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NOVELS AND ROMANCES.
AMADIS OF GAUL.
[Amadis de Gaul: By Vasco Lobeira. From the Spanish version of Garciordonez de Montalvo. By Robert SouTHEY. And Amadis de Gaul: A poem, in Three Books. Freely Translated from the French of Nicolas DE HERBERAY, by WILLIAM STEwART Rose.--From Edinburgh Review for Oct. 1808.]
THE fame of Amadis de Gaul has reached to the present day, and has indeed become almost provincial in most languages of Europe. But this distinction has been attained rather in a mortifying manner: for the hero seems much less indebted for his present renown to his historians, Lobeira, Montalvo, and Herberay, than to Cervantes, who selectVOL. XVIII. A
ed their labours, as one of the best known books of chivalry, and therefore the most prominent object for his ridicule. In this case, as in many others, the renown of the victor has carried down to posterity the memory of the vanquished; and, excepting the few students of black letter, we believe no reader is acquainted with Amadis de Gaul, otherwise than as the prototype of Don Quixote de la Mancha. But the ancient knight seems now in a fair way of being rescued from this degrading state of notoriety, and of once more resuming a claim to public notice upon his own proper merits; having, with singular good fortune, engaged in his cause two such authors as Mr Southey and Mr Rose. As the subject of the two articles before us, is in fact the same, we shall adopt the prose version of Mr Southey, as forming the fullest text for the general commentaries which we have to offer; reserving till the conclusion, the particular remarks which occur to us upon Mr Rose's poem. The earliest copy of Amadis de Gaul, now .
known to exist, is the Spanish edition of Garcia Ordognez de Montalvo, which is used by Mr Southey in his translation. Montalvo professes, in general terms, to have revised and corrected this celebrated work from the ancient authorities. He is supposed principally to have used the version of Vasco de Lobeira, a Portuguese knight, who died in the beginning of the 15th century. But a dispute has arisen, whether even Lobeira can justly claim the merit of being the original author of this famous and interesting romance. Nicolas de Her
beray, who translated Montalvo's work into French in 1575, asserts positively, that it was originally written in that language; and adds this remarkable passage : “J'en ay trouvé encores quelques reste d'un vieil livre escrit ā la main en langage Picard, sur leguel j'estime que les Espagnols ont fait leur traduction, non pas de tout suyvant le vrai original, comme l’on pourra veoir par cesluy, car ilz en ont obmis en aucuns endroits et augmenté aur autres.” Mr Southey, however, setting totally aside the evidence of Herberay, as well as of Monsieur de Tressan, who also affirms the existence of a Picard original of Amadis, is decidedly of opinion, that Vasco de Lobeira was the original author. It is with some hesitation that we venture to differ from Mr Southey, knowing, as we well know, that his acquaintance with the Portuguese literature entitles him to considerable deference in such an argument: yet, viewing the matter on the proofs he has produced, and considering also the general history and progress of romantic composition, we incline strongly to think with Mr Rose, that the story of Amadis is originally of French extraction. The earliest tales of romance which are known to us, are uniformly in verse; and this was very natural ; for they were in a great measure the composition of the minstrels, who gained their livelihood by chanting and reciting them. This is peculiarly true of the French minstrels, as appears from the well-known quotation of Du Cange from the Romance of Du Guesclin, where the champions of romantic fiction are enumerated as the subject of
their lays. -
There are but very few prose books of chivalry in the world, which are not either still extafft, or are at least known to have existed originally in the form of metrical romances. The very name by which such compositions are distinguished, is derived from the romance or corrupted Latin employed by the minstrels, and long signified any history or fable narrated in vulgar poetry. It would be almost endless to cite examples of this proposition. The tales of Arthur and his Round Table, by far the most fertile source of the romances of chivalry, are all known to have existed as metrical compositions long before the publication of the prose folios on the same subject. These poems the minstrels used to chant at solemn festivals; nor was it till the decay of that extraordinary profession that romances in prose were substituted for their lays. The invention of printing hastened the declension of poetical romance. The sort of poetry employed by the minstrels, differed only from prose in being more easily retained by the memory; but when copies were readily and cheaply multiplied by means of the press, the exertion of recollection became unnecessary.
As early as the fifteenth century, numerous prose versions of the most celebrated romances were executed in France and England, which were printed in the course of the sixteenth. These works are now become extremely rare. Mr Southey attributes this to their great popularity. But if their popularity lasted, as he supposes, till they were worn out by repeated perusal, the printers would have found their advantage in supplying the public with new editions. The truth is, that the editions first published of these expensive folio romances were very small. Abridgements and extracts served the purpose of the vulgar. Mean while, the taste of the great took another turn ; and the books of chivalry disappeared, in consequence of the neglect and indifference of their owners. More than a century elapsed betwixt their being read for amusement, and sought for as curiosities; and such a lapse of time would render any work scarce, were the editions as numerous as those of the Pilgrim's Progress.
To return to our subject—It appears highly probable to us, that Lobeira's prose Amadis was preceded by a metrical romance, according to the general progress which we observe in the history of similar productions.
Another general remark authorizes the same conclusion. It is well known that the romances of the middle ages were not announced to the hearers as works of mere imagination. On the contrary, they were always affirmed by the narrators to be matter of historical fact; nor was this disputed by the