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AN

ESSAY

ON

ROMANCE.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE SUPPLEMENT TO THE

ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA.

[1824.]

ESSAY ON ROMANCE.

DR JOHNSON has defined Romance, in its primary sense, to be" a military fable of the middle ages; a tale of wild adventures in love and chivalry." But although this definition expresses correctly the ordinary idea of the word, it is not sufficiently comprehensive to answer our present purpose. A composition may be a legitimate romance, yet neither refer to love nor chivalry-to war nor to the middle ages. The "wild adventures" are almost the only absolutely essential ingredient in Johnson's definition. We would be rather inclined to describe a Romance as 66 a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents;" being thus opposed to the kindred term Novel, which Johnson has described as "a smooth tale, generally of love;" but which we would rather define as 66 a fictitious narrative, differing from the Romance, because the events are accommodated to the ordinary train of human events, and the modern state of society.” Assuming these definitions, it is evident, from the

VOL. VI.

I

nature of the distinction adopted, that there may exist compositions which it is difficult to assign precisely or exclusively to the one class or the other; and which, in fact, partake of the nature of both. But, generally speaking, the distinction will be found broad enough to answer all general and useful purposes.1

The word Romance, in its original meaning, was far from corresponding with the definition now assigned. On the contrary, it signified merely one or other of the popular dialects of Europe, founded

1 [" The epic poem and the romance of chivalry transport us to the world of wonders, where supernatural agents are mixed with human characters, where the human characters themselves are prodigies, and where events are produced by causes widely and manifestly different from those which regulate the course of human affairs. With such a world we do not think of comparing our actual situation; to such characters we do not presume to assimilate ourselves or our neighbours; from such a concatenation of marvels we draw no conclusions with regard to our own expectations in real life. But real life is the very thing which novels affect to imitate; and the young and inexperienced will sometimes be too ready to conceive that the picture is true, in those respects at least in which they wish it to be so. Hence both their temper, conduct, and happiness may be materially injured. For novels are often romantic, not indeed by the relation of what is obviously miraculous or impossible, but by deviating, though perhaps insensibly, beyond the bounds of probability or consistency. And the girl who dreams of the brilliant accomplishments and enchanting manners which distinguish the favourite characters in those fictitious histories, will be apt to look with contempt on the most respectable and amiable of her acquaintance; while in the showy person and flattering address of some contemptible and perhaps profligate coxcomb, she may figure to herself the prototype of her imaginary heroes, the only man upon earth with whom it is possible to be happy." -Quarterly Review, vol. i., p. 305.]

(as almost all these dialects were) upon the Roman tongue, that is, upon the Latin. The name of Romance was indiscriminately given to the Italian, to the Spanish, even (in one remarkable instance at least) to the English language. But it was especially applied to the compound language of France; in which the Gothic dialect of the Franks, the Celtic of the ancient Gauls, and the classical Latin, formed the ingredients. Thus Robert De Brunne:

"All is calde geste Inglis,

That in this language spoken is-
Frankis speech is caled Romance,
So sayis clerkis and men of France."

At a period so early as 1150, it plainly appears that the Romance Language was distinguished from the Latin, and that translations were made from the one into the other; for an ancient Romance on the subject of Alexander, quoted by Fauchet, says it was written by a learned clerk,

"Qui de Latin la trest, et en Roman la mit." That is "who translated the tale from the Latin, and clothed it in the Romance language."

The most noted metrical tales or chronicles of the

1 This curious passage was detected by the industry of Ritson in Giraldus Cambrensis, "Ab aqúa illa optima, quæ Scottice vocata est FROTH; Brittanice, WAITE; Romane vero Scotte-Wattre." Here the various names assigned to the Frith of Forth are given in the Gaelic or Earse, the British or Welsh; and the phrase Roman is applied to the ordinary language of England. But it would be difficult to show another instance of the English language being termed Roman or Romance.

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