Sivut kuvina

learned, or (as Chaucer calls them) lewd, and some are learned. Even the ribaldry of the low characters is different: the Reeve, the Miller, and the Cook, are several men, and distinguished from each other, as much as the mincing lady prioress, and the broadspeaking gap-toothed wite of Bath. But enough of this: there is such a variety of game springing up before me, that I am distracted in my choice, and know not which to follow. 'Tis fufficient to say, according to the proverb, that here is God's plenty. We have our fore-fathers and great grand-dames all before us, as they were in Chaucer's days; their

general characters are still remaining in mankind, and even in England, tho' they are called by other names than those of Monks and Friars, and Chanons, and lady Abbesses, and Nuns: for mankind is ever the fame, and nothing lost out of nature, tho' every thing is altered. May I have leave to do myself the justice, (since my enemies will do me none, and are so far from granting me to be a good poet, that they will not allow me so much as to be a Christian, or a moral man) may I have leave, I say, to inform my reader, that I have confined my choice to fuch tales of Chaucer as favour nothing of immodesty. If I had desired more to please than to instruct, the Reeve, the Miller, the Shipman, the Merchants, the Sumner, and, above all, the Wife of Bath, in the prologue to her tale, would have procured me as many friends and readers, as there are beaux and ladies of pleasure in the town. But I will no more offend against good manners: I am sensible, as I ought to be, of the scandal I have given by my loose writings; and make what reparation I am able, by this public acknowledgment. If any thing of this nature, or of profaneness, be crept into these poems, I am so far from defending it, that


I disown it. Totum hoc indictum volo. Chaucer makes another manner of apology for his broad-speaking, and Boccace makes the like; but I will follow neither of them. Our countryman, in the end of his characters, before the Canterbury tales, thus excuses the ribaldry, which is very gross in many of his novels.

But first, I pray you of your courtesy,
That ye ne arrettee it nought my villany,
Though that I plainly speak in this mattere
To tellen you her words, and eke her chere:
Ne though I speak her words properly,
For this ye knowen as well as I,
Who shall tellen a tale after a man,
He mote rehearse as nye, as ever he can:
Everich word of it been in his charge,
All speke he, never fo rudely, ne large.
Or else he mote tellen his tale untrue,
Or feine things, or find words new :
He may not spare, altho he were his brother,
He mote as well say o word as another.
Christ spake himself full broad in holy writ,
And well I wote no villany is it,
Eke Plato faith, who so can him rede,
The words mote been cousin to the dede.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Yet if a man should have inquired of Boccace or of Chaucer, what need they had of introducing such characters, where obscene words were proper in their mouths, but


indecent to be heard; I know not what answer they could have made: for that reason, such tale shall be left untold by me. You have here a specimen of Chaucer's language, which is so obsolete, that his sense is scarce to be understood; and you have likewise more than one example of his unequal num


b 3

bers, which were mentioned before. Yet many of his verses consist of ten syllables, and the words not much behind our present English: as for example, these two lines, in the description of the carpenter's

young wife:

Wincing she was, as is a jolly colt,
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.

I have almost done with Chaucer, when I have answered some objections relating to my present work. I find some people are offended that I have turned these tales into modern English; because they think them unworthy of my pains, and look on Chaucer as a dry, old-fashioned wit, not worth reviving. I have often heard the late earl of Leicester say, that Mr. Cowley himielf was of that opinion; who having read him over at my lord's request, declared he had no taste of him. I dare not advance my opinion against the judgment of so great an author: but I think it fair, however, to leave the decision to the public: Mr. Cowley was too modest to set up for a dictator; and being shocked perhaps with his old stile, never examined into the depth of his good sense. Chaucer, I confess, is a rough diamond, and must first be polished, ere he shines, I deny not likewise, that, living in our early days of poetry, he writes not always of a piece: but sometimes mingles trivial things with thofe of greater moment. Sometiines also, though not often, he runs riot, like Ovid, and knows not when he has said enough. But there are more great

wits befides Chaucer, whose fault is their excess of conceits, and those ill forted. An author is not to write all he can, but only all he ought. Having observed this redundancy in Chaucer, (as it is an ealy matter for a man


of ordinary parts to find a fault in one of greater) I have not tied myself to a literal translation; but have often omitted what I judged unnecessary, or not of dignity enough to appear in the company of better thoughts. I have presumed farther, in some places, and added somewhat of my own where I thought my author was deficient, and had not given his thoughts their true luftre, for want of words in the beginning of our language. And to this I was the more emboldened, because (if I may be permitted to say it of myself) I found I had a foul congenial to his, and that I had been conversant in the same studies. Another poet, in another age, may take the same liberty with my writings; if at least they live long enough to deserve correction. It was also necessary sometimes to restore the sense of Chaucer, which was lost or mangled in the errors of the press: let this example suffice at present; in the story of Palamon and Arcite, where the temple of Diana is described, you find these verses, in all the editions of our author :

There saw I Dane turned into a tree,
I mean not the goddess Diane,
But Venus daughter, which that hight Dane:

Which after a little consideration I knew was to be reformed into this sense, that Daphne the daughter of Peneus was turned into a tree. I durft not make thus bold with Ovid, left some future Milbourn should arise, and say, I varied from my author, because I understood him not.

But there are other judges who think I ought not to have translated Chaucer into English, out of a quite contrary notion: they suppose there is a certain veneration due to his old language; and that it is a little b 4


less than profanation and sacrilege to alter it.' They are farther of opinion, that somewhat of his good sense will suffer in this transfusion, and much of the beauty of his thoughts will infallibly be loft, which appear with more grace in their old habit. Of this opinion was that excellent person, whom I mentioned, the late earl of Leicester, who valued Chaucer as much as Mr. Cowley despised him. My lord diffuaded me from this attempt, (for I was thinking of it some years before his death) and his authority prevailed so far with me, as to defer my undertaking while he lived, in deference to him: yet my reason was not convinced with what he urged against it. If the first end of a writer be to be understood, then as his language grows obsolete, his thoughts must grow obscure: multa renafcentur quæ nunc cecidere; cadentque, quæ nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet ufus, quem penes arbitrium eft & jus & norma loquendi. When an ancient word for its sound and significancy deserves to be revived, I have that reasonable veneration for antiquity, to restore it. All beyond this is superstition. Words are not like landmarks, so sacred as never to be removed; customs are changed, and even statutes are filently repealed, when the reason ceases for which they were enacted. As for the other part of the argument, that his thoughts will lose of their original beauty, by the innovation of words; in the first place, not only their beauty, but their being is loft, where they are no longer understood, which is the present case. I grant that something must be loft in all transfusion, that is, in all translations; but the sense will remain, which would otherwise be loft, or at least be maimed, when it is scarce intelligible; and that but to a few. How few are there who can read Chaucer, so as to underftand him perfectly? And if imperfectly, then with


« EdellinenJatka »