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same time acknowledge, that I could have done nothing without him. Facile est inventis addere is no great commendation; and I am not so vain to think I have deserved a greater. I will conclude what I have to say of him singly, with this one remark: A lady of my acquaintance, who keeps a kind of correspondence with some authors of the fair sex in France, has been informed by them, that Mademoiselle de Scuderi, who is as old as Sibyl, and inspired like her by the same god of poetry, is at this time translating Chaucer into modern French.* From which I gather, that he has been formerly translated into the old Provençal; for how she should come to understand old English, I know not. But the matter of fact being true, it makes me think that there is something in it like fatality; that, after certain periods of time, the fame and memory of great wits should be renewed, as Chaucer is both in France and England. If this be wholly chance, it is extraordinary; and I dare not call it more, for fear of being taxed with superstition.
Boccace comes last to be considered, who, living in the same age with Chaucer, had the same genius, and followed the same studies. Both writ novels, and each of them cultivated his mother tongue. But the greatest resemblance of our two modern authors being in their familiar style, and pleasing way of relating comical adventures, I may pass it
* This lady lived to the age of ninety-four. Her huge romances, "Artamenes, Clelia, and Cleopatra," were in my childhood still read in some old-fashioned Scottish families, though now absolutely forgotten, and in no chance of being revived. Mademoiselle de Scuderi died about eighteen months after this discourse was written. There is no reason to think she was seriously en gaged in translating Chaucer, whose works certainly never existed in the old Provençal or Norman-French, into which last they were more likely to have been translated.
over, because I have translated nothing from Boccace of that nature. In the serious part of poetry, the advantage is wholly on Chaucer's side; for though the Englishman has borrowed many tales from the Italian, yet it appears, that those of Boccace were not generally of his own making, but taken from authors of former ages, and by him only modelled; so that what there was of invention, in either of them, may be judged equal. But Chaucer has refined on Boccace, and has mended the stories, which he has borrowed, in his way of telling; though prose allows more liberty of thought, and the expression is more easy when unconfined by numbers. Our countryman carries weight, and yet wins the race at disadvantage. I desire not the reader should take my word; and, therefore, I will set two of their discourses, on the same subject, in the same light, for every man to judge betwixt them. I translated Chaucer first, and, amongst the rest, pitched on the "Wife of Bath's Tale" not daring, as I have said, to adventure on her prologue, because it is too licentious.* There Chaucer introduces an old woman, of mean parentage, whom a youthful knight, of noble blood, was forced to marry, and consequently loathed her. The crone, being in bed with him, on the wedding-night, and finding his aversion, endeavours to win his affection by reason, and speaks a good word for herself, (as who could blame her?) in hope to mollify the sullen bridegroom. She takes her topics from the benefits of poverty, the advantages of old age and ugliness, the vanity of youth, and the silly pride of ancestry and titles, without inherent virtue, which
* Pope, however, modernized this prologue, and, it is said, some of Chaucer's looser tales, though the latter were published under the name of Betterton. Malone, vol. iv. p. 631.
is the true nobility. When I had closed Chaucer, I returned to Ovid, and translated some more of his fables; and, by this time, had so far forgotten the "Wife of Bath's Tale," that, when I took up Boccace, unawares I fell on the same argument, of preferring virtue to nobility of blood and titles, in the story of Sigismunda; which I had certainly avoided, for the resemblance of the two discourses, if my memory had not failed me. Let the reader weigh them both; and, if he thinks me partial to Chaucer, it is in him to right Boccace.
I prefer, in our countryman, far above all his other stories, the noble poem of "Palamon and Arcite," which is of the epic kind, and perhaps not much inferior to the Ilias, or the Æneis. The story is more pleasing than either of them, the manners as perfect, the diction as poetical, the learning as deep and various, and the disposition full as artful, only it includes a greater length of time, as taking up seven years at least: but Aristotle has left undecided the duration of the action, which yet is easily reduced into the compass of a year, by a narration of what preceded the return of Palamon to Athens. I had thought, for the honour of our nation, and more particularly for his, whose laurel, though unworthy, I have worn after him, that this story was of English growth, and Chaucer's own: but I was undeceived by Boccace; for, casually looking on the end of his seventh Giornata, I found Dioneo (under which name he shadows himself,) and Fiametta, (who represents his mistress, the natural daughter of Robert, King of Naples,) of whom these words are spoken :-" Dioneo e Fiametta gran pezza Eantarono insieme d'Arcita, e di Palemone;" by which it appears, that this story was written before the time of Boccace; but the name of its author being wholly lost, Chaucer is now be
come an original; and I question not but the poem has received many beauties, by passing through his noble hands. Besides this tale, there is another of his own invention, after the manner of the Provençals, called "The Flower and the Leaf," with which I was so particularly pleased, both for the invention and the moral, that I cannot hinder myself from recommending it to the reader.
As a corollary to this preface, in which I have done justice to others, I owe somewhat to myself; not that I think it worth my time to enter the lists with one Milbourne, and one Blackmore, but barely to take notice, that such men there are, who have written scurrilously against me, without any provocation. Milbourne, who is in orders, pretends, amongst the rest, this quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul on priesthood; if I have, I am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am afraid his part of the reparation will come to little. Let him be satisfied, that he shall not be able to force himself upon me for an adversary. I contemn him too much to enter into competition with him. His own translations of Virgil have answered his criticisms on mine. If, as they say, he has declared in print, he prefers the version of Ogilby to mine, the world has made him the same compliment; for it is agreed, on all hands, that he writes even below
* The allusion, in Boccace, was probably to his own poem, the "Theseida," a work so scarce, as almost never to have been heard of, until it was described by Tyrwhitt, in his Essay concerning the Originals whence Chaucer drew his tales. It contains the whole story of Palamon and Arcite. But the tale itself was more ancient than the days of Boccace.
There seems to have been something questionable in Milbourne's character. Dryden, a little lower down, hints, that he lost his living, for writing a libel upon his parishioners.
Ogilby. That, you will say, is not easily to be done; but what cannot Milbourne bring about? I am satisfied, however, that, while he and I live together, I shall not be thought the worst poet of the age. It looks, as if I had desired him, underhand, to write so ill against me; but, upon my honest word, I have not bribed him to do me this service, and am wholly guiltless of his pamphlet. It is true, I should be glad if I could persuade him to continue his good offices, and write such another critique on any thing of mine; for I find, by experience, he has a great stroke with the reader, when he condemns any of my poems, to make the world have a better opinion of them. He has taken some pains with my poetry; but nobody will be persuaded to take the same with his. If I had taken to the church, as he affirms, but which was never in my thoughts, I should have had more sense, if not more grace, than to have turned myself out of my benefice, by writing libels on my parishioners. But his account of my manners, and my principles, is of a piece with his cavils and his poetry; and so I have done with him for ever.
As for the City Bard, or Knight Physician, I hear his quarrel to me is, that I was the author of Absalom and Achitophel," which, he thinks, is a little hard on his fanatic patrons in London.
But I will deal the more civilly with his two poems, because nothing ill is to be spoken of the dead; and, therefore, peace be to the manes of his "Arthurs."* I will only say, that it was not for this
* "Prince Arthur," and "King Arthur," two works, facetiously entitled epic poems, published in 1695 and 1697. In the preface to the first, occurred the following severe attack upon Dryden,