Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
Chaucer’s House of Fame
By Thomas Warton (1728–1790)
 
From the History of English Poetry

THE HALL was filled with the writers of ancient tales and romances, whose subjects and names were too numerous to be recounted. In the meantime crowds from every nation and of every condition filled the hall, and each presented his claim to the queen. A messenger is dispatched to summon Æolus from his cave in Thrace; who is ordered to bring his two clarions called Slander and Praise, and his trumpeter Triton. The praises of each petitioner are then resounded, according to the partial or capricious appointment of Fame; and equal merits obtain very different success. There is much satire and humour in these requests and rewards, and in the disgraces and honours which are indiscriminately distributed by the queen, without discernment and by chance. The poet then enters the house or labyrinth of Rumour. It was built of sallow twigs, like a cage, and therefore admitted every sound. Its doors were also more numerous than leaves on the trees, and always stood open. These are romantic exaggerations of Ovid’s inventions on the same subject. It was moreover sixty miles in length, and perpetually turning round. From this house, says the poet, issued tidings of every kind, like fountains and rivers from the sea. Its inhabitants, who were eternally employed in hearing or telling news, together with the rise of reports, and the formation of lies, are then humorously described: the company is chiefly composed of sailors, pilgrims, and pardoners. At length our author is awakened at seeing a venerable personage of great authority: and thus the Vision abruptly concludes.
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  Pope has imitated this piece, with his usual elegance of diction and harmony of versification. But in the meantime, he has not only misrepresented the story, but marred the character of the poem. He has endeavoured to correct its extravagances by new refinements and additions of another cast; but he did not consider, that extravagances are essential to a poem of such a structure, and even constitute its beauties. An attempt to unite order and exactness of imagery with a subject formed on principles so professedly romantic and anomalous, is like giving Corinthian pillars to a Gothic palace. When I read Pope’s elegant imitation of this piece, I think I am walking among the modern monuments unsuitably placed in Westminster Abbey.  2
 
 
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