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The incidents in this, and the other ballad of St. GEORGE AND THE DRAGON, are chiefly taken from the old story-book of the Seven Champions of Christendome; which, though now the plaything of children, was once in high repute. Bp. Hall, in his Satires, published in 1597, ranks
“ St. George's sorell, and his cross of blood," among the most popular stories of his time : and an in
genious genious crític thinks that Spencer himself did not dis. dain to borrow hints from it*; though I much doubt whether this popular romance were written so early as the Faery Queen.
The author of this book of the Seven Champions was one Richard Johnson, who lived in the reigns of Elizabeth and James, as we collect from his other publications ; viz.-" The nine worthies of London : 1592," 4to.--" The pleasant walks of Moor fields : 1607,” 4to. -"A crown garland of Goulden Roses, gathered, &c. 1612," 8vo.-" The life and death of Rob. Cecill, E. of Salisbury, 1612,” 4to.—"The Hist. of Tom of Lincoln," 4to. is also by R. J. who likewise reprinted
« Don Flores of Greece," 4to.
The Seven Champions, though written in a wild inflated style, contains some strong Gothic painting ; which seems, for the most part, copied from the metrical romances of former ages. At least the story of St. George and the fair Sabra is taken almost verbatim from the old poetical legend of “Syr Bevis of Hampton.”
This very antique pocm was in great fame in Chaucer's time (see above pag. 144.], and so continued till the introduction of printing, when it ran through several editions ; two of which are in black letter, 4to. “ imprinted by Wyllyam Copland," without date; containing great variations.
As a specimen of the poetic powers of this very old rhimist, and as a proof how closely the author of the Seven Champions has followed him, take a description of the dragon slain by sir Bevis.
Whan the dragon, that foule is,
* Mr. Warton. Vid. Observations on the Fairy Queen, 2 vol: 1762, 19mo. passim,
“ He turned his bely' towarde the son ;
“And two rybbes of Bevis brused than. After a long fight, at length, as the dragon was preparing to fly, sir Bevis
“ Hit him under the wynge,
Through harte, lyver, bone, and bloude:
Sign. K. iv.
Sir Bevis's dragon is evidently the parent of that in the Seven Champions, see Chap. III. viz. “ The dragon
no sooner had a sight of him [St. George) but he
gave such a terrible peal, as though it had thundered « in the elements..... Betwixt his shoulders and his tail “ were fifty feet in distance, his scales glistering as So bright as silver, but far more hard than brass ; his
“ belly of the colour of gold, but bigger than a tun. “ Thus weltered he from his den, &c. ... The champion “...gave the dragon such a thrust with his spear, that “ it shivered in a thousand pieces : whereat the furious
dragon so fiercely smote him with his venomous tail, « that down fell man and horse : in which fall two of “ St. George's ribs were so bruised, &c. -At length.. “.. St. George smote the dragon under the wing where " it was tender without scale, whereby his good sword “ Ascalon with an easie passage went to the very hilt “ through both the dragon's heart, liver, bone, and “ blood. --Then St. George cut off the dragon's head, “ and pitcht it upon the truncheon of a spear, &c.”
The History of the Seven Champions, being written just before the decline of books of chivalry, was never, I believe, translated into any foreign language: but « Le Roman de Beuves of Hantonne” was published at Paris in 1502, 4to. Let. Gothique.
The learned Selden tells us, that about the time of the Norman invasion was Bevis famous with the title of Earl of Southampton, whose residence was at Duncton in Wiltshire; but he observes, that the monkish enlargements of his story have made his very existence doubted. See Notes on Poly-Olbion, Song III.
This hath also been the case of St. George himself ; whose martial history is allowed to be apocryphal. But, to prove that there really existed an orthodox Saint of this name (although little or nothing, it seems, is known of his genuine story) is the subject of “ An Historical " and Critical Inquiry into the Existence and Character " of Saint George, &c. By the Rev. J. Milner, F.S.A. « 1792, 8vo."
The Equestrian Figure worn by the Knights of the Garter, has been understood to be an emblem of the Christian warrior, in his spiritual armour, vanquishing the old ent.
But on this subject the inquisitive reader may consult " A Dissertation on the Original of the Equestrian
“ Figure of the George and of the Garter, ensigns of “ the most noble order of that name. Illustrated with
copper-plates. By John Pettingal, A. M. Fellow of “ the Society of Antiquaries, London, 1753,” 4to. This learned and curious work the author of the Historical and Critical Inquiry would have done well to have
It cannot be denied, but that the following ballad is for the most part modern: for which reason it would have been thrown to the end of the volume, had not its subject procured it a place here,
Listen, lords, in bower and hall,
I sing the wonderous birth
Rid monsters from the earth:
Distressed ladies to relieve
He travell’d many a day ;
Which shall endure for aye.
In Coventry sometime did dwell
A knight of worthy fame,
Lord Albert was his name.
He had to wife a princely dame,
Whose beauty did excell.
In sudden sadness fell: