« הקודםהמשך »
interwoven with matter requiring attention on other accounts, of which occasional notice has been taken in the body of the work, and which must again be the subject of discussion. The reader of early English poetry will be at no loss to perceive, that the objections and conduct here spoken of, are those of the late Mr. Ritson. To be zealous in detecting error, exposing folly, or checking the presumptuous arrogance of any literary despot, is an obligation which the commonwealth of learning imposes upon all her sons. The tone of the reproof, and the character of the offence, are all that will be demanded of the ministrant in his office; and so great is the latitude allowed, that he who will condescend “to break a butterfly upon a wheel,” secundum artem, runs no greater risk, than a gentle censure for the eccentricity of his taste; and even acrimony, where great provocation has been given, may pass for just and honest indignation. But Mr. Ritson, in the execution of his censorial duty, indulged in a vein of low scurrility and gross personalities, wholly without example since the days of Curll. He not only combated Warton's opinions, and corrected his errors, questioned his scholarship, and denied his ability ; but impugned his veracity, attacked his morality, and openly accused him of all those mean and de spicable arts, by which a needy scribbler attempts to rifle the public purse. There would have been little in this beyond the common operation of a nine days wonder, and the ferment of the hour which every deviation from established practice is sure to excite, had the charges been limited to a single publication. But for a period of twenty years, both while the object of them was living, and after his decease, they were repeated in every variety of form, always from the same amiable motives, though occasionally in a subdued style of animosity. The result of this extraordinary course, was the establishment of Mr. Ritson as the critical lord paramount in the realms of
romance and minstrelsy; his fiat became the ruling law, and no audacious hand was to raise the veil which covered the infirmities of the suzerain. For though he has magnified those venial errors, which, as the human mind is constituted, are almost inseparable from such an undertaking as Warton's, into offences which only meet their parallel in the criminal nomenclature of the country-into fraud, imposture and forgeryyet his own labours in the same department of literature, his “ Ancient Songs,” and “Metrical Romances,” thongh scarcely equalling a tithe of the “ History of English Poetry,” are marked by the same kinds of inaccuracy as those he has so coarsely branded. Indeed on such a subject it would have been as marvellous as unaccountable, if they had not:—but this is foreign to our purpose. It will rather be asked, whether the historian of English poetry may not have provoked this treatment by his own intemperance of rebuke, or want of charity towards others; and whether the vehemence of Mr. Ritson's indignation, and the virulence of his invective, may not have had a more commensurate motive, than the misquotation of a date, a name or a text, or the fallacy of a mere speculative opinion. With the exception of one misdemeanour hereafter to be mentioned,-a sin in itself of pardonable levity, if it must be so stigmatized,—Warton's conduct towards his fellowlabourers in the mine of antiquarian research, was distinguished by a tone of courtesy and complimentary address, which the sterner principles of the present day have rejected as bordering too closely upon adulation. Of this therefore as a general charge he must be acquitted, and equally so of any intention to wound the feelings or undermine the reputation of Mr. Ritson, as that gentleman's first publication connected with early English literature', was his “ Observations” on Warton's
* A Collection of Garlands (which lication, not likely to extend beyond the cannot now be referred to) may bear an limits of a country town. The “ Obearlier date. But this was a local pub- servations " produced a controversy in
history'. The causes of this extraordinary persecution must hence be sought for in other directions. Among these it is not difficult to detect the sullen rancour of a jealous and selfappointed rival, the workings of an inferior mind, aiming at notoriety by an insolent triumph over talents, which it at once envies and despairs of equalling. The “ taste and elegance” with which Warton had embellished his narrative, became a source of chagrin to a man who sought distinction by a style
the Gentleman's Magazine for 1782–83. these had been_already corrected by The first letter on the subject, signed Warton in the Emendations appended Verax, was in all probability written by to the second volume,—a circumstance Warton. (See his letter to Mr. Nichols which Mr. Ritson either knew, or ought of the same date, inclosing a commu to have known, as he carefully picked his nication to that Miscellany, and re way through this additional matter, for questing a concealment of the writer's the purpose of supplying two corrections, name.) Those signed A. S. were by one of which he afterwards recalled, the late Mr. Russell of Sydney College. and in furnishing the other committed The letter signed Vindex contains in error equally great with that he ternal evidence of Mr. Ritson's hand, amended. A second comprises the who may also have drawn up the epitome very "egregious blunder" of calling a of his pamphlet (1783, p. 281). But piece of political rhyme a “ballad,” who was Castigator? (1782, p. 571). when it is not written in “your balladWas it the same worthy personage of metre.” In a third, Warton has chosen whom his friend records the following to make a direct inference, where the creditable transaction? “ This venera affair admits neither of absolute proof, bilissimus episcopus (the bishop of Dro nor disproof. And a fourth offers an more), upon a different occasion, gave opinion, but a mere and guarded opiMister STEEVENS a transcript from the nion, as to the age of a poem, in which above (folio] MS., of the vulgar ballad there is every reason to believe he was of Old Simon the King, with a strict in
(See Mr. Park's note, vol. ii. junction not to show it to this editour p. 512. a.) In seven examples, it may (Mr. Ritson), which however he imme- be allowed that Mr. Ritson has condiutely brought him !" Yet these were victed the historian of “ignorance ;" honourable men!
though two of these refer to matters . In this extraordinary pamphlet, that are rather probable than certain : Mr. Ritson made thirty-eight remarks but in four of the remaining five, he upon the multifarious matter contained has offered objections or corrections on in Warton's first volume (extending to subjects, where the charges of error p. 304, vol. ii. of the present edition). only rebound upon himself. The fifNine of these consist of those persona- teenth refers to a subject where Warlities already spoken of, or are mere ob- ton candidly acknowledges his inability jections to the conduct and order of the to gratify the reader's curiosity. Thus, work. Thirteen are devoted to glos. with the exception of the glossarial insarial corrections, among which are the accuracies, of which more will be said? candid specimen recorded vol. ii. p. 52, hereafter, Mr. Ritson can only be adnote", and two literal interpretations, mitted to have corrected seven misinstead of two very appropriate para. takes, or more rigidly speaking five, in phrases. The remaining fifteen, or a 4to volume of 468 pages, and in the rather the subjects they refer to, it may execution of which he has himself bebe worth while to analyse. One of come chargeable with four.
of orthography, resembling any thing but the language of his native country; and hence the sarcastic tone in which these graceful advantages are complimented, while they are carefully contrasted with the historian's “habitual blunders.” Warton's learning was also of no common order; and his reading of that extensive kind which enabled him to illustrate his theme from the varied circle of ancient and modern literature; and here again it became matter of exultation to discover, that his knowledge of Italian had once been but limited, or to bint that his acquaintance with Hickes's Thesaurus had been assisted by a translation of “ Wotton's Conspectus.” But in the gaiety of his heart, Warton had smiled at the solemn dullness of Hearne, the idol of Mr. Ritson's affections; he had descanted on the laboured triflings of this diligent antiquary in a style of successful yet playful irony, and chose to entertain no very exalted opinion of the patient drudgery by which “ Thomas” was to recommend himself to posterity. This was an unpardonable offence, and little short of a declaration of hostilities by anticipation. For though genius will approve the well-directed satire which exposes its own peculiar foibles, while pourtraying the follies of a contemporary, yet moody mediocrity never forgives the bolt which, aimed at another's eccentricities, inadvertently grazes its own inviolable person. . In addition, the historian of English poetry was a Christian, a churchman, and a distinguished member of his college; all and either of them sufficient to condemn him in the
eyes man whose creed was confined to a rigid abstinence from animal food; with whom a clergyman was but another name for a “ lazy, stinking and ignorant monk;” and who seems never to have been better pleased, than when retailing the coarse and pointless ribaldry of the fifteenth century, against the honours and dignities of an University. To this full measure of indiscretion, Warton had superadded a warm admira
tion of the powers and learning of Warburton; and had even adopted, and considerably amplified, the fanciful theory of this eminent prelate on the origin of romantic fiction. This again was siding with the enemy. The bishop of Gloucester had conducted a merciless persecution against a sect of which Mr. Ritson made no scruple to acknowledge himself a follower, the “ Epicureorum factio, æquo semper errore a vero devia et illa existimans ridenda quæ nesciat",” and unhappily for his fame and the cause he advocated, in the possession of a giant's strength had too frequently exercised it with the cruelty of a giant. The tyranny of the master was therefore to be avenged on the head of his otherwise too guilty pupil; and the double end to be gained, of inflicting an insidious wound upon a foe too powerful to be encountered in the open field", and crushing an unresisting and applauded rival. But enough of this revolting subject, of which justice to the memory of an amiable, unoffending and elegant scholar required that some notice should be taken, and which no language can be too strong to mark with deserved reprobation.
It is now time to turn to those objections of Mr. Ritson, which embrace the literary defects of the History of English Poetry.
There can be no intention of dragging the reader through the minute and tedious details, with which this branch of the controversy is burthened. Wherever the better information of
10 Macrobius Som. Scipionis, in init. and the Round Table." Ib. p. 46. “ The
" It is ludicrous in the extreme to poets of Provence borrowed their art observe a man of Mr. Ritson's attain- from the French or Normans." Ib.p.50. ments, stating Warburton's "distin “ There is but one single romance existguishing characteristic” to be “a wanting that can be attributed to a troubaof knowledge." The “habitual men- dour,"p. 51. “Before the first crusade, dacity of the same learned prelate or for more than half a century after it, finds its parallel, if mere errors of opi- there was not one single romance on nion must receive this bland distinction, the achievements of Arthur or his in such hasty assertions as the follow- knights." Ib. p. 52. To enumerate all ing: “ The real chanson de Roland was the unfounded assertions contained in unquestionably a metrical romance of the section immediately following great length.” Introd. to Met. Rom. “the Saxon and English language
“ The Armoricans never possessed would be to write a small treatise. a single story on the subject of Arthur