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tion introduced and established by the Provencial bards, a new and more legitimate taste of writing would have succeeded. With these advantages it was reasonable to conclude, that unnatural events, the machinations of imaginary beings, and adventures entertaining only as they were improbable, would have given place to justness of thought and design, and to that decorum which nature dictated, and which the example and the precept of antiquity had authorised. But it was a long time before such a change was effected. We find Ariosto, many years after the revival of letters, rejecting truth for magic, and preferring the ridiculous and incoherent excursions of Boyardo, to the propriety and uniformity of the Grecian and Roman models. Nor did the restoration of ancient learning produce any effectual or immediate improvement in the state of criticism. Beni, one of the most celebrated critics of the sixteenth century, was still so infatuated
with a fondness for the old Provencial vein, that he ventured to write a regular dissertion*, in which he compares Ariosto with Homer.
Trissino, who flourished a few years after Ariosto, had taste and boldness enough to publish an epic poemt, written in professed imitation of the Iliad. But this attempt met with little regard or applause for the reason on which its real merit was founded. It was rejected as an insipid and uninteresting performance, having few devils or enchantments to recommend it. To Trissino succeeded Tasso, who, in his Gierusaleme Liberata, took the ancients for his guides; but was still too
* Comparazione di T. Tasso con Omero e Virgilio, insieme con la difesa dell'Ariosto paragonato ad Omero, &c.
† He died 1550. Ariosto 1535.
| L'Italia Liberata di Goti, 1524. It is in blank verse, which the author would have introduced instead of the Terza Rima of Dante, or the Ottard of Boccaco.
sensible of the popular prejudice in favour of ideal beings, and romantic adventures, to neglect or omit them entirely. He had studied, and acknowledged the beauties of classical purity. Yet he still kept his first and favourite acquaintance, the old Provencial poets, in his eye. Like his own Rinaldo, who after he had gazed on the diamond shield of truth, and with seeming resolution was actually departing from Armida and her enchanted gardens, could not help looking back upon them with some remains of fondness. Nor did Tasso's Poem, though composed in some measure on a regular plan, give its author, among the Italians at least, any greater share of esteem and reputation on that account. Ariosto, with all his extravagancies, was still preferred. The superiority of the Orlando Furioso was at length established by a formal decree of the academicians della Crusca, who, amongst other literary debates, held a solemn court
of inquiry concerning the merit of both
Such was the prevailing taste, when Spenser projected the Fairy Queen: a poem,» which according to the practice of Ariosto, was to consist of allegories, enchantments, and romantic expeditions, conducted by knights, giants, magicians, and fictitious beings. It may be urged, that Spenser made an unfortunate choice, and discovered but little judgment, in adopting Ariosto for his example, rather than Tasso, who had so evidently exceeded his rival, at least in conduct and decorum. But our author naturally fol
. lowed the poem which was most celebrated and popular. For although the French critics universally gave the preference to Tasso, yet, in Italy, the partisans on the side of Ariosto were by far the most powerful, and consequently in England: for Italy, in the age of queen Elizabeth, gave laws to our island in
all matters of taste, as France has done ever since. At the same time it may be supposed, that, of the two, Ariosto was Spenser's favourite; and that he was naturally biassed to prefer that plan which would admit the most extensive range for his unlimited imagination. What was Spenser's particular in consequence of this choice, and how it was conducted, I now proceed to examine.
supposes, that the FAERIE QUEEN E, according to an established annual custom, held a magnificent feast, which continued twelve days; on each of which, respectively, twelve several complaints are presented before her. Accordingly, in order to redress the injuries which were the occasion of these several complaints, she dispatches, with proper commissions, twelve different Knights, each of which, in the particular adventure allotted to him, proves an
* See Spenser's Letter to Sir W. Raleigh, &c.