|Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916.|
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
|By Thomas Warton (17281790)|
From the History of English Poetry
IT is pleasant to observe the strange mistakes which Gower, a man of great learning, and the most general scholar of his age, has committed in this poem, concerning books which he never saw, his violent anachronisms, and misrepresentations of the most common facts and characters. He mentions the Greek poet Menander, as one of the first historians, or first enditours of the olde cronike, together with Esdras, Solinus, Josephus, Claudius Sulpicius, Termegis, Pandulfe, Frigidilles, Ephiloquorus, and Pandas. It is extraordinary that Moses should not be here mentioned, in preference to Esdras. Solinus is ranked so high because he records nothing but wonders; and Josephus, on account of his subject, had long been placed almost on a level with the Bible. He is seated on the first pillar in Chaucers House of Fame. His Jewish History, translated into Latin by Rufinus in the fourth century, had given rise to many old poems and romances; and his Maccabaics, or history of the seven Maccabees martyred with their father Eleazar under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, a separate work, translated also by Rufinus, produced the Judas Maccabee of Belleperche in the year 1240, and at length enrolled the Maccabees among the most illustrious heroes of romance. On this account too, perhaps, Esdras is here so respectably remembered. I suppose Sulpicius is Sulpicius Severus, a petty annalist of the fifth century. Termegis is probably Trismegistus, the mystic philosopher, certainly not an historian, at least not an antient one. Pandulfe seems to be Pandulph of Pisa, who wrote lives of the Popes, and died in the year 1198. Frigidilles is perhaps Fregedaire, a Burgundian who flourished about the year 641, and wrote a chronicon from Adam to his own times; often printed, and containing the best account of the Franks after Gregory of Tours. Our author, who has partly suffered from ignorant transcribers and printers, by Ephiloquorus undoubtedly intended Eutropius. In the next paragraph, indeed, he mentions Herodotus; yet not as an early historian, but as the first writer of a system of the metrical art, of metre of ryme and of cadence. We smile, when Hector in Shakespeare quotes Aristotle; but Gower gravely informs his reader, that Ulysses was a clerke, accomplished with a knowledge of all the sciences, a great rhetorician and magician: that he learned rhetoric of Tully, magic of Zoroaster, astronomy of Ptolemy, philosophy of Plato, divination of the prophet Daniel, proverbial instruction of Solomon, botany of Macer, and medicine of Hippocrates. And in the seventh book Aristotle, or the philosophre, is introduced reciting to his scholar Alexander the Great a disputation between a Jew and a pagan, who meet between Cairo and Babylon, concerning their respective religions: the end of the story is to show the cunning, cruelty, and ingratitude of the Jew, which are at last deservedly punished. But I believe Gowers apology must be, that he took this narrative from some Christian legend, which was feigned, for a religious purpose, at the expense of all probability and propriety.