1773
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Preface to Orlando Furioso.

Orlando Furioso: translated from the Italian of Lodovico Ariosto. By John Hoole; with explanatory Notes. Vol. I.

John Hoole


In a long preface John Hoole discusses chivalric romance and makes several brief comparisons of Spenser and Ariosto, concluding that constant allegory weakens "the pathetic effect of the narrative: for what sympathy can we experience, as men, for the misfortunes of an imaginary being, whom we are perpetually reminded to be only the type of some moral, or religious virtue?" The opposing attitudes of John Hoole and Spenser's editor John Hughes on the subject of allegory are indicative of a major shift in critical judgment between 1715 and 1783, and probably indicate the extent to which novelistic norms of probability were entering into criticism generally.

Hoole also rejects the use of stanzas for his translation, preferring the couplets John Dryden's used in his Fables (1700). But Hoole also quotes at length from Joseph Warton's Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, and defends Ariosto for arousing "the enthusiastic spirit" which is "regarded as the glorious criterion of true poetry."

John Langhorne: "The Translator's comparative observations with respect to the Fairy Queen, are, in our opinion, very just" Monthly Review 48 (May 1773) 338.

James Beattie was among Hoole's early readers: "It fills five large octavo volumes; the type very good and comfortable; the prints only so so. I know not how you will relish it; but I own it is rather too extravagant for me. Spenser is not less extravagant; but the harmony of his numbers, and the beauty and variety of his descriptions and of his language, intoxicate me into an utter forgetfulness of all the faults of his fable. Hoole is a smooth versifier; but he is rather a feeble one. His harmony is without variety; for he knows not how to adapt it to the subject; or rather his ear is not delicate in perceiving the effects that words may produce by their sound, as well as by their signification" to the Duchess of Gordon, 29 January 1784; in Forbes, Life of Beattie (1806) 2:129-30.

J. W. Croker: "John Hoole, who from this time [1774] will be found much in Johnson's society, was the son of a watchmaker, born in Dec. 1727. He was a clerk in the India House, but devoted his leisure to literature. He published translations of Tasso's Jerusalem and Ariosto's Orlando. He died in 1803" Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831) 3:165n.

Robert Southey: "I read the Jerusalem Delivered and the Orlando Furioso again and again, in Hoole's translations; it was for the sake of their stories that I perused and re-perused these poems with ever new delight; and by bringing them thus within my reach in boyhood, the translator rendered me a service which, when I look back upon my intellectual life, I cannot estimate too highly. I owe him much also for his notes, not only for the information concerning other Italian romances which they imparted, but also for introducing me to Spenser" preface to Poetical Works (1837) 1:viii.

Leigh Hunt: "Hoole's translation of Ariosto — a miserable business, like all the other translations of this rival of Fairfax" Journal Entry, 17 March 1813; in Correspondence (1862) 1:80.

W. Davenport Adams: "John Hoole (b. 1727, d. 1803), published translations of Tasso's Gierusalem Liberata (1763); Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1773-83); Tasso's Rinaldo; and Metastasio's Dramas and other Poems; also several tragedies (1768-75); a Life of Scott of Amwell (1785); and Memorials of Dr. Johnson (1799)" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 289.

George Birkbeck Hill: "John Hoole, the son of a London watchmaker, was born in Dec. 1727, and died on Aug. 2, 1803. At the age of seventeen he was placed as a clerk in the East-India House; but, like his successors, James and John Stuart Mill, he was an author as well as a clerk" in Johnson, Lives of the Poets, ed. G. B. Hill (1905) 2:330n.

H. T. Swedenberg: "The historical method is approaching full bloom in Hoole" Theory of the Epic in England (1944) 121.




The fabulous histories of wandering knights, distressed damsels, giants, enchanted castles, and the whole train of legendary adventures, that, for a long time, were the delight of our ancestors, are now universally exploded: the inimitable satire of Cervantes has contributed not a little to bring them into disrepute; but however justly he may have ridiculed their many absurdities, yet, perhaps, we have too rashly adopted the contempt, which almost every one now professes for writings, from which, it is certain that the greatest poets have derived many fine images, to which we are, probably, in a great measure, indebted for the FAIRY QUEEN of our admired Spenser, and which have been the foundation of the ORLANDO FURIOSO, that has procured to its author the appelation of DIVINE.

The Italians have among them many works of a similar nature with this poem, being accustomed to translate, or compose romances in the octave stanza. Among others, Bernardo Tasso, the father of the great Torquato, published a free translation of the Amadis de Gaul, divided into one hundred cantos: but the much greater part of these performances are not to be considered as rising to any degree of competition with Ariosto, being little else than wild stories of chivalry, with scarce any tincture of poetical imagery and expression; or heavy dull narratives of fiction without imagination, and of events without interest.

Most of thes poems, or rather rhyming romances, are drawn from the currant romances of the times; such as the history of King Arthur, and his round table, and the account of Merlin and his prophecies: but the chief of them are built on the romantic history of Charlemain, and the twelve peers of France, called Paladins; which was a title of honour given by Charlemain, to that number of valiant men belonging to his court, who employed their arms in defence of the faith. The principal of these was Orlando, the great hero of chivalry, whose fabulous atchievements filled all the books and provincial songs of that age. It is recorded, that when William the Conqueror marched with his Normans to engage Harold, at the memorable battle of Hastings, his soldiers animated each other by singing the popular ballad of the exploits of Roland, or Orlando. . . .

The only poem we have in English of the Gothic romance kind, is the FAIRY QUEEN of Spenser; a poet, whose story and style bear the nearest resemblance to Ariosto: the greatest difference of these two poets is, that the adventures of the English poet are supported by shadowy characters, that set forth one continued allegory; whereas the Italian author gives a narrative of incidents, in which an allegory is only occasionally introduced. Hughes, in the preface to his edition of Spenser's works, prefers the Fairy Queen on this account, alleging, that "though his fable is often wild, yet it is always emblematical." But, perhaps, upon appealing to the sensations of the reader, Ariosto may even, for this very reason, be found to have the preference; as it will admit of some doubt, whether the constant allegory does not considerably weaken the pathetic effect of the narrative: for what sympathy can we experience, as men, for the misfortunes of an imaginary being, whom we are perpetually reminded to be only the type of some moral, or religious virtue?

With regard to the fables contained in the Italian poets and the old romance writers, the same critic before cited has the following observations, containing an opinion which had been started before by Gravina.

"The writers of the old romances, from whom Arisoto and Spenser have borrowed so largely, are supposed to have had copious imaginations; but may they not be indebted for their invulnerable heroes, their monsters, their enchantments, their gardens of pleasure, their winged steeds, and the like, to the Echidna, to the Circe, to the Medea, to the Achilles, to the Syrens, to the Harpies, to the Phryxus, to the Bellerophon of the ancients? The cave of Polypheme might furnish out the ideas of their giants, and Andromeda might give occasion for stories of distressed damsels on the point of being devoured by dragons, and delivered at such a critical season by their favourite knights. Some faint traditions of the ancients might have been kept glimmering and alive through the whole barbarous ages, as they are called; and it is not impossible but these have been the parents of the Genii in the eastern, and the Fairies in the western world. To say that Amadis and Sir Tristan have a classical foundation, may at first sight appear paradoxical; but if the subject were examined to the bottom, I am inclined to think that the wildest chimeras in these books of chivalry, with which Don Quixote's library was furnished, would be found to have a close connexion with ancient mythology."

But although Arisoto's poem is acknowledged to be defective in plan and regularity, yet every particular beauty of the highest species of poetry is to be found in the several parts of it, in which respect Boyardo is greatly deficient, who seldom attains more than to amuse the imagination by the pleasing variety of his fictions. But I must not here omit to take notice of one noble passage in the Innamorato, where the encounter of Orlando and Agrican is compared to the meeting of two thunder clouds. Our great Milton has the same simile in the second book of the Paradise Lost, when Satan and Death prepare to engage. The Orlando Furioso may be considered as an Epic, formed on the manners of chivalry. Where the subject of Ariosto rises, Tasso does not appear with greater dignity.

All the battles and combats in Ariosto are excellent: in the last he is greatly superior to Tasso, and indeed to most other poets; for in this respect there appears some defect even in the poems of Homer and Virgil, in which there are few good descriptions of this kind. Our own countryman, Spenser, has succeeded best in these passages, for which perhaps he is not a little indebted to the Italian. . . .

The reader will observe that Ariosto generally breaks off his stories abruptly, after the manner of Boyardo, and other romance writers, in which practice he has been followed by Spenser. Some Italian writers have applauded this method as tending to excite and keep up the attention, and prevent satiety, by a continual variation of the subject. . . .

If novely be any recommendation of the work now offered to the Public, an English Ariosto may have that to plead, notwithstanding any translation that has yet appeared. We have indeed two versions of the Orlando Furioso, the first of which, by Sir John Harrington, before mentioned, published in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and dedicated to that princess, is little known; the copies are become very scarce, and the genius of the performance, whatever merit it might claim at the time of the publication, affords now little encouragement to multiply them by a new impression. The last translation, sent into the world, was professedly given by its author as a literal version, the very idea of which, will necessarily exclude the thought of its being generally read as an English book, of which every one will judge, who is acquainted with the different idioms of the two languages.

Although this poem, like all the Italian writings of the kind, is written in the octave stanza, the present translation will be found, in that respect, to differ from the two first, which are rendered in the same form of versification as the Italian. I am aware that it has been, and is still the opinion of some, whose judgment claims no little deference, that the English couplet is improper for a work of this nature, and that the stanza is the only manner suitable to romance: to which it may be answered that the Italians, who made use of this first, applied it, and still continue to apply it, to the highest kind of poetry; it is therefore to be considered as their heroic style: It was not only used by Pulci, Boyardo, and Ariosto, in their compositions of the Gothic fiction, but is employed by Tasso in his truly Epic poem of the Jerusalem; and by many of the Italian writers in their translations of the Greek and Roman poets, which, I believe, few other modern translators would think of rendering in the the stanza. The genius of our heroic verse admits of a great variety; and we have examples of very different species of writing, in the works of Dryden, and Pope, from the sublime style of Homer and Virgil, to the familiar narratives of Boccace and Chaucer.

But of all the various styles used by our best poets, none seems so well adapted to the mixed and familiar narrative as that of Dryden in his last productions, known by the name of his Fables, which, by their harmony, spirit, ease, and variety of versification, exhibit an admirable model for a translator of Ariosto.

In referring to the various commentators, I have been cautious how far I adopted their allegorical interpretations, as the temper of that class of writers frequently leads them to trace out a meaning, which the poet himself was a stranger to. That allegory, which requires explanation, is certainly defective; and it is notorious, that an inventive genius can convert the plainest narrative into mystery, as Tasso has done by his Jerusalem, to which he has prefixed an allegory, that renders the whole poem as completely visionary as the Fairy Queen of Spenser.

Should the English reader become more acquainted with this celebrated Italian, he will find the Orlando no bad elucidation of the Don Quixote of Cervantes, as a great part of the customs, at least of the general genius of chivalry, may be learnt from it, without the drudgery of travelling through the old romances.

Though it is not recommended that any one should imitate the extravagances of the Italian writers, yet while the enthusiastic spirit, that hurries away the reader, continues to be regarded as the glorious criterion of true poetry, every follower of the Muses will find ample subject for admiration in the perusal of the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto, an author, whom, with all his faults, Dryden acknowledges to have been a GREAT POET; an author, lately included in the highest praise of creative genius by one of our first critics, who thus describes the general effect from which the power of every poet ought to be estimated. "Works of imagination excel by their allurement and delight; by their power of attracting and detaining the attention. That book is good in vain which the reader throws away. He only is the master who keeps the mind in pleasing captivity; whose pages are perused with eagerness, and in hope of new pleasure are perused again; and whose conclusion is perceived with an eye of sorrow, such as the traveller casts upon departing day."


[(1783) 1:i-iii, xxx-xxxiii, xlvii. l-liv]