If I designed this for a poetical encomium, it were easy to enlarge on so copious a subject; but, confining myself to the severity of truth, and to what is becoming me to say, I must not only pass over many instances of your military skill, but also those of your assiduous diligence in the war, and of your personal bravery, attended with an ardent thirst of honour—a long train of generosity—profuseness of doing good—a soul unsatisfied with all it has done and an unextinguished desire of doing more. But all this is matter for your own historians; I am, as Virgil says, Spatiis exclusus iniquis.
Yet not to be wholly silent of all your charities, I must stay a little on one action, which preferred the relief of others to the consideration of yourself. When, in the battle of Landen, your heat of courage (a fault only pardonable to your youth) had transported you so far before your friends, that they were unable to follow, much less to succour you; when you were not only dangerously, but in all appearance mortally wounded; when in that desperate condition you were made prisoner and carried to Namur, at that time in possession of the French: then it was, my Lord, that you took a considerable part of what was remitted to you of your own revenues, and, as a memorable instance of your heroic charity, put it into the bands of Count Guiscard, who was governor of the place, to be distributed among your fellow-prisoners. The French commander, charmed with the greatness of your soul, accordingly consigned it to the use for which it was intended by the donor; by which means the lives of so many miserable men were saved, and a comfortable provision made for their subsistence, who had otherwise perished, had not you been the companion of their misfortune; or rather sent by Providence, like another Joseph, to keep out famine from invading those whom in humility you called your brethren. How happy was it for those poor creatures that your Grace was made their fellow-sufferer! and how glorious for you that you chose to want rather than not relieve the wants of others! The heathen poet, in commending the charity of Dido to the Trojans, spoke like a Christian: Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco. All men, even those of a different interest, and contrary principles, must praise this action as the most eminent for piety, not only in this degenerate age, but almost in any of the former; when men were made de meliore luto; when examples of charity were frequent, and when there were in being, Teucri pulcherrima proles, magnanimi heroes nati melioribus annis. No envy can detract from this: it will shine in history, and, like swans, grow whiter the longer it endures, and the name of ORMOND will be more celebrated in his captivity than in his greatest triumphs.
But all actions of your Grace are of a piece, as waters keep the tenor of their fountains: your compassion is general, and has the same effect as well on enemies as friends. It is so much in your nature to do good, that your life is but one continued act of placing benefits on many, as the sun is always carrying his light to some part or other of the world; and were it not that your reason guides you where to give, I might almost say that you could not help bestowing more than is consisting with the fortune of a private man or with the will of any but an Alexander.
What wonder is it, then, that being born for a blessing to mankind, your supposed death in that engagement was so generally lamented through the nation! The concernment for it was as universal as the loss; and though the gratitude might be counterfeit in some, yet the tears of all were real: where every man deplored his private part in that calamity, and even those who had not tasted of your favours, yet built so much on the fame of your beneficence, that they bemoaned the loss of their expectations.
This brought the untimely death of your great father into fresh remembrance: as if the same decree had passed on two short successive generations of the virtuous; and I repeated to myself the same verses which I had formerly applied to him: Ostendunt terris hunc tantum fata, nec ultra esse sinunt. But to the joy, not only of all good men, but of mankind in general, the unhappy omen took not place. You are still living to enjoy the blessings and applause of all the good you have performed, the prayers of multitudes whom you have obliged, for your long prosperity; and that your power of doing generous and charitable actions may be as extended as your will; which is by none more zealously desired than by your Grace's most humble, most obliged, and most obedient servant, JOHN DRYDEN.
* * * * *
It is with a poet as with a man who designs to build, and is very exact, as he supposes, in casting up the cost beforehand; but, generally speaking, he is mistaken in his account, and reckons short in the expense he first intended. He alters his mind as the work proceeds, and will have this or that convenience more, of which he had not thought when he began. So has it happened to me: I have built a house, where I intended but a lodge; yet with better success than a certain nobleman, who, beginning with a dog-kennel, never lived to finish the palace he had contrived.
From translating the first of Homer's Iliads (which I intended as an essay to the whole work) I proceeded to the translation of the twelfth book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, because it contains, among other things, the causes, the beginning, and ending of the Trojan war. Here I ought in reason to have stopped; but the speeches of Ajax and Ulysses lying next in my way, I could not baulk them. When I had compassed them, I was so taken with the former part of the fifteenth book, which is the masterpiece of the whole Metamorphoses, that I enjoined myself the pleasing task of rendering it into English. And now I found, by the number of my verses, that they began to swell into a little volume; which gave me an occasion of looking backward on some beauties of my author, in his former books. There occurred to me the hunting of the boar, Cinyras and Myrrha, the good-natured story of Baucis and Philemon, with the rest, which I hope I have translated closely enough, and given them the same turn of verse which they had in the original; and this, I may say without vanity, is not the talent of every poet. He who has arrived the nearest to it, is the ingenious and learned Sandys, the best versifier of the former age; if I may properly call it by that name, which was the former part of this concluding century. For Spenser and Fairfax both flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; great masters in our language; and who saw much farther into the beauties of our numbers, than those who immediately followed them. Milton was the poetical son of Spenser, and Mr Waller of Fairfax; for we have our lineal descents and clans, as well as other families. Spenser more than once insinuates, that the soul of Chaucer was transfused into his body; and that he was begotten by him two hundred years after his decease. Milton has acknowledged to me, that Spenser was his original; and many besides myself have heard our famous Waller own, that he derived the harmony of his numbers from the Godfrey of Bulloigne, which was turned into English by Mr Fairfax. But to return. Having done with Ovid for this time, it came into my mind, that our old English poet Chaucer in many things resembled him, and that with no disadvantage on the side of the modern author, as I shall endeavour to prove when I compare them. And as I am, and always have been, studious to promote the honour of my native country, so I soon resolved to put their merits to the trial, by turning some of the Canterbury tales into our language, as it is now refined; for by this means, both the poets being set in the same light, and dressed in the same English habit, story to be compared with story, a certain judgment may be made betwixt them, by the reader, without obtruding my opinion on him. Or if I seem partial to my countryman, and predecessor in the laurel, the friends of antiquity are not few; and besides many of the learned, Ovid has almost all the beaux, and the whole fair sex, his declared patrons. Perhaps I have assumed somewhat more to myself than they allow me, because I have adventured to sum up the evidence; but the readers are the jury, and their privilege remains entire to decide according to the merits of the cause, or, if they please, to bring it to another hearing, before some other court. In the meantime, to follow the thread of my discourse (as thoughts, according to Mr Hobbs, have always some connexion), so from Chaucer I was led to think on Boccace, who was not only his contemporary, but also pursued the same studies; wrote novels in prose, and many works in verse: particularly is said to have invented the octave rhyme, or stanza of eight lines, which ever since has been maintained by the practice of all Italian writers, who are, or at least assume the title of, Heroic Poets. He and Chaucer, among other things, had this in common, that they refined their mother tongues; but with this difference, that Dante had begun to file their language, at least in verse, before the time of Boccace, who likewise received no little help from his master Petrarch. But the reformation of their prose was wholly owing to Boccace himself, who is yet the standard of purity in the Italian tongue; though many of his phrases are become obsolete, as in process of time it must needs happen. Chaucer, as you have formerly been told by our learned Mr Rymer, first adorned and amplified our barren tongue from the Provencal, which was then the most polished of all the modern languages; but this subject has been copiously treated by that great critic, who deserves no little commendation from us his countrymen. For these reasons of time, and resemblance of genius in Chaucer and Boccace, I resolved to join them in my present work; to which I have added some original papers of my own; which, whether they are equal or inferior to my other poems, an author is the most improper judge; and therefore, I leave them wholly to the mercy of the reader. I will hope the best, that they will not be condemned; but if they should, I have the excuse of an old gentleman, who, mounting on horseback before some ladies, when I was present, got up somewhat heavily, but desired of the fair spectators that they would count fourscore and eight before they judged him. By the mercy of God, I am already come within twenty years of his number, a cripple in my limbs; but what decays are in my mind, the reader must determine. I think myself as vigorous as ever in the faculties of my soul, excepting only my memory, which is not impaired to any great degree; and if I lose not more of it, I have no great reason to complain. What judgment I had, increases rather than diminishes; and thoughts, such as they are, come crowding in so fast upon me, that my only difficulty is to choose or to reject; to run them into verse, or to give them the other harmony of prose. I have so long studied and practised both, that they are grown into a habit, and become familiar to me; in short, though I may lawfully plead some part of the old gentleman's excuse, yet I will reserve it till I think I have greater need, and ask no grains of allowance for the faults of this my present work, but those which are given of course to human frailty. I will not trouble my reader with the shortness of time in which I writ it, or the several intervals of sickness. They who think too well of their own performances, are apt to boast in their prefaces how little time their works have cost them, and what other business of more importance interfered; but the reader will be as apt to ask the question, why they allowed not a longer time to make their works more perfect? and why they had so despicable an opinion of their judges, as to thrust their indigested stuff upon them, as if they deserved no better?
With this account of my present undertaking, I conclude the first part of this discourse; in the second part, as at a second sitting, though I alter not the draught, I must touch the same features over again, and change the dead colouring of the whole. In general I will only say, that I have written nothing which savours of immorality or profaneness; at least, I am not conscious to myself of any such intention. If there happen to be found an irreverent expression, or a thought too wanton, they are crept into my verses through my inadvertency; if the searchers find any in the cargo, let them be staved or forfeited, like contraband goods; at least, let their authors be answerable for them, as being but imported merchandise, and not of my own manufacture. On the other side, I have endeavoured to choose such fables, both ancient and modern, as contain in each of them some instructive moral, which I could prove by induction; but the way is tedious, and they leap foremost into sight, without the reader's trouble of looking after them. I wish I could affirm with a safe conscience, that I had taken the same care in all my former writings; for it must be owned, that supposing verses are never so beautiful or pleasing, yet if they contain anything which shocks religion, or good manners, they are at best, what Horace says of good numbers without good sense, Versus inopes rerum, nugaeque canorae. Thus far, I hope, I am right in court, without renouncing my other right of self-defence, where I have been wrongfully accused, and my sense withdrawn into blasphemy or bawdry, as it has often been by a religious lawyer, in a late pleading against the stage, in which he mixes truth with falsehood, and has not forgotten the old rule of calumniating strongly, that something may remain.
I resume the thread of my discourse with the first of my translation, which was the first Iliad of Homer. If it shall please God to give me longer life, and moderate health, my intentions are to translate the whole Ilias; provided still that I meet with those encouragements from the public which may enable me to proceed in my undertaking with some cheerfulness. And this I dare assure the world beforehand, that I have found, by trial, Homer a more pleasing task than Virgil (though I say not the translation will be less laborious); for the Grecian is more according to my genius, than the Latin poet. In the works of the two authors, we may read their manners and natural inclinations, which are wholly different. Virgil was of a quiet, sedate temper; Homer was violent, impetuous, and full of fire. The chief talent of Virgil was propriety of thoughts, and ornament of words; Homer was rapid in his thoughts, and took all the liberties, both of numbers and of expressions, which his language, and the age in which he lived, allowed him: Homer's invention was more copious, Virgil's more confined; so that if Homer had not led the way, it was not in Virgil to have begun heroic poetry; for nothing can be more evident, than that the Roman poem is but the second part of the Ilias; a continuation of the same story, and the persons already formed: the manners of AEneas are those of Hector superadded to those which Homer gave him. The adventures of Ulysses in the Odysseis are imitated in the first six books of Virgil's AEneas, and though the accidents are not the same (which would have argued him of a servile copying, and total barrenness of invention), yet the seas were the same in which both the heroes wandered, and Dido cannot be denied to be the poetical daughter of Calypso. The six latter books of Virgil's poem are the four and twenty Iliads contracted; a quarrel occasioned by a lady, a single combat, battles fought, and a town besieged. I say not this in derogation to Virgil, neither do I contradict anything which I have formerly said in his just praise, for his episodes are almost wholly of his own invention; and the form which he has given to the telling makes the tale his own, even though the original story had been the same. But this proves, however, that Homer taught Virgil to design; and if invention be the first virtue of an epic poet, then the Latin poem can only be allowed the second place. Mr Hobbs, in the preface to his own bald translation of the Ilias (studying poetry as he did mathematics, when it was too late), Mr Hobbs, I say, begins the praise of Homer where he should have ended it. He tells us, that the first beauty of an Epic poem consists in diction, that is, in the choice of words, and harmony of numbers. Now, the words are the colouring of the work, which in the order of nature is last to be considered: the design, the disposition, the manners, and the thoughts, are all before it; where any of those are wanting or imperfect, so much wants or is imperfect in the imitation of human life, which is in the very definition of a poem. Words indeed, like glaring colours, are the first beauties that arise, and strike the sight; but if the draught be false or lame, the figures ill-disposed, the manners obscure or inconsistent, or the thoughts unnatural, then the finest colours are but daubing, and the piece is a beautiful monster at the best. Neither Virgil nor Homer were deficient in any of the former beauties; but in this last, which is expression, the Roman poet is at least equal to the Grecian, as I have said elsewhere, supplying the poverty of his language by his musical ear, and by his diligence. But to return: our two great poets, being so different in their tempers, one choleric and sanguine, the other phlegmatic and melancholic; that which makes them excel in their several ways is, that each of them has followed his own natural inclination, as well in forming the design, as in the execution of it. The very heroes show their authors; Achilles is hot, impatient, revengeful—impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer, &c.: AEneas patient, considerate, careful of his people, and merciful to his enemies; ever submissive to the will of Heaven—quo fata trahunt, retrahuntque, sequamur. I could please myself with enlarging on this subject, but am forced to defer it to a fitter time. From all I have said, I will only draw this inference, that the action of Homer being more full of vigour than that of Virgil, according to the temper of the writer, is of consequence more pleasing to the reader. One warms you by degrees; the other sets you on fire all at once, and never intermits his heat. 'Tis the same difference which Longinus makes betwixt the effects of eloquence in Demosthenes and Tully—one persuades; the other commands. You never cool while you read Homer, even not in the second book (a graceful flattery to his countrymen), but he hastens from the ships, and concludes not that book till he has made you an amends by the violent playing of a new machine. From thence he hurries on his action with variety of events, and ends it in less compass than two months. This vehemence of his, I confess, is more suitable to my temper; and therefore I have translated his first book with greater pleasure than any part of Virgil. But it was not a pleasure without pains; the continual agitations of the spirits must needs be a weakening of any constitution, especially in age, and many pauses are required for refreshment betwixt the heats, the Iliad of itself being a third part longer than all Virgil's works together.
This is what I thought needful in this place to say of Homer. I proceed to Ovid and Chaucer; considering the former only in relation to the latter. With Ovid ended the golden age of the Roman tongue: from Chaucer the purity of the English tongue began. The manners of the poets were not unlike: both of them were well-bred, well-natured, amorous, and libertine, at least in their writings—it may be also in their lives. Their studies were the same—philosophy and philology. Both of them were known in astronomy, of which Ovid's books of the Roman feasts, and Chaucer's treatise of the Astrolabe, are sufficient witnesses. But Chaucer was likewise an astrologer, as were Virgil, Horace, Persius, and Manilius. Both writ with wonderful facility and clearness: neither were great inventors; for Ovid only copied the Grecian fables, and most of Chaucer's stories were taken from his Italian contemporaries, or their predecessors. Boccace's Decameron was first published; and from thence our Englishman has borrowed many of his Canterbury tales; yet that of Palamon and Arcite was written in all probability by some Italian wit, in a former age; as I shall prove hereafter. The tale of Grizzild was the invention of Petrarch; by him sent to Boccace; from whom it came to Chaucer. Troilus and Cressida was also written by a Lombard author; but much amplified by our English translator, as well as beautified; the genius of our countrymen in general being rather to improve an invention, than to invent themselves; as is evident not only in our poetry, but in many of our manufactures. I find I have anticipated already, and taken up from Boccace before I come to him; but there is so much less behind; and I am of the temper of most kings, who love to be in debt, are all for present money, no matter how they pay it afterwards: besides, the nature of a preface is rambling; never wholly out of the way, nor in it. This I have learned from the practice of honest Montaign, and return at my pleasure to Ovid and Chaucer, of whom I have little more to say. Both of them built on the inventions of other men; yet since Chancer had something of his own, as the Wife of Bath's Tale the Cock and the Fox, which I have translated, and some others, I may justly give our countryman the precedence in that part; since I can remember nothing of Ovid which was wholly his. Both of them understood the manners, under which name I comprehend the passions, and, in a larger sense the descriptions of persons, and their very habits: for an example, I see Baucis and Philemon as perfectly before me, as if some ancient painter had drawn them; and all the pilgrims in the Canterbury tales, their humours, their features, and the very dress, as distinctly as if I had supped with them at the Tabard in Southwark: yet even there too the figures in Chaucer are much more lively, and set in a better light; which though I have not time to prove, yet I appeal to the reader, and am sure he will clear me from partiality. The thoughts and words remain to be considered in the comparison of the two poets; and I have saved myself one half of that labour, by owning that Ovid lived when the Roman tongue was in its meridian; Chaucer, in the dawning of our language: therefore that part of the comparison stands not on an equal foot, any more than the diction of Ennius and Ovid; or of Chaucer and our present English. The words are given up as a post not to be defended in our poet, because he wanted the modern art of fortifying. The thoughts remain to be considered; and they are to be measured only by their propriety; that is, as they flow more or less naturally from the persons described, on such and such occasions. The vulgar judges, which are nine parts in ten of all nations, who call conceits and jingles wit, who see Ovid full of them, and Chaucer altogether without them, will think me little less than mad for preferring the Englishman to the Roman; yet, with their leave, I must presume to say, that the things they admire are only glittering trifles, and so far from being witty, that in a serious poem they are nauseous, because they are unnatural. Would any man, who is ready to die for love, describe his passion like Narcissus? Would he think of inopem me copia fecit, and a dozen more of such expressions, poured on the neck of one another, and signifying all the same thing? If this were wit, was this a time to be witty, when the poor wretch was in the agony of death? This is just John Littlewit in Bartholomew Fair, who had a conceit (as he tells you) left him in his misery; a miserable conceit. On these occasions the poet should endeavour to raise pity; but instead of this, Ovid is tickling you to laugh. Virgil never made use of such machines, when he was moving you to commiserate the death of Dido: he would not destroy what he was building. Chaucer makes Arcite violent in his love, and unjust in the pursuit of it; yet when he came to die, he made him think more reasonably: he repents not of his love, for that had altered his character; but acknowledges the injustice of his proceedings, and resigns Emilia to Palamon. What would Ovid have done on this occasion? He would certainly have made Arcite witty on his deathbed. He had complained he was farther off from possession by being so near, and a thousand such boyisms, which Chaucer rejected as below the dignity of the subject. They who think otherwise would, by the same reason, prefer Lucan and Ovid to Homer and Virgil, and Martial to all four of them. As for the turn of words, in which Ovid particularly excels all poets, they are sometimes a fault, and sometimes a beauty, as they are used properly or improperly; but in strong passions always to be shunned, because passions are serious, and will admit no playing. The French have a high value for them; and I confess, they are often what they call delicate, when they are introduced with judgment; but Chaucer writ with more simplicity, and followed nature more closely, than to use them. I have thus far, to the best of my knowledge, been an upright judge betwixt the parties in competition, not meddling with the design nor the disposition of it; because the design was not their own, and in the disposing of it they were eqaal. It remains that I say somewhat of Chaucer in particular.
In the first place, as he is the father of English poetry, so I hold him in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians held Homer, or the Romans Virgil. He is a perpetual fountain of good sense; learned in all sciences, and therefore speaks properly on all subjects; as he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off—a continence which is practised by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients, excepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets is sunk in his reputation, because he could never forgive any conceit which came in his way; but swept like a drag-net, great and small. There was plenty enough, but the dishes were ill-sorted; whole pyramids of sweetmeats, for boys and women; but little of solid meat, for men. All this proceeded not from any want of knowledge, but of judgment; neither did he want that in discerning the beauties and faults of other poets; but only indulged himself in the luxury of writing; and perhaps knew it was a fault, but hoped the reader would not find it. For this reason, though he must always be thought a great poet, he is no longer esteemed a good writer; and for ten impressions, which his works have had in so many successive years, yet at present a hundred books are scarcely purchased once a twelvemonth: for, as my last Lord Rochester said, though somewhat profanely, not being of God, he could not stand.
Chaucer followed nature everywhere; but was never so bold to go beyond her: and there is a great difference of being Poeta and nimis Poeta, if we believe Catullus, as much as betwixt a modest behaviour and affectation. The verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not harmonious to us; but it is like the eloquence of one whom Tacitus commends, it was auribus istius temporis accommodata. They who lived with him, and some time after him, thought it musical; and it continues so even in our judgment, if compared with the numbers of Lidgate and Gower, his contemporaries: there is the rude sweetness of a Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect. It is true, I cannot go so far as he who published the last edition of him; for he would make us believe the fault is in our ears, and that there were really ten syllables in a verse where we find but nine. But this opinion is not worth confuting; it is so gross and obvious an error, that common sense (which is a rule in every thing but matters of faith and revelation) must convince the reader, that equality of numbers in every verse which we call Heroic, was either not known, or not always practised in Chaucer's age. It were an easy matter to produce some thousands of his verses, which are lame for want of half a foot, and sometimes a whole one, and which no pronunciation can make otherwise. We can only say, that he lived in the infancy of our poetry, and that nothing is brought to perfection at the first. We must be children before we grow men. There was an Ennius, and in process of time a Lucilius, and a Lucretius, before Virgil and Horace; even after Chaucer there was a Spenser, a Harrington, a Fairfax, before Waller and Denham were in being; and our numbers were in their nonage till these last appeared. I need say little of his parentage, life and fortunes: they are to be found at large in all the editions of his works. He was employed abroad and favoured by Edward the Third, Richard the Second, and Henry the Fourth, and was poet, as I suppose, to all three of them. In Richard's time, I doubt, he was a little dipt in the rebellion of the commons; and being brother-in-law to John of Gaunt, it was no wonder if he followed the fortunes of that family; and was well with Henry the Fourth when he had deposed his predecessor. Neither is it to be admired, that Henry, who was a wise as well as a valiant prince, who claimed by succession, and was sensible that his title was not sound, but was rightfully in Mortimer, who had married the heir of York; it was not to be admired, I say, if that great politician should be pleased to have the greatest wit of those times in his interests, and to be the trumpet of his praises. Augustus had given him the example, by the advice of Maecenas, who recommended Virgil and Horace to him; whose praises helped to make him popular while he was alive, and after his death have made him precious to posterity. As for the religion of our poet, he seems to have some little bias towards the opinions of Wickliff, after John of Gaunt his patron; somewhat of which appears in the tale of Piers Plowman: yet I cannot blame him for inveighing so sharply against the vices of the clergy in his age: their pride, their ambition, their pomp, their avarice, their worldly interest, deserved the lashes which he gave them, both in that, and in most of his Canterbury tales: neither has his contemporary Boccace spared them. Yet both those poets lived in much esteem with good and holy men in orders; for the scandal which is given by particular priests, reflects not on the sacred function. Chaucer's Monk, his Chanon, and his Fryer, took not from the character of his Good Parson. A satirical poet is the check of the laymen on bad priests. We are only to take care, that we involve not the innocent with the guilty in the same condemnation. The good cannot be too much honoured, nor the bad too coarsely used; for the corruption of the best becomes the worst. When a clergyman is whipped, his gown is first taken off, by which the dignity of his order is secured: if he be wrongfully accused, he has his action of slander; and it is at the poet's peril, if he transgress the law. But they will tell us, that all kind of satire, though never so well deserved by particular priests, yet brings the whole order into contempt. Is then the peerage of England anything dishonoured, when a peer suffers for his treason? If he be libelled, or any way defamed, he has his Scandalum Magnatum to punish the offender. They who use this kind of argument, seem to be conscious to themselves of somewhat which has deserved the poet's lash; and are less concerned for their public capacity, than for their private; at least there is pride at the bottom of their reasoning. If the faults of men in orders are only to be judged among themselves, they are all in some sort parties; for, since they say the honour of their order is concerned in every member of it, how can we be sure that they will be impartial judges? How far I may be allowed to speak my opinion in this case, I know not; but I am sure a dispute of this nature caused mischief in abundance betwixt a king of England and an archbishop of Canterbury; one standing up for the laws of his land, and the other for the honour (as he called it) of God's Church; which ended in the murder of the prelate, and in the whipping of his majesty from post to pillar for his penance. The learned and ingenious Dr Drake has saved me the labour of inquiring into the esteem and reverence which the priests have, had of old; and I would rather extend than diminish any part of it; yet I must needs say, that when a priest provokes me without any occasion given him, I have no reason, unless it be the charity of a Christian, to forgive him. Prior laesit is justification sufficient in the civil law. If I answer him in his own language, self-defence, I am sure, must be allowed me; and if I carry it farther, even to a sharp recrimination, somewhat may be indulged to human frailty. Yet my resentment has not wrought as far, but that I have followed Chaucer in his character of a holy man, and have enlarged on that subject with some pleasure, reserving to myself the right, if I shall think fit hereafter, to describe another sort of priests, such as are more easily to be found than the Good Parson; such as have given the last blow to Christianity in this age, by a practice so contrary to their doctrine. But this will keep cold till another time. In the mean while, I take up Chaucer where I left him. He must have been a man of a most wonderful comprehensive nature, because, as it has been truly observed of him, he has taken into the compass of his Canterbury tales the various manners and humours (as we now call them) of the whole English nation, in his age. Not a single character has escaped him. All his pilgrims are severally distinguished from each other; and not only in their inclinations, but in their very physiognomies and persons. Baptista Porta could not have described their natures better, than by the marks which the poet gives them. The matter and manner of their tales, and of their telling, are so suited to their different edncations, humours, and callings, that each of them would be improper in any other mouth. Even the grave and serious characters are distinguished by their several sorts of gravity: their discourses are such as belong to their age, their calling, and their breeding; such as are becoming of them, and of them only. Some of his persons are vicious, and some virtuous; some are unlearned, 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 broad-speaking gap-toothed Wife 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 sufficient to say, according to the proverb, that here is God's plenty. We have our forefathers and great-granddames all before us, as they were in Chaucer's days: their general characters are still remaining in mankind, and even in England, though they are called by other names than those of monks and friars, and chanons, and lady abbesses, and nuns: for mankind is ever the same, and nothing lost out of nature, though 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 such tales of Chaucer as savour 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 indicium 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 villainy, 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 so rudely, ne large. Or else he mote tellen his tale untrue, Or feine things, or find words new: He may not spare, although 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 villainy is it; Eke Plato saith, who so can him rede, the words mote been cousin to the dede."
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 very 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 numbers, 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 himself 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 style, 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 those of greater moment. Sometimes also, though not often, he runs riot, like Ovid, and knows not when he has said enough. But there are more great wits besides Chaucer, whose fault is their excess of conceits, and those ill sorted. An author is not to write all he can, but only all he ought. Having observed this redundancy in Chaucer (as it is an easy 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 lustre, 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 soul 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 durst not make thus bold with Ovid, lest 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 little 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 lost, 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 dissuaded 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 renascentur quae nunc cecidere, cadentque, quae nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus, quem penes arbitrium est et jus et 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 silently repealed, when the reason ceases for which they were enacted. As for the other part of the argument, that his thoughts will lose their original beauty by the innovation of words; in the first place, not only their beauty, but their being is lost, where they are no longer understood, which is the present case. I grant that something must be lost in all transfusion, that is, in all translations; but the sense will remain, which would otherwise be lost, 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 understand him perfectly! And if imperfectly, then with less profit and no pleasure. 'Tis not for the use of some 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 sakes who understand sense and poetry as well as they, when that poetry and sense is put into words which they understand. I will go further, 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 least refresh it, amongst my countrymen. If I have altered him anywhere for the better, I must at the 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 Scudery, 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 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 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, '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 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 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 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 AEneis. 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 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 passing through his noble hands. Besides this tale, there is another of his own invention, after the manner of the Provencals, 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 Milbourn, and one Blackmore, but barely to take notice, that such men there are, who have written scurrilously 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 same 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 honest word I have not bribed him to do me this service, 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 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 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 them, as Dares did the whirlbats of Eryx, when they were thrown before him by Entellus. Yet from that preface he plainly took his hint; for he began immediately upon the story, though he had the baseness not to acknowledge his benefactor, but instead of it, to traduce me in a libel.
I shall say the less of Mr Collier, because in many things he has taxed me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and expressions of mine, which can be truly argued of obscenity, profaneness, or immorality; and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph; if he be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to be otherwise, he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to draw my pen in the defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for a good one. Yet it were not difficult to prove, that in many places he has perverted my meaning by his glosses; and interpreted my words into blasphemy and bawdry, of which they were not guilty; besides that he is too much given to horse-play in his raillery; and comes to battle like a dictator from the plough. I will not say, the zeal of God's house has eaten him up; but I am sure it has devoured some part of his good-manners and civility. It might also be doubted whether it were altogether zeal which prompted him to this rough manner of proceeding: perhaps it became not one of his function to rake into the rubbish of ancient and modern plays: a divine might have employed his pains to better purpose than in the nastiness of Plautus and Aristophanes; whose examples, as they excuse not me, so it might be possibly supposed that he read them not without some pleasure. They who have written commentaries on those poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and Martial, have explained some vices, which without their interpretation had been unknown to modern times. Neither has he judged impartially betwixt the former age and us.
There is more bawdry in one play of Fletcher's, called "The Custom of the Country," than in all ours together. Yet this has been often acted on the stage in my remembrance. Are the times so much more reformed now, than they were five-and-twenty years ago? If they are, I congratulate the amendment of our morals. But I am not to prejudice the cause of my fellow-poets, though I abandon my own defence. They have some of them answered for themselves, and neither they nor I can think Mr Collier so formidable an enemy that we should shun him. He has lost ground at the latter end of the day, by pursuing his point too far, like the Prince of Conde at the battle of Senneffe: from immoral plays, to no plays; ab abusu ad usum non valet consequentia. But being a party, I am not to erect myself into a judge. As for the rest of those who have written against me, they are such scoundrels, that they deserve not the least notice to be taken of them. Blackmore and Milbourn are only distinguished from the crowd, by being remembered to their infamy.
—Demetri, teque Tigelli Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.
* * * * *
TO HER GRACE THE DUCHESS OF ORMOND,
WITH THE FOLLOWING POEM OF PALAMON AND ARCITE.
The bard who first adorn'd our native tongue, Tuned to his British lyre this ancient song: Which Homer might without a blush rehearse, And leaves a doubtful palm in Virgil's verse: He match'd their beauties, where they most excel; Of love sung better, and of arms as well.
Vouchsafe, illustrious Ormond! to behold What power the charms of beauty had of old; Nor wonder if such deeds of arms were done, Inspired by two fair eyes that sparkled like your own. 10
If Chaucer by the best idea wrought, And poets can divine each other's thought, The fairest nymph before his eyes he set; And then the fairest was Plantagenet; Who three contending princes made her prize, And ruled the rival nations with her eyes: Who left immortal trophies of her fame, And to the noblest order gave the name.
Like her, of equal kindred to the throne, You keep her conquests, and extend your own: 20 As when the stars in their ethereal race, At length have roll'd around the liquid space, At certain periods they resume their place; From the same point of heaven their course advance, And move in measures of their former dance; Thus, after length of ages, she returns, Restored in you, and the same place adorns; Or you perform her office in the sphere, Born of her blood, and make a new Platonic year. O true Plantagenet! O race divine! 30 (For beauty still is fatal to the line) Had Chaucer lived that angel-face to view, Sure he had drawn his Emily from you; Or had you lived to judge the doubtful right, Your noble Palamon had been the knight; And conquering Theseus from his side had sent Your generous lord, to guide the Theban government. Time shall accomplish that; and I shall see A Palamon in him, in you an Emily. Already have the Fates your path prepared, 40 And sure presage your future sway declared: When westward, like the sun, you took your way, And from benighted Britain bore the day, Blue Triton gave the signal from the shore, The ready Nereids heard, and swam before, To smooth the seas; a soft Etesian gale But just inspired, and gently swell'd the sail; Portunus took his turn, whose ample hand Heaved up his lighten'd keel, and sunk the sand, And steer'd the sacred vessel safe to land. 50 The land, if not restrain'd, had met your way, Projected out a neck, and jutted to the sea. Hibernia, prostrate at your feet, adored In you the pledge of her expected lord; Due to her isle; a venerable name; His father and his grandsire known to fame; Awed by that house, accustom'd to command, The sturdy kerns in due subjection stand; Nor bear the reins in any foreign hand. At your approach, they crowded to the port; 60 And scarcely landed, you create a court: As Ormond's harbinger, to you they run; For Venus is the promise of the sun. The waste of civil wars, their towns destroy'd, Pales unhonour'd, Ceres unemploy'd, Were all forgot; and one triumphant day Wiped all the tears of three campaigns away. Blood, rapines, massacres, were cheaply bought, So mighty recompence your beauty brought. As when the dove returning bore the mark 70 Of earth restored to the long labouring ark, The relics of mankind, secure of rest, Oped every window to receive the guest, And the fair bearer of the message bless'd; So, when you came, with loud repeated cries, The nation took an omen from your eyes, And God advanced his rainbow in the skies, To sign inviolable peace restored; The saints, with solemn shouts, proclaim'd the new accord. When at your second coming you appear, 80 (For I foretell that millenary year) The sharpen'd share shall vex the soil no more, But earth unbidden shall produce her store; The land shall laugh, the circling ocean smile, And Heaven's indulgence bless the holy isle. Heaven from all ages has reserved for you That happy clime, which venom never knew; Or if it had been there, your eyes alone Have power to chase all poison, but their own.
Now in this interval, which Fate has cast 90 Betwixt your future glories, and your past, This pause of power, 'tis Ireland's hour to mourn; While England celebrates your safe return, By which you seem the seasons to command, And bring our summers back to their forsaken land.
The vanquish'd isle our leisure must attend, Till the fair blessing we vouchsafe to send; Nor can we spare you long, though often we may lend. The dove was twice employ'd abroad, before The world was dried, and she return'd no more. 100
Nor dare we trust so soft a messenger, New from her sickness, to that northern air: Rest here a while, your lustre to restore, That they may see you as you shone before; For yet the eclipse not wholly past, you wade Through some remains, and dimness of a shade.
A subject in his prince may claim a right, Nor suffer him with strength impair'd to fight; Till force returns, his ardour we restrain, And curb his warlike wish to cross the main. 110
Now past the danger, let the learn'd begin The inquiry where disease could enter in; How those malignant atoms forced their way; What in the faultless frame they found to make their prey, Where every element was weigh'd so well, That Heaven alone, who mix'd the mass, could tell Which of the four ingredients could rebel; And where, imprison'd in so sweet a cage, A soul might well be pleased to pass an age.
And yet the fine materials made it weak: 120 Porcelain, by being pure, is apt to break: Even to your breast the sickness durst aspire; And, forced from that fair temple to retire, Profanely set the holy place on fire. In vain your lord, like young Vespasian, mourn'd When the fierce flames the sanctuary burn'd: And I prepared to pay in verses rude A most detested act of gratitude: Even this had been your elegy, which now Is offer'd for your health, the table of my vow. 130
Your angel sure our Morley's mind inspired, To find the remedy your ill required; As once the Macedon, by Jove's decree, Was taught to dream an herb for Ptolemy: Or Heaven, which had such over-cost bestow'd, As scarce it could afford to flesh and blood, So liked the frame, he would not work anew, To save the charges of another you. Or by his middle science did he steer, And saw some great contingent good appear, 140 Well worth a miracle to keep you here: And for that end preserved the precious mould, Which all the future Ormonds was to hold; And meditated in his better mind An heir from you, which may redeem the failing kind.
Blest be the Power which has at once restored The hopes of lost succession to your lord! Joy to the first and last of each degree— Virtue to courts, and, what I long'd to see, To you the Graces, and the Muse to me! 150 O daughter of the rose! whose cheeks unite The differing titles of the red and white; Who Heaven's alternate beauty well display, The blush of morning, and the milky way; Whose face is Paradise, but fenced from sin: For God in either eye has placed a cherubin.
All is your lord's alone; even absent, he Employs the care of chaste Penelope. For him you waste in tears your widow'd hours, For him your curious needle paints the flowers; 160 Such works of old imperial dames were taught; Such, for Ascanius, fair Eliza wrought. The soft recesses of your hours improve The three fair pledges of your happy love: All other parts of pious duty done, You owe your Ormond nothing but a son; To fill in future times his father's place, And wear the garter of his mother's race.
* * * * *
[Footnote 71: 'Duchess of Ormond:' daughter of Duke of Bedford, afterwards Lieutenant of Ireland, and who had recently visited it.]
* * * * *
PALAMON AND ARCITE:
OR, THE KNIGHT'S TALE.
In days of old, there lived, of mighty fame, A valiant prince, and Theseus was his name: A chief, who more in feats of arms excell'd, The rising nor the setting sun beheld. Of Athens he was lord; much land he won, And added foreign countries to his crown. In Scythia with the warrior queen he strove, Whom first by force he conquer'd, then by love; He brought in triumph back the beauteous dame, With whom her sister, fair Emilia, came. 10 With honour to his home let Theseus ride, With love to friend, and fortune for his guide, And his victorious army at his side. I pass their warlike pomp, their proud array, Their shouts, their songs, their welcome on the way. But, were it not too long, I would recite The feats of Amazons, the fatal fight Betwixt the hardy queen and hero knight; The town besieged, and how much blood it cost The female army, and the Athenian host; 20 The spousals of Hippolita the queen; What tilts and tourneys at the feast were seen; The storm at their return, the ladies' fear: But these, and other things, I must forbear. The field is spacious I design to sow, With oxen far unfit to draw the plough: The remnant of my tale is of a length To tire your patience, and to waste my strength; And trivial accidents shall be forborne, That others may have time to take their turn; 30 As was at first enjoin'd us by mine host: That he whose tale is best, and pleases most, Should win his supper at our common cost.
And therefore where I left, I will pursue This ancient story, whether false or true, In hope it may be mended with a new. The prince I mention'd, full of high renown, In this array drew near the Athenian town; When in his pomp and utmost of his pride, Marching he chanced to cast his eye aside, 40 And saw a choir of mourning dames, who lay By two and two across the common way: At his approach they raised a rueful cry, And beat their breasts, and held their hands on high, Creeping and crying, till they seized at last His courser's bridle, and his feet embraced. Tell me, said Theseus, what and whence you are, And why this funeral pageant you prepare? Is this the welcome of my worthy deeds, To meet my triumph in ill-omen'd weeds? 50 Or envy you my praise, and would destroy With grief my pleasures, and pollute my joy? Or are you injured, and demand relief? Name your request, and I will ease your grief.
The most in years of all the mourning train Began; but swooned first away for pain, Then scarce recover'd spoke: Nor envy we Thy great renown, nor grudge thy victory; 'Tis thine, O king, the afflicted to redress, And fame has fill'd the world with thy success: 60 We wretched women sue for that alone, Which of thy goodness is refused to none; Let fall some drops of pity on our grief, If what we beg be just, and we deserve relief: For none of us, who now thy grace implore, But held the rank of sovereign queen before; Till, thanks to giddy chance, which never bears, That mortal bliss should last for length of years, She cast us headlong from our high estate, And here in hope of thy return we wait: 70 And long have waited in the temple nigh, Built to the gracious goddess Clemency. But reverence thou the Power whose name it bears, Relieve the oppress'd, and wipe the widow's tears. I, wretched I, have other fortune seen, The wife of Capaneus, and once a queen: At Thebes he fell; cursed be the fatal day! And all the rest thou seest in this array, To make their moan, their lords in battle lost Before that town besieged by our confederate host: 80 But Creon, old and impious, who commands The Theban city, and usurps the lands, Denies the rites of funeral fires to those Whose breathless bodies yet he calls his foes. Unburn'd, unburied, on a heap they lie; Such is their fate, and such his tyranny; No friend has leave to bear away the dead, But with their lifeless limbs his hounds are fed. At this she shriek'd aloud; the mournful train Echoed her grief, and grovelling on the plain, 90 With groans, and hands upheld, to move his mind, Besought his pity to their helpless kind!
The prince was touch'd, his tears began to flow, And, as his tender heart would break in two, He sigh'd, and could not but their fate deplore, So wretched now, so fortunate before. Then lightly from his lofty steed he flew, And, raising one by one the suppliant crew, To comfort each full solemnly he swore, That by the faith which knights to knighthood bore, 100 And whate'er else to chivalry belongs, He would not cease, till he revenged their wrongs: That Greece should see perform'd what he declared; And cruel Creon find his just reward. He said no more, but, shunning all delay, Rode on; nor enter'd Athens on his way: But left his sister and his queen behind, And waved his royal banner in the wind: Where in an argent field the god of war Was drawn triumphant on his iron car; 110 Red was his sword, and shield, and whole attire, And all the godhead seem'd to glow with fire; Even the ground glitter'd where the standard flew, And the green grass was dyed to sanguine hue. High on his pointed lance his pennon bore His Cretan fight, the conquer'd Minotaur: The soldiers shout around with generous rage, And in that victory their own presage. He praised their ardour: inly pleased to see His host the flower of Grecian chivalry, 120 All day he march'd, and all the ensuing night, And saw the city with returning light. The process of the war I need not tell, How Theseus conquer'd, and how Creon fell: Or after, how by storm the walls were won, Or how the victor sack'd and burn'd the town: How to the ladies he restored again The bodies of their lords in battle slain: And with what ancient rites they were interr'd; All these to fitter times shall be deferr'd. 130 I spare the widows' tears, their woeful cries, And howling at their husbands' obsequies; How Theseus at these funerals did assist, And with what gifts the mourning dames dismiss'd.
Thus when the victor chief had Creon slain, And conquer'd Thebes, he pitch'd upon the plain His mighty camp, and, when the day return'd, The country wasted, and the hamlets burn'd, And left the pillagers, to rapine bred, Without control to strip and spoil the dead. 140
There, in a heap of slain, among the rest Two youthful knights they found beneath a load oppress'd Of slaughter'd foes, whom first to death they sent— The trophies of their strength, a bloody monument. Both fair, and both of royal blood they seem'd, Whom kinsmen to the crown the heralds deem'd; That day in equal arms they fought for fame; Their swords, their shields, their surcoats were the same. Close by each other laid, they press'd the ground, Their manly bosoms pierced with many a grisly wound; 150 Nor well alive, nor wholly dead they were, But some faint signs of feeble life appear: The wandering breath was on the wing to part, Weak was the pulse, and hardly heaved the heart. These two were sisters' sons; and Arcite one Much famed in fields, with valiant Palamon. From these their costly arms the spoilers rent, And softly both convey'd to Theseus' tent: Whom, known of Creon's line, and cured with care, He to his city sent as prisoners of the war, 160 Hopeless of ransom, and condemn'd to lie In durance, doom'd a lingering death to die. This done, he march'd away with warlike sound, And to his Athens turn'd, with laurels crown'd, Where happy long he lived, much loved, and more renown'd. But in a tower, and never to be loosed, The woful captive kinsmen are enclosed.
Thus year by year they pass, and day by day, Till once, 'twas on the morn of cheerful May, The young Emilia, fairer to be seen 170 Than the fair lily on the flowery green, More fresh than May herself in blossoms new, For with the rosy colour strove her hue, Waked, as her custom was, before the day, To do the observance due to sprightly May: For sprightly May commands our youth to keep The vigils of her night, and breaks their sluggard sleep; Each gentle breast with kindly warmth she moves; Inspires new flames, revives extinguish'd loves. In this remembrance, Emily, ere day, 180 Arose, and dress'd herself in rich array; Fresh as the month, and as the morning fair: Adown her shoulders fell her length of hair: A riband did the braided tresses bind, The rest was loose and wanton'd in the wind. Aurora had but newly chased the night, And purpled o'er the sky with blushing light, When to the garden walk she took her way, To sport and trip along in cool of day, And offer maiden vows in honour of the May. 190
At every turn, she made a little stand, And thrust among the thorns her lily hand To draw the rose, and every rose she drew She shook the stalk, and brush'd away the dew: Then party-colour'd flowers of white and red She wove, to make a garland for her head: This done, she sung and caroll'd out so clear, That men and angels might rejoice to hear: Even wondering Philomel forgot to sing; And learn'd from her to welcome in the spring. 200 The tower, of which before was mention made, Within whose keep the captive knights were laid, Built of a large extent, and strong withal, Was one partition of the palace wall; The garden was enclosed within the square Where young Emilia took the morning air.
It happen'd Palamon, the prisoner knight, Restless for woe, arose before the light, And with his jailer's leave desired to breathe An air more wholesome than the damps beneath. 210 This granted, to the tower he took his way, Cheer'd with the promise of a glorious day: Then cast a languishing regard around, And saw, with hateful eyes, the temples crown'd With golden spires, and all the hostile ground. He sigh'd, and turn'd his eyes, because he knew 'Twas but a larger jail he had in view: Then look'd below, and from the castle's height Beheld a nearer and more pleasing sight: The garden, which before he had not seen, 220 In spring's new livery clad of white and green, Fresh flowers in wide parterres, and shady walks between. This view'd, but not enjoy'd, with arms across He stood, reflecting on his country's loss; Himself an object of the public scorn, And often wish'd he never had been born. At last, for so his destiny required, With walking giddy, and with thinking tired, He through a little window cast his sight, Though thick of bars, that gave a scanty light: 230 But even that glimmering served him to descry The inevitable charms of Emily.
Scarce had he seen, but seized with sudden smart, Stung to the quick, he felt it at his heart; Struck blind with overpowering light he stood, Then started back amazed, and cried aloud.
Young Arcite heard; and up he ran with haste, To help his friend, and in his arms embraced; And ask'd him why he look'd so deadly wan, And whence and how his change of cheer began? 240 Or who had done the offence? But if, said he, Your grief alone is hard captivity; For love of Heaven, with patience undergo A cureless ill, since Fate will have it so: So stood our horoscope in chains to lie, And Saturn in the dungeon of the sky, Or other baleful aspect, ruled our birth, When all the friendly stars were under earth: Whate'er betides, by Destiny 'tis done; And better bear like men, than vainly seek to shun. 250 Nor of my bonds, said Palamon again, Nor of unhappy planets I complain; But when my mortal anguish caused my cry, That moment I was hurt through either eye; Pierced with a random shaft, I faint away, And perish with insensible decay; A glance of some new goddess gave the wound, Whom, like Actaeon, unaware I found. Look how she walks along yon shady space! Not Juno moves with more majestic grace; 260 And all the Cyprian queen is in her face. If thou art Venus (for thy charms confess That face was form'd in heaven, nor art thou less Disguised in habit, undisguised in shape), Oh, help us captives from our chains to 'scape! But if our doom be past in bonds to lie For life, and in a loathsome dungeon die, Then be thy wrath appeased with our disgrace, And show compassion to the Theban race, Oppress'd by tyrant power! While yet he spoke, 270 Arcite on Emily had fix'd his look; The fatal dart a ready passage found, And deep within his heart infix'd the wound: So that if Palamon were wounded sore, Arcite was hurt as much as he, or more: Then from his inmost soul he sigh'd, and said, The beauty I behold has struck me dead: Unknowingly she strikes; and kills by chance; Poison is in her eyes, and death in every glance. Oh, I must ask; nor ask alone, but move 280 Her mind to mercy, or must die for love! Thus Arcite: and thus Palamon replies, (Eager his tone and ardent were his eyes): Speak'st thou in earnest, or in jesting vein? Jesting, said Arcite, suits but ill with pain. It suits far worse (said Palamon again, And bent his brows) with men who honour weigh, Their faith to break, their friendship to betray; But worst with thee, of noble lineage born, My kinsman, and in arms my brother sworn. 290 Have we not plighted each our holy oath, That one should be the common good of both; One soul should both inspire, and neither prove His fellow's hindrance in pursuit of love? To this before the gods we gave our hands, And nothing but our death can break the bands. This binds thee, then, to further my design, As I am bound by vow to further thine: Nor canst, nor dar'st thou, traitor, on the plain Appeach my honour, or thine own maintain, 300 Since thou art of my council, and the friend Whose faith I trust, and on whose care depend: And would'st thou court my lady's love, which I Much rather than release would choose to die? But thou, false Arcite, never shall obtain Thy bad pretence; I told thee first my pain; For first my love began ere thine was born: Thou as my council, and my brother sworn, Art bound to assist my eldership of right, Or justly to be deem'd a perjured knight. 310
Thus Palamon: but Arcite with disdain In haughty language thus replied again: Forsworn thyself: the traitor's odious name I first return, and then disprove thy claim. If love be passion, and that passion nursed With strong desires, I loved the lady first. Canst thou pretend desire, whom zeal inflamed To worship, and a power celestial named? Thine was devotion to the blest above, I saw the woman and desired her love; 320 First own'd my passion, and to thee commend The important secret, as my chosen friend. Suppose (which yet I grant not) thy desire A moment elder than my rival fire; Can chance of seeing first thy title prove? And know'st thou not, no law is made for love? Law is to things which to free choice relate; Love is not in our choice, but in our fate; Laws are but positive; love's power, we see, Is Nature's sanction, and her first decree. 330 Each day we break the bond of human laws For love, and vindicate the common cause. Laws for defence of civil rights are placed, Love throws the fences down, and makes a general waste; Maids, widows, wives, without distinction fall; The sweeping deluge, love, comes on, and covers all. If, then, the laws of friendship I transgress, I keep the greater, while I break the less; And both are mad alike, since neither can possess. Both hopeless to be ransom'd, never more 340 To see the sun, but as he passes o'er.
Like AEsop's hounds contending for the bone, Each pleaded right, and would be lord alone: The fruitless fight continued all the day; A cur came by, and snatch'd the prize away. As courtiers, therefore, jostle for a grant, And when they break their friendship, plead their want; So thou, if fortune will thy suit advance, Love on, nor envy me my equal chance; For I must love, and am resolved to try 350 My fate, or, failing in the adventure, die.
Great was their strife, which hourly was renew'd, Till each with mortal hate his rival view'd; Now friends no more, nor walking hand in hand; But when they met, they made a surly stand; And glared like angry lions as they pass'd, And wish'd that every look might be their last.
It chanced at length, Pirithous came to attend This worthy Theseus, his familiar friend: Their love in early infancy began, 360 And rose as childhood ripen'd into man. Companions of the war; and loved so well, That when one died, as ancient stories tell, His fellow to redeem him went to Hell.
But to pursue my tale; to welcome home His warlike brother is Pirithous come: Arcite of Thebes was known in arms long since, And honour'd by this young Thessalian prince. Theseus, to gratify his friend and guest, Who made our Arcite's freedom his request, 370 Restored to liberty the captive knight, But on these hard conditions I recite: That if hereafter Arcite should be found Within the compass of Athenian ground, By day or night, or on whate'er pretence, His head should pay the forfeit of the offence. To this Pirithous for his friend agreed, And on his promise was the prisoner freed.
Unpleased and pensive hence he takes his way, At his own peril; for his life must pay. 380 Who now but Arcite mourns his bitter fate, Finds his dear purchase, and repents too late? What have I gain'd, he said, in prison pent, If I but change my bonds for banishment? And banish'd from her sight, I suffer more In freedom than I felt in bonds before; Forced from her presence, and condemn'd to live: Unwelcome freedom, and unthank'd reprieve! Heaven is not, but where Emily abides, And where she's absent, all is hell besides. 390 Next to my day of birth, was that accursed, Which bound my friendship to Pirithous first: Had I not known that prince, I still had been In bondage, and had still Emilia seen: For though I never can her grace deserve, 'Tis recompence enough to see and serve. O Palamon, my kinsman and my friend, How much more happy fates thy love attend! Thine is the adventure; thine the victory: Well has thy fortune turn'd the dice for thee: 400 Thou on that angel's face may'st feed thine eyes, In prison, no; but blissful paradise! Thou daily seest that sun of beauty shine, And lovest at least in love's extremest line. I mourn in absence, love's eternal night; And who can tell but since thou hast her sight, And art a comely, young, and valiant knight, Fortune (a various power) may cease to frown, And by some ways unknown thy wishes crown? But I, the most forlorn of human kind, 410 Nor help can hope, nor remedy can find; But doom'd to drag my loathsome life in care, For my reward, must end it in despair. Fire, water, air, and earth, and force of fates, That governs all, and Heaven that all creates, Nor art, nor nature's hand can ease my grief; Nothing but death, the wretch's last relief: Then farewell youth, and all the joys that dwell, With youth and life, and life itself farewell!
But why, alas! do mortal men in vain 420 Of fortune, fate, or Providence complain? God gives us what he knows our wants require, And better things than those which we desire: Some pray for riches; riches they obtain; But, watch'd by robbers, for their wealth are slain: Some pray from prison to be freed; and come, When guilty of their vows, to fall at home; Murder'd by those they trusted with their life, A favour'd servant, or a bosom wife. Such dear-bought blessings happen every day, 430 Because we know not for what things to pray. Like drunken sots about the street we roam; Well knows the sot he has a certain home; Yet knows not how to find the uncertain place, And blunders on, and staggers every pace. Thus all seek happiness; but few can find. For far the greater part of men are blind. This is my case, who thought our utmost good Was in one word of freedom understood: The fatal blessing came: from prison free, 440 I starve abroad, and lose the sight of Emily.
Thus Arcite; but if Arcite thus deplore His sufferings, Palamon yet suffers more. For when he knew his rival freed and gone, He swells with wrath; he makes outrageous moan: He frets, he fumes, he stares, he stamps the ground; The hollow tower with clamours rings around: With briny tears he bathed his fetter'd feet, And dropp'd all o'er with agony of sweat. Alas! he cried, I wretch in prison pine, 450 Too happy rival, while the fruit is thine: Thou livest at large, thou draw'st thy native air, Pleased with thy freedom, proud of my despair: Thou may'st, since thou hast youth and courage join'd, A sweet behaviour and a solid mind, Assemble ours, and all the Theban race, To vindicate on Athens thy disgrace; And after, by some treaty made, possess Fair Emily, the pledge of lasting peace. So thine shall be the beauteous prize, while I 460 Must languish in despair, in prison die. Thus all the advantage of the strife is thine, Thy portion double joys, and double sorrows mine.
The rage of jealousy then fired his soul, And his face kindled like a burning coal: Now cold despair, succeeding in her stead, To livid paleness turns the glowing red. His blood, scarce liquid, creeps within his veins, Like water which the freezing wind constrains. Then thus he said: Eternal Deities, 470 Who rule the world with absolute decrees, And write whatever time shall bring to pass, With pens of adamant on plates of brass; What! is the race of human kind your care, Beyond what all his fellow-creatures are? He with the rest is liable to pain, And like the sheep, his brother-beast, is slain; Cold, hunger, prisons, ills without a cure, All these he must, and guiltless, oft endure. Or does your justice, power, or prescience fail, 480 When the good suffer, and the bad prevail? What worse to wretched virtue could befall, If fate or giddy fortune govern'd all? Nay, worse than other beasts is our estate; Them, to pursue their pleasures, you create; We, bound by harder laws, must curb our will, And your commands, not our desires, fulfil; Then when the creature is unjustly slain, Yet after death, at least, he feels no pain; But man, in life surcharged with woe before, 490 Not freed when dead, is doom'd to suffer more. A serpent shoots his sting at unaware; An ambush'd thief forelays a traveller: The man lies murder'd, while the thief and snake, One gains the thickets, and one threads the brake. This let divines decide; but well I know, Just, or unjust, I have my share of woe, Through Saturn seated in a luckless place, And Juno's wrath, that persecutes my race; Or Mars and Venus, in a quartile, move 500 My pangs of jealousy for Arcite's love.
Let Palamon oppress'd in bondage mourn, While to his exiled rival we return. By this, the sun, declining from his height, The day had shorten'd to prolong the night; The lengthen'd night gave length of misery Both to the captive lover and the free. For Palamon in endless prison mourns, And Arcite forfeits life if he returns: The banish'd never hopes his love to see, 510 Nor hopes the captive lord his liberty. 'Tis hard to say who suffers greater pains: One sees his love, but cannot break his chains: One free, and all his motions uncontroll'd, Beholds whate'er he would, but what he would behold. Judge as you please, for I will haste to tell What fortune to the banish'd knight befell.
When Arcite was to Thebes return'd again, The loss of her he loved renew'd his pain; What could be worse, than never more to see 520 His life, his soul, his charming Emily? He raved with all the madness of despair, He roar'd, he beat his breast, he tore his hair. Dry sorrow in his stupid eyes appears, For, wanting nourishment, he wanted tears: His eye-balls in their hollow sockets sink, Bereft of sleep, he loathes his meat and drink. He withers at his heart, and looks as wan As the pale spectre of a murder'd man: That pale turns yellow, and his face receives 530 The faded hue of sapless boxen leaves: In solitary groves he makes his moan, Walks early out, and ever is alone: Nor, mix'd in mirth, in youthful pleasures shares, But sighs when songs and instruments he hears. His spirits are so low, his voice is drown'd, He hears as from afar, or in a swound, Like the deaf murmurs of a distant sound: Uncomb'd his locks and squalid his attire, Unlike the trim of love and gay desire; 540 But full of museful mopings, which presage The loss of reason, and conclude in rage.