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HISTORY OF FICTION.

CHAPTER VII.

ORIGIN OF ITALIAN TALES. - FABLES OF BIDPAI. SEVEN

WISE MASTERS.-GESTA ROMANORUM. - - CONTES ET FABLIAUX.-CENTO NOVELLE ANTICHE.-DECAMERON OF BOCCACCIO.

IT
T seems not a little remarkable that Italy, which pro-

duced the earliest and finest specimens of romantic poetry, should scarcely have furnished a single prose romance of chivalry. This is the more remarkable, as the Italians seem to have been soon and intimately acquainted with the works of the latter description produced among the neighbouring nations. Nor does this knowledge appear merely from the poems of Pulci and Boiardo, but from the authors of a period still more remote, in whom we meet with innumerable allusions to incidents related in the tales of chivalry. Dante represents the perusal of the story of Lancelot, as conducting Paolo and Francesca al doloroso passo (Inf. c. 5), and elsewhere shows his acquaintance with the fabulous stories of Arthur and Charlemagne (Inf. c. 31 and 32, Parad. c. 16 and 18). Petrarch also appears to have been familiar with the exploits of Tristan and Lancelot (Trionfi

, &c.). In the Cento Novelle Antiche there exists the story of King Meliadus and the Knight without Fear; as also of the Lady of Scalot, who died for love of Lancelot du Lac. There, too, the passion of Yseult and the phrensy of Tristan are recorded ; and in the sixth tale of the tenth day of the Decameron, we are told that a Florentine gentleman had two daughters, one of whom was called Gineura the Handsome, and the other Yseult the Fair.

Nevertheless the Italians have produced no original prose work of any length or reputation in the romantic style of composition. This deficiency may be partly attributed to national manners and circumstances. Since the transference of the seat of the Roman empire to Constantinople, the Italians had never been conquerors, but had always been vanquished by barbarous nations, who were successively softened and polished at the same time that they became enervated. The inhabitants possessed neither that extravagant courage nor refined gallantry, the delineation of which forms the soul of romantic composition. At a time when, in other countries, national exploits, and the progress of feudal institutions, were laying the foundation for this species of fiction, Italy was overrun by the incursions of enemies, or only successfully defended by strangers. Hence it was difficult to choose any set of heroes, by the celebration of whose deeds the whole nation would have been interested or flattered, as England must have been by the relation of the achievements of Arthur, or France by the history of Charlemagne. The fame of Belisarius was indeed illustrious, but as an enemy he was hated by the descendants of the northern invaders; and, as a foreigner, his deeds could not gratify the national vanity of those he came to succour. His successor's exploits were liable to the same objections, and were besides performed by a being of all others the worst calculated to become a hero in a romance of chivalry.

The early division, too, of Italy into a number of small and independent states, was a check on national pride. A theme could hardly have been chosen which would have met with general applause, and the exploits of the chiefs of one district would often have been a mortifying tale to the inhabitants of another.

Besides, the mercantile habits so early introduced into Italy repressed a romantic spirit. It is evident from the Italian novelists, that the manners of the people had not caught one spark of the fire of chivalry, which kindled the surrounding nations. In the principal states of Italy, particularly Florence, the military profession was rather

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