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less profit and no pleasure. 'Tis not for the use of fome old Saxon friends, that I have taken these pains with him: let them neglect my version, because they have no need of it. I made it for their fakes who understand sense and poetry as well as they, when that poetry and sense is put into words which they understand. I will go farther, and dare to add, that what beauties I lose in some places, I give to others which had them not originally: but in this I may be partial to myself; let the reader judge, and I submit to his decision. Yet I think I have just occasion to complain of them, who, because they understand Chaucer, would deprive the greater part of their countrymen of the same advantage, and hoard him up, as misers do their grandam gold, only to look on it themselves, and hinder others from making use of it. In sum, I seriously protest, that no man ever had, or can have, a greater veneration for Chaucer, than myself. I have translated some part of his works, only that I might perpetuate his memory, or at leaft refresh it, amongst my countrymen. If I have altered him any where for the better, I must at the same time acknowledge, that I could have done nothing without him: Facile eft 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 Scudery, who is as old as Sibyl, and inspired like her by the fame 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 Provencal, (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 fomething in it like fatality; that, after certain periods of time, the fame and memory
of should be renewed, as Chaucer is both in France and England. If this be wholly chance, 'tis 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 fame 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 stile, and pleasing way of relating comical adventures, I may pass it 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 tho' the Englishman has borrow'd 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 expreffion is more easy, when unconfined by numbers. Our countryman carries weight, and yet wins the race at disadvantage. I derire not the reader should take my word : and therefore I will set two of their discourses on the fame subject, in the fame light, for every mạn to judge betwixt them. I translated Chaucer first, and, amongst the reft, 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 averfion, 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 topicks from the benefits of poverty, the advantages of old age and ugliness, the vanity of youth, and the filly pride of ancestry and titles without inherent virtue, which is the true nobility. When I had closed Chaucer, I returned to Ovid, and tranflated 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 Chauçer, 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, tho' 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 la Fiametta granpezza contarono insieme d' Arcita, e di Palamone : 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 become an original; and I question not but the poem has received many beauties by pafling through his noble hands. Befides this tale, there is another of his own invention, after the manner of the Provencals, call’d 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 Milbourn, and one Blackmore, but barely to take notice, that such men there are who have written fcurrilously against me, without any provocation. Milbourn, 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 fame compliment: for it is agreed on all hands,
that he writes even below Ogilby : that, you will say, is not easily to be done; but what cannot Milbourn 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 honeft word I have not bribed him to do me this fervice, and am wholly guiltless of his pamphlet. 'Tis true, I should be glad, if I could persuade him to continue his good offices, and write such another critick on any thing of mine : for I find by experience he has a great stroke with the reader, when he condemns
my poems, to make the world have a better opinion of them. He has taken some pains with my poetry; but no body 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, are 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 noble knight that I drew the plan of an Epic poem on king Arthur, in my preface to the translation of Juvenal. The guardian angels of kingdoms were machines too ponderous for him to manage; and therefore he rejected 4