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utterly indefensible. Even the critics who have undertaken his defence, and who, to do so more effectually, have divided epic poetry into the heroic and the romantic, still admit, in all their force, the laws of the Stagyrite, and distinguish heroic from romantic poetry, only where there is no distinction in nature, for the laws that really distinguish them are admitted to be the same. Ginguené, in his History of Italian Literature, devotes nearly two hundred pages to Ariosto, in which he undertakes his defence; but, in so doing, he certainly displays more zeal than ability. With the Italian critics, he distinguishes the epic poem into the heroic and romantic, but admits all the laws that render them essentially the same, particularly the necessity of a chief hero and of a main action, from which all the episodic or incidental narratives must naturally arise, and to the completion of which they should be instrumentally subservient. Now, if the romantic agree with the heroic poem in these two particulars, it is difficult to perceive wherein they can disagree, or how they can be considered different species of epic or narrative poetry; and if not, Ariosto's defence has been undertaken in vain. It avails nothing to call the Orlando a romantic, and the Iliad a heroic poem, if the materials of which they are composed be the same, and if they be put together in the same manner. But, says Ginguené, the laws are the same: the materials only are different. The romantic has, like the heroic, a chief hero and a main action, to which the poet must render all his other heroes and incidental actions subservient, but the materials he makes use of are not the
“ The ground-work of the Orlando,” he says, “ is the amours and exploits of Rogero and Bradamant: the love and folly of Orlando form its principal accessory. To these are joined other exploits, other amours, heroic achievements, the gallant adventures of a host of dames and knights, a mixture which essentially constitutes the romantic epic, and distinguishes it from the epopée, properly so called.”* Now, if the materials of the romantic poem be different from the heroic, would it not seem reasonable to think that they should be put differently together? Ariosto has done so; and it is for doing so, that he has been so generally censured and condemned. But what replies Ginguené to this charge? Why, forsooth, he denies it stoutly, and maintains that Ariosto put his materials together like Homer and Virgil; that, like them, he has made all his minor actions and all his heroes bear the same relation to his main action and chief hero, that Homer and Virgil have done. Ariosto has done no such thing, nor had he
Histoire Litteraire D'Italie, par P. L. Ginguené, tom. 4. p. 385.
sion to do it. On the contrary, he would not have treated his subject as he ought, had he done so; for the very circumstance of his having chosen his poetical materials from a different source, required of him to dispose of them in a different man
He has done so, and it is only by admitting that he has, we can ever hope to vindicate the conduct which he has pursued throughout the work. Nothing can be more obviously absurd, than to maintain, with Ginguené, that Rogero, not Orlando, is the chief hero of the poem, and that his marriage with Bradamant is the final object of the poem; for, if so, why give it the name of Orlando? Why interest us more in his fate than in that of Rogero? Why endow him with that surpassing prowess, which seemed to exceed human might? Why has Ariosto conferred upon him the honour of killing the sea monster, on which Rogero, aided by the fiery griffin that carried him securely through the air, could not even inflict a wound, though his flying horse enabled him to ascend and descend, to watch his opportunity, and strike the monster when opportunity most favoured him, and where he thought the blow would prove most effectual in putting an end to his existence?
“ Rogero thus, with sword and spear pursues,
Did Ariosto ever intend to equal so light and skirmishing a warrior with the great Orlando, who, after giving the monster his death wound, dragged him to the shore, where
Firmly fixed upon the rock he stood,
that such a warrior was inferior to the lightfooted Rogero, whose blows were all in vain, is to adopt an opinion unworthy the learned author of the History of Italian Literature. Throughout the poem, Orlando unites the sinewy strength and stubborn uncommunicative character of Ajax, the noble heroism and magnanimous generosity of Hector, to the fierce rapidity and irresistible impetuosity of Achilles ; or, rather, he excels each of them in their respective characters.
Rogero, then, is not the hero of the poem, nor would Ginguené ever have thought of conferring this honour upon him, if he did not, in the first instance, unwarily admit the necessity of a chief hero, and, in the second, perceive very clearly, as every reader must, that the sequel of Orlando's history proves he was not intended for a chief hero. The fact is, that Ariosto has neither a chief hero, nor a main action, though, so far as regards bravery and prowess, Orlando is, beyond all comparison, the greatest hero in the poem. The nature and design of the poem, however, admitted neither a chief hero, nor a main action. Ginguené maintains it has both.-“ L'Arioste,” he
says, en courtesan delicat, n’annonca pas d'abord son projet ; il ne donna point pour titre à son poeme, le nom de Roger, que toutes les branches de la famille d'Este regardaient comme leur souche commune ; il n'en parla, pour ainsi dire, qu' accidentellement, dans son invocation, addressée au Cardinal Hippolyte. Par une methode qui lui est particulière, tout son début expose, dans un ordre retrograde, les matiéres qu'il doit embrasser.” Can any thing be more frivolous? any thing farther from the truth ? Ariosto announces in the most direct and explicit terms the design and object of his poem. And, except those who read an author's meaning backwards, no one can mistake it.
“Le donne, i cavalier, l'arme, gli amori,
Le cortesie, l'audaci imprese io canto,” &c.
From the opening of the poem, the reader must perceive, that Ariosto could not have explained in clearer or more explicit terms the subject and design of his poem. The two first lines give the general outline, from which outline it is obvious, that Ariosto did not propose or intend to treat of any particular amazon or hero; any particular action, love adventure, or heroic achievement; that all his dames and knights were equally dear to him, equally the object of his attention, and that he did not intend to place any of them in the back ground to serve as a foil to more interesting and distinguished characters. Homer is equally clear: he tells us very distinctly, that the wrath of Achilles, and the misfortunes in which his impetuous and indomitable spirit involved the Greeks, is the subject of his song. His Odyssey opens with the same simple and obvious statement of his design: we perceive, at the very opening, that the wanderings of Ulysses, after the destruction of Troy, is the subject which he proposes to treat. In both poems, consequently, Homer had but one particular hero, and common sense must have pointed out to him the necessity of introducing no other who was not either immediately or remotely connected with the adventures of this hero, the situations in wbich he was placed, or the events arising from the conduct which he pursued. Hence arose that unity of action, or concentration of events, from which Homer could not depart, without departing, at the same moment, from the subject which he proposed to treat; and it therefore required neither the acumen of Aristotle, nor the boasted canons of the schools, to convince us of the necessity of such unity. But had Homer not confined himself, at setting out, to one particular hero, and consequently to one main action, would such unity be imperatively required of him? Virgil trod in the footsteps of Homer so far as regarded the nature of his subject: the execution he handled in a manner peculiar to himself. He opens his poem by saying very explicitly, that he sings of the hero who, after his expulsion from his native country, won and settled in Latium, restored to his gods their neglected rites, and to whom Rome owed all her glories and subsequent renown. How then could Virgil, consistently with common sense, introduce into the Æneid any action or hero not connected with the history and adventures of Eneas, having asserted, in very plain terms, that his history and adventures were all he proposed to treat of. But has Ariosto confined himself to this simplicity and unity of design? has he proposed any particular warrior, or any particular adventure, as the subject of his song? If we can take his own words, and trust to his own authority, he has made no such engagement. He proposes to treat of different heroes, and of different adventures, and in making his proposition, he does not give us the slightest reason to expect, that any of these heroes are to be chief over all the rest; from which it naturally follows, that no particular adventure or action is to drag all the rest in its train; for where there is no principal hero, there can be no principal action. If we will not believe his own words, and maintain that, notwithstanding what he says, he intended a principal hero and a principal action, we are immediately set adrift, and left at liberty to maintain what theory we please. We may insist, that Charlemagne, or Rinaldo, who was as nearly related to him as Orlando, was the chief hero; or we may go over to the hostile camp, and make Agramant, Rodomont, Mandricardo, or Gradasso, the principal hero. But the misfortune is, that in doing so, we cannot deny the same privilege to any other critic who may choose to differ from us in opinion. Either, then, we must believe that Ariosto meant what he said, or we may attribute
to him what meaning we please, in which case the Orlando Furioso will be a subject of eternal dispute. It is difficult, however, to conceive, why we should suppose that Ariosto intended one thing and expressed another, when we are willing to give Homer, Virgil, Tasso, and Milton, credit for having conformed strictly to the design which they proposed at the opening of their poems, and consequently of meaning what they said. All this mistake and misapprehension arise from supposing, that the poet is obliged to conform to certain rules of our own invention, whether they be suited to the nature of his subject or not. The only rule, however, which nature obliges him to observe, is consistency, that is, to take care that no part of his poem should be at variance with what he proposes at setting out. This is the corner stone of the whole foundation. Whatever is irrelevant to it is absurd : whatever agrees with it is unobjectionable. Whoever does what he proposes, does all that we can reasonably require of him; or rather, if he does more or less, he does wrong, because he not only leads us astray, but he is inconsistent with himself; for, in the latter case, he omits something which he promised, a something which perhaps is our chief inducement for reading his poem; and, in the former, he introduces something which he did not lead us to expect, and which, if we expected, would perhaps induce us to turn aside from the poem, and never peruse it. Orlando, it is true, is the greatest warrior that figures in the poem, but it does not follow, that all the rest were intended to march in his train; for Ariosto could not avoid making some particular hero greater than all the rest, as nature had made him such. In a crowd of warriors, some one must be greatest, whether he be represented so or not, but this does not oblige the poet to confine his sole attention to him, unless he choose, or propose to do so; and, if not, his exploits and adventures form only a part of the poem, with which the adventures and feats of the others are, or are not, connected only as chance directs. If he sometimes influence or determine the line of conduct which they pursue, so do their line of conduct reciprocally influence and determine his.
To judge, however, of the plan pursued by Ariosto, independently of the latitude which he gives himself at setting out, it is obvious that he could not, consistently, pursue any other plan, while love and chivalric heroism, while romantic warriors, magicians, and enchanters, formed the principal materials out of which his poem was to be composed.' Achilles, with all his wrath, had one fixed object in view, the destruction of Troy, though he prolonged the war to avenge himself on Agamemnon. They were patriotic feelings that first induced him to take arms, and all the Grecian and Trojan chiefs were governed by feel