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has he judged impartially betwixt the former age
There is more bawdry in one play of Fletcher's, called “ The Custom of the Country,” than in all ours together.* Yet this has been often acted on the stage, in my remembrance. Are the times so much more reformed now, than they were five-and-twenty years ago ? If they are, I congratulate the amendment of our morals. But I am not to prejudice the cause of my fellow poets, though I abandon my own defence : they have some of them answered for themselves; and neither they nor I can think Mr Collier so formidable an enemy, that we should shun him. He has lost ground, at the latter end of the day, by pursuing his point too far, like the Prince of Condé, at the battle of Senneph:t from immoral plays, to no plays, ab abusu ad usum, non valet consequentia. But, being a party, I am not to erect myself into a judge. As for the rest of those who have written against me, they are such scoundrels, that they deserve not the least notice to be taken of them. Blackmore and Milbourne are only distinguished from the crowd, by being remembered to their infamy:
* This play is bad enough, yet the assertion seems a strong one. There can be little pleasure, however, in weighing filth against filth, so the point may be left undecided.
t There is an account of this desperate action, in the Memoirs of Captain Carleton. The Confederate Army were upon their march when the Prince of Condé suddenly attacked their rear, which he totally routed, and then led his forces between the second line of the Confederates, and their line of baggage, to compel them to a general action. But the plunder of the baggage occasioned so much delay, that the van of the Prince of Orange's army had time to rejoin the centre; and, though the French maintained the action with great vigour, they were, in the end, compelled to leave the Confederates in possession of the field of battle. This battle was fought 11th August, 1674.
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 “ Teseide” of Boccacio, an epic poem, coma posed in oltava 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."