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How the first female (as the Scriptures fhow)
Wrap'd in th' envenom'd fhirt, and fet on fire.
And the dire ambush Clytemneftra laid.
But what most pleas'd him was the Cretan dame, 385
On which three wives fucceffively had twin'd
Give me fome flip of this most blissful treė,
And in my garden planted fhall it be.
Then how two wives their lords' deftruction prove, Through hatred one, and one through too much love; That for her husband mix'd a pois'nous draught, And this for luft an am'rous philtre bought: The nimble juice foon feiz'd his giddy head, Frantic at night, and in the morning dead.
How fome with fwords their fleeping lords have
And some have hammer'd nails into their brain,
But when no end of these vile tales I found,
I condefcended to be pleas'd at last.
Do what you lift, the term of all
I took to heart the merits of the cause,
And stood content to rule by wholefome laws; 430
With all the government of house and land,
As for the volume that revil'd the dames,
434 "Twas torn to fragments, and condemn'd to flames. Now Heav'n, on all my hufbands gone, bestow Pleasures above, for tortures felt below: That reft they wish'd for, grant them in the grave, And bless those fouls my conduct help'd to fave!
THE lines of Pope, in the piece before us, are fpirited and cafy, and have, properly enough, a free colloquial air. One passage I cannot forbear quoting, as it acquaints us with the writers who were popular in the time of Chaucer. The jocofe old woman fays, that her husband frequently read to her out of a volume that contained
"Valerius, whole; and of Saint Jerome, part;
Solomon's Proverbs, Eloïfa's loves;
With many more than fure the Church approves."
Pope has omitted a ftroke of humour; for, in the original, fhe naturally mistakes the rank and age of St. Jerome; the lines muft be tranfcribed,
Yclepid Valerie and Theophraft,
At which boke he lough alway full faft;
And eke there was a clerk fometime in Rome,
A cardinal, that hightin St. Jerome,
In the library which Charles V. founded in France, about the year 1376, among many books of devotion, aftrology, chemistry, and romance, there was not one copy of Tully to be found, and no Latin poet but Ovid, Lucan, and Boethius; fome French translations of Livy, Valerius Maximus, and St. Auftin's City of God. He placed thefe in one of the towers, called The Tower of the Library. This was the foundation of the prefent magnificent royal library at Paris.
The tale, to which this is the prologue, has been verfified by Dryden, and is fuppofed to have been of Chaucer's own inven.
tion; as is the exquifite Vifion of the Flower and the Leaf, which has received a thousand new graces from the spirited and harmonious Dryden. It is to his Fables, (next to his Mufic Ode,) written when he was above seventy years old, that Dryden will chiefly owe his immortality; and among these, particularly to the well-conducted tale of Palamon and Arcite, the pathetic picture of Sigifmunda, the wild and terrible graces of Theodore and Honoria, and the sportive pleasantry of Cymon and Iphigenia.
These pieces of Chaucer were not the only ones that were ver fified by Pope. Mr. Harte affured me, that he was convinced by some circumftances which Fenton his friend communicated to him, that Pope wrote the characters that make the introduction to the Canterbury Tales, published under the name of Betterton.
Dr. Warton thinks "one cannot but wonder at Pope's choice from Chaucer of these ftories, when fo many more are to be found in him more poetical." His observation on Chaucer's poems is very juft, but the fact is, Pope, by this very felection, fhewed the bent of his mind-that it was rather turned to fatire and ridicule, than to the more elevated ftrains of poetry.