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fittal improvement of that species of amusing composition. The Decameron in that respect (not to mention many others) has the fame advantage over the Cento N'oixrlle Anticbe, which are supposed to have preceded it in point of time, that a regular comedy will necessarily have' over an equal number of single unconnected scenes. Perhaps indeed there would he no jrreat harm if the criticks would permit us to consider The Decameron, and other compositions of that kind, in the light of comedies not intended for the stage ; at lead; we may venture to arlumc that the closer any such composition shall copy the most essential forms of comedy, the more natural and defined the plan shall be, the more the characters mall be diversified, the more the tale shall be suited to the characters, so much the more conspicuous will be the st.ill of the writer, and his work approach the nearer to perfection.
§ 2. The Canterbury Tales are a work of the fame nature with The Decameron, and were in all probability composed in imitation of It, though upon a dif
Dante Alij»h!erl fhi vecblet Messer Cinn da ristnria Tr«7v7*-firm. It appears from a passage in the laberino tf/timre stJ. 1-23, t. M. page 14,] thatBoccace considered himself as an elderly man when he was a little turned C'sforty,and therefore the publication of the siiftparr of The Decameron may very v. el1, have been, a* Sal via ti h is fixed it, [V. Manni Jji. del Tileim. p. 144.] in 135?, when Bnccaee was just forty years of a^e. If we consider the nature os the woik, and ilutrhc author in hh conclusion calls it repeatedly tmiafMica* and fays that moflo tempo h.id passed between the commencement and ctirnrletintiofit, wr ran hardly, I think, suppose that it was tin'rfhed in les< than trn year*, which will fcrinpthe public-!:;, n os tie entire eoMjstlor; el novels ;as we r.ow have it; Uout to fcrcnt and (in my opinions an improved plaa. It .would be easy to (hew that in the several points a-r hove-mentioned Chaucer has either been more judicious or more fortunate than his master Boccacc; but (waving for the present (i) that disquisition; I (lip.ll proceed to the immediate object of this Discourse, which is, in the first place, to lay before the reader the general plan of The Canterbury Tales, as it appears to have been oiijinyliy designed by Chaucer, and, secondly, to give a particular review of the several parts of that Woik which, arc come down to us ar, they arc published in thU. edition.
<> ,v ttie general plan of The Canterbury Tales may he learned in a great measure from the Prologue which Chaucer himleif has prefixed to them. He iiip?
(i) I will only juft mention what appear to me to be fundami-nii'l defects in The Decameron. In the first place, the action is hide-finite, not limited by its own nature, but merely by the will ut the author. It might, if he had been so pleased, have as well comprehended twenty ora hundred days as ten, and therefore though some frivolous reasons arc assigned for tite return of the company to Florence,we fee too plainly that the true reason was that the budget ofnovels was exhausted ; not to mention (Jiat every day after the first may properly be considered as containing a new action, or, what is worse, a repetition os the action of the former day. The second delect if the ebjradcrsi which arc so nearly resembling to each other iit ape, rank, and even natural disposition, that if they had been .flrietly supported their conversation mult have been incapable of that variety which is necessary to carry the reader through Jo long a work. The third c elect has irifcn from the author's attempt to remedy the second. In order to diversify and enliven hit* narrations he has made a circle ofvirtuous lad* ..and polite gentlemen hear and relr.tc in their turns a number of ft. rles which cannot with any degree of probability be fuf postd to have been suffered In fed: an assembly.
poses there that a company of pilgrims going to Can* ter bury assemble at an inn in Southwark, and agree that tor their common amusement on the road each 01 them shall tell at least one Tale in going to Canbury-, and another in coming hack from thence, and that he who shall tell the belt Talcs (hall bq treated by the; rest, with a supper upon their return to th« jame inn. This is shortly Lhe fable. The characters of the pilgrims are as various as at that time could he found in the several departments of middle life: that is, in fact, as various,as could with any probability be broughttogethersoastoformpnecompany,the highest ami the lowest ranksof society being neceitarilycxcludctl. It appears further that the design of Chaucer was not barely to recite the, Tales told by the pilgrims, but also to describe their journey, And all the remenant of \\\k\kpilgrimagr^x. J id, including, probably, theivadr ventures at Canterbury as well as upon th;: road. If we add that theTales, besides being nicely adapted to the characters of their respective rclators, were intended £o t>e connected together by suitable introductions, and interspersed with diverting episodes, and that the greatest: part of them was to have,been executed in verse, we iball have a tolerable idea of the extent and difficulty of the whole undertaking; and admiring, as we must, the vigour of that genius which in an advanced age (3) could begin so vast a work, we shall rather (3) Cliauces was born in 131S, and it is most probable, I think, that he t!id not bc'in hisCanterburyTales before 1 582at tjm parliclt. My reason is tins. The queen,who is mentioned in'I he Lejzcnde us Good Wonjen, v. 496, was certainly Anne of Bohemia, the tint queenoflUch.il.; she was not married to Richard till the beginning »>f 1.3S2, so that The.Legcndc cannot pofl'bly be supposed 01 an earlier date tlian that year, la TieLcgeude fjw. Ji3—33a, «r. 4x7—43PJ Chaucer lament than be surprised that it has liecn left imperfect.
§ 4. In truth, if we compare those parts of The Canterbury Tales of which we are in possession with the iketch which has been just given of the intended whole, it will be sound that more than one half is wanting. The Prolcgne we have perhaps nearly complete, and the greatest part of the journey to Canterbury, but not a word of the transactions at Canterbury, or of the journey homeward, or of the Epilogue which we may suppose was to have concluded the work, with an account of the prize-supper and the separation of the company. Even in that part which we have of the journey to Canterbury it will be necessary, in the following review, to take notice of certain defects and inconsistencies which can only be accounted for upon the supposition that the work was never finished by the Author.
§ 5. Having: thus stated the general plan of The Canterbury Tales, 1 ihali now, according to my promise, enter upon a particular review of those parts of them which are published in this edition, beginning with The Pro/ague.
It seems to have been the intention of Chaucer, in
has enunc crated, I believe, al) the considerable works which l:c had then composed. Jt was tohis purpose not to emit anv. He not only docs 11c;t mention The Canterbury Tales, but he expressly names the story of Patamun and Arcite, and the Life of Saint Cenh'a. both which now make part of them, as separate compositions. I am persuaded therefore that in 1 ^82 the work, of The Canterbury Tales was not begun ; and if we look further, and consider the troubles in which Chaucer was involved fbr the five or six fallowing years by fJ? connections with John of Northampton, we can h.Vrd'y suppose that ft was much advanced before 13^'y, rite fixty-tirll year uf> the Author's age.