled GESTA ROMANORUM seems to have been the favorite.
This piece has been before incidentally noticed: but as it operated powerfully on the general body of our old poetry, affording a variety of inventions not only to Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate, but to their distant successors, I have judged it of sufficient importance to be examined at large in a separate dissertation : which has been designedly reserved for this place, for the purpose both of recapitulation and illustration, and of giving the reader a more commodious opportunity of surveying at leisure, from this intermediate point of view, and under one comprehensive detail, a connected display of the materials and original subjects of many of our past and future poets.
Indeed, in the times with which we are now about to be concerned, it seems to have been growing more into esteem. At the commencement of typography, Wynkyn de Worde published this book in English. This translation wasre printed, by one Robinson, in 1577. And afterwards, of the same translation there were fix impressions before the year 1601". There is an edition in black letter so late as the year 1689. About the year 1596, an English version appeared of “ Epitomes des cent “ Histoires TRAGIQUES, partie extraictes des Actes DES “ ROMAINS et autres, &c.” From the popularity, or rather familiarity, of this work in the reign of queen Elisabeth, the title of GESTA GRAYORUM was affixed to the history of the acts of the Christmas Prince at Grays-inn, in 1594". In Sir Giles GoosecaP, an anonymous comedy, presented by the Children of the Chapel in the year 1606, we have, “ Then “ for your lordship's quips and quick jests, why Gesta Ro“ MANORUM were nothing to them.' And in George Chapman's MAY-DAY, a comedy, printed at London in 1611, a man of the highest literary taste for the pieces in vogue is chaSee supr. vol. ii. p. 18. feq.
f Lond. Printed for John Windet. 1606. • Printed, or reprinted, in 1688. 4to.
4to. a 2
racterised, “ One that has read Marcus Aurelius, GESTA RO“ MANORUM, the Mirrour of Magistrates, &c.-to be led by “ the nose like a blind beare that has read nothing &!" The critics and collectors in black-letter, I believe, could produce many other proofs.
The GESTA ROMANORUM were first printed without date, but as it is supposed before or about the year 1473, in folio, with this title, Incipiunt HISTORIE NOTABILES collecte ex Gestis ROMANORUM et quibusdam aliis libris cum applicationibus eorundem“. This edition has one hundred and fifty-two chapters, or GESTS, and one hundred and seventeen leaves'It is in the Gothic letter, and in two columns. The first chapter is of king Pompey, and the last of prince, or king, Cleonicus. The initials are written in red and blue ink. This edition, slightly mutilated, is among bishop Tanner's printed books in the Bodleian library. The reverend and learned doctor Farmer, master of Emanuel college in Cambridge, has the second edition, as it seems, printed at Louvain, in quarto, the same or the subsequent year, by John de Westfalia, under the title, Ex GESTIS ROMANORUM Historie NOTABILES de viciis virtutibusque tractantes cum applicationibus moralisatis et mysticis. And with this colophon, GESTA ROMANORUM cum quibufdam aliis HisTORIIS eisdem annexis ad MORALITATES dilucide reda&ta hic finem habent. Quæ, diligenter correctis aliorum viciis, impreffit
Joannes, de Westfalia in alma Vniversitate Louvaniensi. It has one hundred and eighty-one chapters*. That is, twenty-nine more than are contained in the former edition : the first of the additional chapters being the story of Antiochus, or the substance of the romance of APOLLONIUS of Tyre. The initials are in
6 A& iii. pag. 39.
Much the same title occurs to a ma. nuscript of this work in the Vatican, “ Hiftoriæ Notabiles collectæ ex Gestis “ Romanorum et quibusdam aliis libris * cum explicationibus eorundem." Mont
fauc. Bibl. MANUSCR. tom. i. pag. 17. Num. 172.
i Without initials, paging, fignatures, or catch-words.
* The first is of king Pompey, as before. The latt is entitled De ADULTERIO
ferted in red ink! Another followed soon afterwards, in quarto, Ex Gestis ROMANORUM Historie notabiles moralizatæ, per Girardum Lieu, Goubæ, 1480. The next edition, with the use of which I have been politely favoured by George Mason esquire, of Aldenham-Lodge in Hertfordshire, was printed in folio, and in the year 1488, with this title, Gesta RHOMANORUM cum Applicationibus moralisatis et misticis. The colophon is, Ex Gestis ROMANORUM cum pluribus applicatis Historiis de virtutibus et viciis myftice ad intelleétum transumptis Recolle&toriz finis. Anno nre falutis MCCCCLxxx viij kalendas vero februarii xviij. A general, and alphabetical, table, are subjoined. The book, which is printed in two columns, and in the Gothic character, abounding with abbreviations, contains ninety-three leaves. The initials are written or flourished in red and blue, and all the capitals in the body of the text are miniated with a pen. There were many other later editions “.
other later editions". I must add, that the GESTA ROMANORUM were translated into Dutch, so early as the year 1484. There is an old French version in the British Museum.
This work is compiled from the obsolete Latin chronicles of the later Roman or rather German story, heightened by romantic inventions, from Legends of the Saints, oriental apologues, and many of the Thorter fi@itious narratives which came into Europe with the Arabian literature, and were familiar in the ages of ignorance and imagination. The classics are sometimes cited for authorities ; but these are of the lower order, such as Valerius Maximus, Macrobius, Aulus Gallius, Seneca, Pliny, and Boethius. To every tale a MORALISATion is subjoined, reducing it into a christian or moral lesson.
Most of the oriental apologues are taken from the CLERICAiis DISCIPLINA, or a latin Dialogue between an Arabian Philo
It has fignatures to Kk,
- For which fee fupr, vol. ii, p. 15.