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HE Wife of Bath is the other piece of Chaucer which Pope felected to imitate. One cannot but wonder at his choice, which perhaps nothing but his youth could excufe. Dryden, who is known not to be nicely fcrupulous, informs us, that he would not verify it on account of its indecency. Pope, however, has omitted or foftened the groffer and more offenfive paffages. Chaucer afforded him many subjects of a more fublime and ferious fpecies; and it were to be wifhed Pope had exercised his pencil on the pathetic story of the patience of Grifilda, or Troilus and Creffida, or the Complaint of the Black Knight; or, above all, on Cambufcan and Canace. From the accidental circumftance of Dryden and Pope's having copied the gay and ludicrous parts of Chaucer, the common notion feems to have arifen, that Chaucer's vein of poetry was chiefly turned to the light and the ridiculous. But they who look into Chaucer will foon be convinced of this prevailing prejudice, and will find his comic vein, like that of Shakespear, to be only like one of mercury, imperceptibly mingled with a mine of gold.
Mr. Hughes withdrew his contributions to a volume of Mifcellaneous Poems, published by Steel, because this prologue was to be inferted in it.
"The want of a few lines," fays Mr. Tyrwhitt, "to introduce The Wife of Bath's Prologue, is perhaps one of thofe defects which Chaucer would have fupplied, if he had lived to finish his work. The extraordinary length of it, as well as the vein of pleasantry that runs through it, is very suitable to the character of the speaker. The greateft part must have been of Chaucer's own invention, though one may plainly see that he had been reading the popular invectives against marriage and women in general; fuch as the Roman de la Rose, Valerius ad Rufinum de non ducendâ uxore, and particularly Hyeronymus contra Jovinianum. The holy Father, by way of recommending .celibacy, has exerted all his learning and eloquence (and he certainly was not deficient in either) to collect together and aggravate whatever he
could find to the prejudice of the female fex. Among other things he has inferted his own tranflation (probably) of a long extract from what he calls, Liber aureolus Theophrafti de nuptiis. Next to him in order of time was the treatife, entitled, Epiftola Valerii ad Rufinum de non ducendâ uxore, ns. Reg. 12. D. iii. It has been printed (for the fimilarity of its fentiments I fuppofe) among the works of St. Jerome, though it is evidently of a much later date. Tanner (from Wood's MSS. Collection) attributes it to Walter Map. (Bib. Erit. v. Map.) I fhould not believe it to be older; as John of Salisbury, who has treated of the fame subje& in his Polycrat. 1. viii. c. xi., does not appear to have seen it. To thefe two books Jean de Meun has been obliged for fome of the fevereft ftrokes in his Roman de la Rofe; and Chaucer has tranffufed the quinteffence of all the three works (upon the fubject of matrimony) into his Wife of Bath's Prologue and Merchant's Tale." WARTON.
THE WIFE OF BATH.
I have a curious book, entitled, A Commentary upon the Two Tales of our ancient, renowned, and ever-living Poet, Sir JEFFREY CHAUCER, Knight;
who, for his rich fancy, pregnant invention, and prefent compo. fure, deferved the countenance of a Prince, and of his laureat
THE MILLER'S TALE;
THE WIFE OF BATH.
Priated by William Godbid, and to be fold by Peter Dring at the Sun, in the Poultry, near the Rofe tavern. 1665.
The Author in the Dedication figns himself R. B.; and in the advertisement fays,
"This comment was an affay whereto the author was importuned by perfons of quality, to compleat with brief, pithy, and proper illußrations, fuitable to the fubject!"
It appears from it, that the character of Chaucer was not well understood by the age in which this book was written; as it appears the Comment was undertaken to point out the humourous and truly comic talent of our ancient bard, which was not at the time appreciated. A fhort fpecimen will fuffice:
In all these trials I have borne a part,
I was myself the fcourge that caus'd the fmart;
"Of five hufbands fcolynge am I
"The thought is taken: all flefh is mortal; but of all flefh fhe "would have none more mortal than her husband's. She would ever "have her aged husband's look like Death's head; meantime her "fage admonitions are never wanting to bid him remember his end. "Life is a trouble, but of all others fhe is most troubled with his "life. Thus dictates fhe of her husband's pilgrimage; which by "how much the fhorter, it is for her all the better," &c.
However trifling fuch things may appear, I mention them, to fhew the light in which Chaucer's character was held at the time and I fhall add a few words from the Appendix, to fhew the Author's good fenfe.
"Appendix to Comments.
"After fuch time as the AUTOR, upon the inftancy of fundry "perfons of quality, had finifhed his Comments upon these Two "TALES, the perufal of them begot that influence over the "clear and weighty judgements of the ftricteft and rigideft Cen"fors; as their high approvement of them induced their impor"tunity to the AUTHOR to go on with the reft, as he had fue"cefsfully done with thefe two fift: ingenioufly protefting, "that they had not read any fubje& difcourfing by way of IL"LUSTRATION, and running DESCANT, on fuch light, but "HARMLESS fancies, more handfomely couched, or modeftly "fhadowed. All which, though urgently preffed, could make no
impreffion on the AUTHOR, for his definite anfwer was this, "That his age, without any other appellant, might render his apo
logy; and privilege him from COMMENTING ON CONCEPTIONS, "being never fo pregnant, being interveined with levity; faying,
"Of fuch light toys hee'd ta'n a long adieu."