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Romances
by [?]

Romance has been elegantly defined as the offspring of FICTION and LOVE. Men of learning have amused themselves with tracing the epocha of romances; but the erudition is desperate which would fix on the inventor of the first romance: for what originates in nature, who shall hope to detect the shadowy outlines of its beginnings? The Theagenes and Chariclea of Heliodorus appeared in the fourth century; and this elegant prelate was the Grecian Fenelon. It has been prettily said, that posterior romances seem to be the children of the marriage of Theagenes and Chariclea. The Romance of “The Golden Ass,” by Apuleius, which contains the beautiful tale of “Cupid and Psyche,” remains unrivalled; while the “Daephne and Chloe” of Longus, in the old version of Amyot, is inexpressibly delicate, simple, and inartificial, but sometimes offends us, for nature there “plays her virgin fancies.”

Beautiful as these compositions are, when the imagination of the writer is sufficiently stored with accurate observations on human nature, in their birth, like many of the fine arts, the zealots of an ascetic religion opposed their progress. However Heliodorus may have delighted those who were not insensible to the felicities of a fine imagination, and to the enchanting elegancies of style, he raised himself, among his brother ecclesiastics, enemies, who at length so far prevailed, that, in a synod, it was declared that his performance was dangerous to young persons, and that if the author did not suppress it, he must resign his bishopric. We are told he preferred his romance to his bishopric. Even so late as in Racine’s time it was held a crime to peruse these unhallowed pages. He informs us that the first effusions of his muse were in consequence of studying that ancient romance, which, his tutor observing him to devour with the keenness of a famished man, snatched from his hands and flung it in the fire. A second copy experienced the same fate. What could Racine do? He bought a third, and took the precaution of devouring it secretly till he got it by heart: after which he offered it to the pedagogue with a smile, to burn like the others.

The decision of these ascetic bigots was founded in their opinion of the immorality of such works. They alleged that the writers paint too warmly to the imagination, address themselves too forcibly to the passions, and in general, by the freedom of their representations, hover on the borders of indecency. Let it be sufficient, however, to observe, that those who condemned the liberties which these writers take with the imagination could indulge themselves with the Anacreontic voluptuousness of the wise Solomon, when sanctioned by the authority of the church.

The marvellous power of romance over the human mind is exemplified in this curious anecdote of oriental literature.

Mahomet found they had such an influence over the imaginations of his followers, that he has expressly forbidden them in his Koran; and the reason is given in the following anecdote:–An Arabian merchant having long resided in Persia, returned to his own country while the prophet was publishing his Koran. The merchant, among his other riches, had a treasure of romances concerning the Persian heroes. These he related to his delighted countrymen, who considered them to be so excellent, that the legends of the Koran were neglected, and they plainly told the prophet that the “Persian Tales” were superior to his. Alarmed, he immediately had a visitation from the angel Gabriel, declaring them impious and pernicious, hateful to God and Mahomet. This checked their currency; and all true believers yielded up the exquisite delight of poetic fictions for the insipidity of religious ones. Yet these romances may be said to have outlived the Koran itself; for they have spread into regions which the Koran could never penetrate. Even to this day Colonel Capper, in his travels across the Desert, saw “Arabians sitting round a fire, listening to their tales with such attention and pleasure, as totally to forget the fatigue and hardship with which an instant before they were entirely overcome.” And Wood, in his journey to Palmyra:–“At night the Arabs sat in a circle drinking coffee, while one of the company diverted the rest by relating a piece of history on the subject of love or war, or with an extempore tale.”