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PALAMON AND ARCITE.
“The Knight's Tale," whether we consider Chaucer's original poem, or the spirited and animated version of Dryden, is one of the finest pieces of composition in our language. We have treated of its merits so amply in the general criticism on Dryden's poetry, that little remains here save to trace the antiquity of the fable.
The history of Theseus, as, indeed, it is a sort of legend of knight-errantry, was an early favourite during the middle ages. It is probable, that the anecdote of Palamon and Arcite was early engrafted upon the story of the siege of Thebes. But the original from which Chaucer appears to have immediately derived his materials, is the “ Teseive" of Boccacio, an epic poem, composed in ottava rima, of which Tyrwhitt has given an analysis. The work of Chaucer cannot, however, properly be termed a translation; on the contrary, the tale has acquired its most beautiful passages under the hand of the English bard. He abridged the prolix, and enlarged the poetical, parts of the work; compressed the whole into one concise and interesting tale; and left us an example of a beautiful heroic poem, if a work is entitled to that name which consists only of two thousand lines.
This romantic legend is, by Chaucer, with great propriety, put into the mouth of the Knight, a distinguished character among the Pilgrims; who, in their journey to the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury, had agreed to beguile the way by telling each a tale in turn. Hence the second title of “ The Knight's Tale."
THE DUCHESS OF ORMOND.*
WITH THE FOLLOWING POEM OF
PALAMON AND AŘČÍTE.
The bard, who first adorn'd our native tongue,
Vouchsafe, illustrious Ormond, to behold
Lady Mary Somerset, second wife of the Duke of Ormond, to whom she was married in 1685. She was second daughter of Henry, first Duke of Beaufort.
If Chaucer by the best idea wrought,
Like her, of equal kindred to the throne,
she returns, Restored in you, and the same place adorns; Or you perform her office in the sphere, Born of her blood, and make a new platonic year.t
* The first patroness of Chaucer was Blanche, first wife of John, Duke of Gaunt, whose death he has celebrated in the “ Boke of the Duchesse." She was the second daughter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, grandson of Edmund, surnamed Crouchback, brother of Edward I. But I do not know how the Duchess of Ormond could be said to be “born of her blood,” since she was descended of John of Gaunt, by his third, not his first wife. Dryden, however, might not know, or might disregard, these mi-, nutiæ of genealogy.
+ John of Gaunt had by his mistress, Catharine Rouet, whom he afterwards married, three sons and a daughter, who were legi. timated by act of parliament. John de Beaufort, the eldest of these, was created Earl of Somerset, and from him the ducal family of Beaufort are lineally descended. The patent of the first duke, the father of this Duchess of Ormond, bears to be, in consideration of his services, and of his most noble descent from King Edward III., by John de Beaufort, eldest son of John of Gaunt, by his third marriage