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posterity have found in him that lesson of instruction which is ever the province of poetry, if his work had only described the exalted scenes of life, and not descended sometimes to the familiar and common manners, that every rank and station might meet with correction or reproof. For as in Homer, likewise in Ariosto, the general sublimity of character does not exclude the introduction, though rare, yet sometimes necessary, of personages of a lower order. To such a diversity of matter must be joined a diversity of style, which Ariosto has properly observed. In descriptions of dignity, the dignified style must be used; but where the passage approaches to common life, an humble phrase is required. In this respect Ariosto is superior to many, always rising and sinking with his subject. He is indeed reprehensible for the disagreeable breaks in his narrative, and for mingling sometimes, injudiciously, ludicrous reflections or licentious allusions with the most serious matter, for a strain of extravagant hyperbole, sometimes for the use of low and vulgar expressions, for his long and tedious digressions on the families of Ferrara, and on his mistress. But such is the power of Ariosto, that while his work is perusing, almost all his faults and blemishes are lost in the multitude of his excellencies *.”
Among the modern writers, Voltaire has been very severe upon Ariosto, particularly in his essay on Epic poetry, where he speaks of him in the following invidious manner:
“ Some readers (says he) will be surprised, that Ariosto is not placed among the Epic poets; but it will be pro
* Gravina della Rogione poetica.
per to observe to them, that no one, speaking of Tragedy, would nention l’AVARE or le GrondEUR*; and whatever may be the opinion of some Italians, the rest of Europe will never place Ariosto on a level with Tasso, till Don Quixote is ranked with the Æneid, or Callot with Corregio.”
The same Voltaire, who has so far degraded Ariosto in the above passage, has since delivered his sentiments very differently, in a work lately published t, from which, for the uncommonness of the subject, and the manner in which he has treated it, I shall translate such passages as immediately relate to the present inquiry.
“ The Odyssey of Homer,” says he, “ seems to have been the model of the Morgante, the Orlando Inamnorato, and the Orlando Furioso; and, what rarely happens, the last of these poems is indisputably the best.
“ The companions of Ulysses transformed to swine; the winds inclosed in a goat's-skin; musicians with tails of fishes, who devour those that approach them; Ulysses, who follows naked the chariot of a beautiful princess on her return from washing her garments; the same Ulysses, disguised like a beruar, requesting alms, and afterwards killing all the suitors of his old wife, assisted only by his son and two servants; these are imaginations that have given rise to all the romances in verse, that have since been written on similar subjects.
“ But the romance of Ariosto is so extensive, so full of variety, so fruitful in every kind of beauty, that after having perused it, I have more than once found my ap
* Two French Connedies. + Questions sur l’Encyclopedie, published MDCCLXX. See the article EPOPEE.
petite excited to begin it again; and yet I could never read a single canto of this poem in our prose translations: such are the charms of natural poetry!
“ What excited particularly my admiration in this wonderful performance, was the uncommon genius that seems to raise the author above his subject, which he treats with a kind of sportive negligence: he says the sublimest things with the utmost case, and often concludes them with a stroke of refined and well-timed pleasantry. The Orlando Furioso is at once the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Don Quixote; for the principal knight-errunt runs mad, like the Spanish hero, but is infinitely more entertaining. We are interested for Orlando, but we take no part in the fortune of Don Quixote, who is represented by Cervantes, as a madman, exposed to universai derision.
The Orlando Furioso has a merit altogether unknown to the writers of antiquity; which merit is exhibited in the openings of the several cantos. Each canto is an enchanted palace, the vestibule of which is always in a different style, sometimes majestic, sometimes simple, and sometimes grotesque. The poet is, by turns, moral,
asant, and gallant, but never departs from truth and nature.”
Voltaire, having then asserted that Ariosto equals Homer in his battles, and given some examples to support his assertion, proceeds thus :
“ Ariosto las the peculiar talent of making a transition, from these descriptions of terror, to the most voluptuous pictures, and from these last he can, with equal ease, change his subject to the refined doctrines of morality: but the greatest art of the poet appears in his
interesting us so strongly for his heroes and heroines, though they are so many and various: the pathetic incidents in his poem are almost equal in number to the grotesque adventures; and his reader is so pleasingly accustomed to this mixture, that the change steals upon him with the least seeming violence.
“ I know not who it was that first propagated the pretended question of Cardinal Hippolito to the author;"
Messer Ludovico, dove havete pigliate tante coglionerie?” Signor Ludovico, where did you find so many absurdities? The cardinal ought rather to have said, “ Dove havete pigliate tante cose divine?” Where did you find so many divine things?
I formerly durst not rank in the number of Epic poets one, whom at that time I considered as only the first of grotesque writers; but upon a more diligent perusal, I have found him to be as full of sublimity as pleasantry, and now make him this public reparation. It is indeed true, that Leo X. published a bull in favour of the Orlando Furioso, excommunicating all those who should presume to attack that poem; and I shall be very cautious how I incur the censure of such excommunication *.”
Thus has this lively writer signed, as it were, a recantation of some of the errors of his poetical faith, in which perhaps it will appear, that he has no less exaggerated, than he had before depreciated, the merits of Ariosto: however this example may serve to shew how little stability appears in the opinion of this very extraordinary genius, whose spirit so warmly animated his
* See Life of Ariosto, for an examination into the story of this bull.
pen at such an advanced age, but whose writings more frequently appeal to the imagination, than judgment of his reader: I have formerly had occasion to combat some of his strictures on Tasso * ; and we have a pregnant instance of his criticisms in his several attacks on Shakespeare, which have been exposed in a most elegant and judicious dissertation on the genius of that immortal poet t.
A remarkable letter remains of Bernardo Tasso, the father of Torquato, in which there is this passage: “Ne so io s'Aristotele nascesse a questo età e vedesse il vaghissimo poema del Ariosto, conoscendo la forza del uso, e vedendo che tanto diletta, come l'esperienza si dimostra, mutasse opinione, e consentisse che si potesse far poema eroico di piu azzione. Con la sua mirabil dottrina e giudicio, dandogli nova norma e prescrivuondogli novi leggit.
Giuseppe Malatesta published a Dialogue on the New Poetry, or a Defence of the Furioso, and undertook to show, that this poem was composed agreeably to the several rules of poetry, and that it excelled the beauties of Homer and Virgil.
The only poem we have in English of the Gothic rom mance kind, is the Fairy QUEEN of Spenser; a poet, whose story and style bear the nearest resemblance to
# See preface to the translation of Tasso.
II question if Aristotle had been born in our times to have seen the poem of Ariosto, and had experienced the wonderful de}ight afforded by the perusal, whether he would not have altered his sentiments, and agreed that an heroic poem might consist of more than one action, and whether his admirable judgment would not have extended the poetic license, and given new laws for epic poetry.