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apologue, which seems to be of eastern invention, has lately so much employed the searches of the commentatorsv on Shakespeare, and that the circumstances of the story, as it is told by Gower, may be compared with those with which it appears in other books. - v
The poet is speaking of a king whose officers and courtiers complained, that after a long attendance, they had notv received adequate rewards, and preferments due to their services. The king, who was no stranger to their complaints, artfully contrives 'a scheme to prove whether this defect proceded from his own want of generofity, or their want of discernment. ' -
It must be confessed," that there is a much' greater and a more beautiful variety of incidents in this story as it is related in the GESTA ROMANORUM, which Shakespeare has followed, than in Gower: and was it not demonstrable, 'that this compilation preceded our author's 'age by 'same centuries, one would be tempted to conclude, 'that 'Gower's story was the original fable in its 'simple unimproved state. Whatever was the case, it is almost certain that one story produced the other. '
A translation into English 'of the GESTA ROMANORUM was printed by Wynkyn de Worde, without date. In the year 1577, one Richard Robinson'published ARecord qf ancient Hystoryes, in Latin GESTA ROMANORUM, perzzshd, corrected, and
bettered, by R. Roþiry'sn, Landon,_-i5'77". . Of. this tranllation there were fix impressions before-the year' 1601 '. The later editions, both Latin and English, differ considerably from a manuscript belonging to the British Museum ', which contains not only the story of the CAsxs'r'rs in Shakespeare's MERCHANT of VENICE, but that of the Jaw's Bosm in the same play '. I cannot exactly ascertain the age of this piece, which has many fictitious and fabulous facts intermixed with true history; nor have I been able to discover the name of its compiler. , v It appears to me to have been formed on the mode] of Valerius Maximus, the favourite claffic of the monks. It is, quoted and commended as a true history, among many histo
rians of credit, such as Josephus, OrofiUs, Bede, and Eusebius, by Herman Korner, - a dominican friar of Lubec, who wrote a CHRONiCA NOVELLA, or history of the world, in the year 1435 '.
In speaking of our author's sources, I must not omit a book translated by the unfortunate Antony Widville, first earl of Rivers, chiefiy with a view of proving its early popularity. It is the Dictes or Saying: as Plailoso'p/Jrer, which lord Rivers translated from the French of William de Thignonville, provost of the city of Paris about the year 1408, en'titled Lrs dictes moraux des philosopher, ler dicter des shger et ler start-t; d' Arzstate". The English translation was printed by Caxton, in the year 1477. Gower refers to this tract, which first existed in Latin, more than once; and it is most probable, that he consulted the Latin original w.
It is pleasant to observe the strange ,mistakes which Gower, a man of great learning, and the most general scholar of his age, has committed in this poem, concerning books which he never saw, his violent anachronisms, and misrepresentations of the most common facts and characters. He mentions the Greek poet Menander, as one of the first historians, or " first enditours of the olde cronike," together with Esdras, Solinus, Jose-phus, Claudius Salpicius, Termegis, Pandulfe, Frigidilles, Ephiloquorus, and Pandas. It is extraordinary that Moses should not here be mentioned, in preference to Esdras. Solinus is ranked so high, because he recorded nothing but wonders '5 and Josephus, on account of his subject, had long been placed almost on a level with the bible.
He is seated on the, first pillar in Chaucer's House or FAME. His Jewish history, translated into Latin by Rufinus in the fourth century, had given rise to many old poems and romances 7 : and his MACCABAICS, or history of the seven Maccabees martyred with their father Eleazar under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, a separate work, translated also by Rufinus, produced the JUDAS MACCABEE of Belleperche in the year 1240, and at length enrolled the Maccabees among the most illustrious heroes of romance On this account too, perhaps Esdras is here so respectably remembered. I suppose Sulpicius is Sulpicius Severus, a petty annalist of the fifth century. Termegis is probably Trismegistus, the mystic philosopher, certainly not an historian, at least not an antient one. Pandulf seems to be Pandulph of Pisa, who wrote lives of the popes, and died in the year 1198 '. Frigidilles is perhaps Fregedaire, a Burgundian, who flourished about the year 641, and wrote a chronicon from. Adam to his own times; often printed, and containing the best account of the Franks after Gregory of Tours". Our author, who has partly suffered from ignorant transcribers and printers, by Ephiloquorus undoubtedly intended Eutropius. In the next paragraph indeed, he mentions Herodotus :