Verse > John Dryden > Poems
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
 
Fables Ancient and Modern
To his Grace the Duke of Ormond: Dedication and Preface
 
  MY LORD,—Some Estates are held in England by paying a Fine at the change of every Lord: I have enjoy’d the Patronage of your Family, from the time of your excellent Grandfather to this present Day. I have dedicated the Lives of Plutarch to the first Duke; and have celebrated the Memory of your Heroick Father. Tho’ I am very short of the Age of Nestor, yet I have liv’d to a third Generation of your House; and by your Grace’s Favour am admitted still to hold from you by the same Tenure.  1
  I am not vain enough to boast that I have deserv’d the value of so Illustrious a Line; but my Fortune is the greater, that for three Descents they have been pleas’d to distinguish my Poems from those of other Men, and have accordingly made me their peculiar Care. May it be permitted me to say, That as your Grandfather and Father were cherish’d and adorn’d with Honours by two successive Monarchs, so I have been esteem’d and patronis’d by the Grandfather, the Father, and the Son, descended from one of the most Ancient, most Conspicuous, and most Deserving Families in Europe.  2
  ’Tis true, that by delaying the Payment of my last Fine, when it was due by your Grace’s Accession to the Titles and Patrimonies of your House, I may seem in rigour of Law to have made a forfeiture of my Claim; yet my Heart has always been devoted to your Service; and since you have been graciously pleas’d, by your permission of this Address, to accept the tender of my Duty, ’tis not yet too late to lay these Poems at your Feet.  3
  The World is sensible that you worthily succeed not only to the Honours of your Ancestors, but also to their Virtues. The long Chain of Magnanimity, Courage, easiness of Access, and desire of doing Good, even to the Prejudice of your Fortune, is so far from being broken in your Grace, that the precious Metal yet runs pure to the newest Link of it: which I will not call the last, because I hope and pray it may descend to late Posterity: And your flourishing Youth, and that of your excellent Dutchess, are happy Omens of my Wish.  4
  ’Tis observ’d by Livy and by others, That some of the noblest Roman Families retain’d a resemblance of their Ancestry, not only in their Shapes and Features, but also in their Manners, their Qualities, and the distinguishing Characters of their Minds: Some Lines were noted for a stern, rigid Virtue, salvage, haughty, parcimonious, and unpopular: Others were more sweet, and affable; made of a more pliant Past, humble, courteous, and obliging; studious of doing charitable Offices, and diffusive of the Goods which they enjoy’d. The last of these is the proper and indelible Character of your Grace’s Family. God Almighty has endu’d you with a Softness, a Beneficence, an attractive Behaviour winning on the Hearts of others; and so sensible of their Misery, that the Wounds of Fortune seem not inflicted on them, but on your self. You are so ready to redress, that you almost prevent their Wishes, and always exceed their Expectations: As if what was yours, was not your own, and not given you to possess, but to bestow on wanting Merit. But this is a Topick which I must cast in Shades, lest I offend your Modesty, which is so far from being ostentatious of the Good you do, that it blushes even to have it known: And therefore I must leave you to the Satisfaction and Testimony of your own Conscience, which, though it be a silent Panegyrick, is yet the best.  5
  You are so easy of Access that Poplicola was not more, whose Doors were open’d on the Outside to save the people even the common Civility of asking entrance; where all were equally admitted; where nothing that was reasonable was deny’d, where Misfortune was a powerful Recommendation, and where (I can scarce forbear saying) that Want it self was a powerful Mediator, and was next to Merit.  6
  The History of Peru assures us, That their Inca’s, above all their Titles, esteem’d that the highest, which called them Lovers of the Poor: A Name more glorious than the Felix, Pius, and Augustus of the Roman Emperors; which were Epithets of Flattery, deserv’d by few of them; and not running in a Blood like the perpetual Gentleness and inherent Goodness of the Ormond Family.  7
  Gold, as it is the purest, so it is the softest and most ductile of all Metals: Iron, which is the hardest, gathers Rust, corrodes its self; and is therefore subject to Corruption: It was never intended for Coins and Medals, or to bear the Faces and Inscriptions of the Great. Indeed ’tis fit for Armour, to bear off Insults, and preserve the Wearer in the Day of Battle; but the Danger once repell’d, it is laid aside by the Brave, as a Garment too rough for civil Conversation; a necessary Guard in War, but too harsh and cumbersome in Peace, and which keeps off the embraces of a more human Life.  8
  For this reason, my Lord, though you have Courage in a heroical Degree, yet I ascribe it to you but as your second Attribute: Mercy, Beneficence, and Compassion, claim Precedence, as they are first in the divine Nature. An intrepid Courage, which is inherent in your Grace, is at best but a Holiday-kind of Virtue, to be seldom exercis’d, and never but in Cases of Necessity; Affability, Mildness, Tenderness, and a Word, which I would fain bring back to its original Signification of Virtue, I mean good Nature, are of daily use: They are the Bread of Mankind and Staff of Life: Neither Sighs, nor Tears, nor Groans, nor Curses of the vanquish’d follow Acts of Compassion, and of Charity: But a sincere Pleasure and Serenity of Mind, in him who performs an Action of Mercy, which cannot suffer the Misfortunes of another, without redress; lest they should bring a kind of Contagion along with them, and pollute the Happiness which he enjoys.  9
  Yet since the perverse Tempers of Mankind, since Oppression on one side, and Ambition on the other, are sometimes the unavoidable Occasions of War; that Courage, that Magnanimity, and Resolution, which is born with you, cannot be too much commended: And here it grieves me that I am scanted in the pleasure of dwelling on many of your Actions: But [Greek] is an Expression which Tully often uses, when he would do what he dares not, and fears the Censure of the Romans.  10
  I have sometimes been forc’d to amplify on others; but here, where the Subject is so fruitful that the Harvest overcomes the Reaper, I am shorten’d by my Chain, and can only see what is forbidden me to reach: Since it is not permitted me to commend you according to the extent of my Wishes, and much less is it in my Power to make my Commendations equal to your Merits.  11
  Yet in this Frugality of your Praises, there are some Things which I cannot omit, without detracting from your Character. You have so form’d your own Education, as enables you to pay the Debt you owe your Country, or, more properly speaking, both your Countries: Because you were born, I may almost say in Purple at the Castle of Dublin, when your Grandfather was Lord-Lieutenant, and have since been bred in the Court of England.  12
  If this Address had been in Verse, I might have call’d you, as Claudian calls Mercury, Numen commune, Gemino faciens commercia mundo. The better to satisfy this double Obligation, you have early cultivated the Genius you have to Arms, that when the service of Britain or Ireland shall require your Courage and your Conduct, you may exert them both to the Benefit of either Country. You began in the Cabinet what you afterwards practis’d in the Camp; and thus both Lucullus and Cæsar (to omit a crowd of shining Romans) form’d them selves to the War by the Study of History, and by the examples of the greatest Captains, both of Greece and Italy, before their time. I name those two Commanders in particular, because they were better read in Chronicle than any of the Roman Leaders; and that Lucullus in particular, having only the Theory of War from Books, was thought fit, without Practice, to be sent into the Field against the most formidable Enemy of Rome. Tully indeed was call’d the learn’d Consul in derision; but then, he was not born a Soldier: His Head was turn’d another way: When he read the Tactics, he was thinking on the Bar, which was his Field of Battle. The Knowledge of Warfare is thrown away on a General who dares not make use of what he knows. I commend it only in a Man of Courage and of Resolution: in him it will direct his Martial Spirit, and teach him the way to the best Victories, which are those that are least bloody, and which, tho’ atchieved by the Hand, are managed by the Head. Science distinguishes a Man of Honour from one of those Athletick Brutes whom undeservedly we call Heroes. Curs’d be the Poet, who first honour’d with that Name a meer Ajax, a Man-killing Ideot. The Ulysses of Ovid upbraids his Ignorance, that he understood not the Shield for which he pleaded: There was engraven on it, Plans of Cities, and Maps of Countries, which Ajax could not comprehend, but look’d on them as stupidly as his Fellow-Beast the Lion. But on the other side, your Grace has given your self the Education of his Rival; you have studied every Spot of Ground in Flanders, which for these ten Years past has been the Scene of Battles and of Sieges. No wonder if you perform’d your part with such Applause on a Theater which you understood so well.  13
  If I design’d this for a Poetical Encomium, it were easy to enlarge on so copious a Subject; but confining my self 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 unsatisfy’d with all it has done; and an unextinguish’d Desire of doing more. But all this is Matter for your own Historians; I am, as Virgil says, Spatiis exclusus iniquis.  14
  Yet not to be wholly silent of all your Charities, I must stay a little on one Action, which preferr’d the Relief of Others, to the Consideration of your Self. 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 Heroick Charity, put it into the Hands of Count Guiscard, who was Governor of the Place, to be distributed among your Fellow-Prisoners. The French Commander, charm’d with the greatness of your Soul, accordingly consign’d it to the Use for which it was intended by the Donor: By which means the Lives of so many miserable Men were sav’d, and a comfortable Provision made for their Subsistance, who had otherwise perish’d, 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.  15
  But all Actions of your Grace are of a piece; as Waters keep the Tenour of their Fountains: your Compassion is general, and has the same Effect as well on Enemies as Friends. ’Tis 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.  16
  What Wonder is it then, that being born for a Blessing to Mankind, your suppos’d 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 deplor’d 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 bemoan’d the Loss of their Expectations.  17
  This brought the untimely Death of your Great Father into fresh remembrance; as if the same Decree had pass’d on two short successive Generations of the Virtuous; and I repeated to my self the same Verses, which I had formerly apply’d to him: Ostendunt terris hunc tantum fata, nec ultra Esse sinunt.  18
  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 perform’d, the Prayers of Multitudes whom you have oblig’d, 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 desir’d than by
Your Grace’s most humble,
            most oblig’d, and most
                    obedient servant,
JOHN DRYDEN.        
  19
 
Preface

  ’TIS 1 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 of 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 hapned 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-kennil never liv’d to finish the Palace he had contriv’d.
  20
  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 stopp’d; but the speeches of Ajax and Ulysses lying next in my way, I could not balk ’em. When I had compass’d them, I was so taken with the former Part of the Fifteenth Book (which is the Master-piece of the whole Metamorphoses) that I enjoyn’d myself the pleasing Task of rendring 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 occur’d 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 arriv’d 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 Spencer, and Mr. Waller of Fairfax; for we have our Lineal Descents and Clans, as well as other Families: Spencer more than once insinuates, that the Soul of Chaucer was transfus’d into his Body; and that he was begotten by him Two hundred years after his Decease. Milton has acknowledg’d to me, that Spencer was his Original; and many besides my self have heard our famous Waller own, that he deriv’d the Harmony of his Numbers from the Godfrey of Bulloign, 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 refin’d: For by this means, both the Poets being set in the same light, and dress’d 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 Country-man and Predecessor in the Laurel, the Friends of Antiquity are not few: And besides many of the Learn’d, Ovid has almost all the Beaux, and the whole Fair Sex, his declar’d Patrons. Perhaps I have assum’d somewhat more to my self than they allow me; because I have adventur’d 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 mean time, to follow the Thrid 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 pursu’d 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 maintain’d by the Practice of all Italian Writers, who are, or at least assume the Title of, Heroick Poets: He and Chaucer, among other Things, had this in common, that they refin’d 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 receiv’d 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 learn’d Mr. Rhymer) first adorn’d and amplified our barren Tongue from the Provencall, which was then the most polish’d of all the Modern Languages: But this Subject has been copiously treated by that great Critick, who deserves no little Commendation from us his Countrymen. For these Reasons of Time and Resemblance of Genius in Chaucer and Boccace, I resolv’d to join them in my present Work; to which I have added some Original Papers of my own, which whether they are equal or inferiour 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 condemn’d; 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 desir’d of the Fair Spectators that they would count Fourscore and eight before they judg’d 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 my self as vigorous as ever in the Faculties of my Soul, excepting only my Memory, which is not impair’d 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 chuse or to reject; to run them into Verse or to give them the other harmony of Prose, I have so long studied and practis’d 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 Humane 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 interfer’d: but the Reader will be as apt to ask the Question, Why they allow’d 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 deserv’d no better?  21
  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 my self 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 stav’d or forfeited, like Counterbanded 2 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 endeavour’d to chuse 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 own’d, that supposing Verses are never so beautiful or pleasing, yet if they contain any thing which shocks Religion, or Good Manners, they are at best, what Horace says of good Numbers without good sense, Versus inopes rerum, nugæque canoræ: Thus far, I hope, I am Right in Court, without renouncing to my other Right of Self-defence, where I have been wrongfully accus’d, and my Sense wire-drawn 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.  22
  I resume the Thrid of my Discourse with the first of my Translations, 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 Publick, which may enable me to proceed in my Undertaking with some Chearfulness. And this I dare assure the World before-hand, 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 liv’d allow’d him. Homer’s Invention was more copious, Virgil’s more confin’d: So that if Homer had not led the Way, it was not in Virgil to have begun Heroick 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 form’d: The Manners of Æneas, 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 Æneis: and though the Accidents are not the same (which would have argu’d him of a servile, copying, and total Barrenness of Invention), yet the Seas were the same in which both the Heroes wander’d; and Dido cannot be deny’d to be the Poetical Daughter of Calypso. The Six latter books of Virgil’s Poem are the Four and twenty Iliads contracted: A Quarrel occasion’d by a Lady, a Single Combate, Battels fought, and a Town besieg’d. 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 Vertue of an Epick Poet, then the Latin Poem can only be allow’d the second Place. Mr. Hobbs, in the Preface to his own bald Translation of the Ilias (studying Poetry as he did Mathematicks, 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 Epick 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 consider’d. 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 Humane 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 dispos’d, the Manners obscure or inconsistent, or the Thoughts unnatural, then the finest Colours are but Dawbing, 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 Cholerick and Sanguin, the other Phlegmatick and Melancholick: that which makes them excel in their several Ways is, that each of them has follow’d 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. Æneas 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 my self with enlarging on this Subject, but am forc’d 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 Weakning of any Constitution, especially in Age; and many Pauses are required for Refreshment betwixt the Heats; the Iliad of its self being a third part longer than all Virgil’s Works together.  23
  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-natur’d, 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 knowing 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 his Decameron was first publish’d; and from thence our Englishman has borrow’d 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 Grizild 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 translatour, 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 learn’d 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 Chaucer had something of his own, as The Wife of Baths 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 supp’d 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 consider’d, in the Comparison of the two Poets; and I have sav’d my self one half of that Labour, by owning that Ovid liv’d 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 consider’d: And they are to be measur’d only by their Propriety; that is, as they flow more or less naturally from the Persons describ’d, 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. Wou’d any Man, who is ready to die for Love, describe his passion like Narcissus? Wou’d he think of inopem me copia fecit, and a Dozen more of such Expressions, pour’d 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 shou’d 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 alter’d 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 Death-bed. He had complain’d 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 shunn’d, 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 follow’d 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 medling with the Design nor the Disposition of it; because the Design was not their own, and in the disposing of it they were equal. It remains that I say somewhat of Chaucer in particular.  24
  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; learn’d 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 practis’d 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 cou’d never forgo any conceit 3 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 Sweet-meats, 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 indulg’d himself in the Luxury of Writing; and perhaps knew it was a Fault, but hop’d the Reader would not find it. For this Reason, though he must always be thought a great Poet, he is no longer esteem’d 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 purchas’d once a Twelve month: For as my last Lord Rochester said, though somewhat profanely, Not being of God, he could not stand.  25
  Chaucer follow’d Nature every where; but was never so bold to go beyond her: And there is a great Difference of being Poeta and nimis Poeta, if we may believe Catullus, as much as betwixt a modest Behaviour and Affectation. The Verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not Harmonious to us; but ’tis like the Eloquence of one whom Tacitus commends, it was auribus istius temporis accommodata; they who liv’d with him, and some time after him, thought it Musical; and it continues so even in our Judgment, if compar’d 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. ’Tis true, I cannot go so far as he who publish’d 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; ’tis so gross and obvious an Errour, 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 Heroick, was either not known, or not always practis’d in Chaucer’s Age. It were an easie 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 liv’d 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 Spencer, a Harrington, a Fairfax, before Waller and Denham were in being: And our Numbers were in their Nonage till these last appear’d. 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 employ’d 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 Ghant, it was no wonder if he follow’d the Fortunes of that Family; and was well with Henry the Fourth when he had depos’d his Predecessor. Neither is it to be admir’d, that Henry, who was a wise as well as a valiant Prince, who claim’d 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 admir’d, I say, if that great Politician should be pleas’d 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 Mecænas, who recommended Virgil and Horace to him; whose Praises help’d 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 Byas 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, deserv’d the Lashes which he gave them, both in that, and in most of his Canterbury Tales: Neither has his Contemporary Boccace, spar’d 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 Fryar took not from the Character of his Good Parson. A Satyrical 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 honour’d, nor the Bad too coursely us’d: For the Corruption of the Best, becomes the Worst. When a Clergy-man is whipp’d, his Gown is first taken off, by which the Dignity of his Order is secur’d: If he be wrongfully accus’d, he has his Action of Slander; and ’tis at the Poet’s Peril, if he transgress the Law. But they will tell us, that all kind of Satire, though never so well deserv’d by particular Priests, yet brings the whole Order into Contempt. Is then the Peerage of England anything dishonour’d, when a peer suffers for his Treason? If he be libell’d, or any way defam’d, he has his Scandalum Magnatum to punish the Offendor. They who use this kind of Argument, seem to be conscious to themselves of somewhat which has deserv’d the Poet’s Lash; and are less concern’d for their Publick 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 judg’d among themselves, they are all in some sort Parties: For, since they say the Honour of their Order is concern’d in every Member of it, how can we be sure, that they will be impartial Judges? How far I may be allow’d 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 Murther of the Prelate, and in the whipping of his Majesty from Post to Pillar for his Penance. The Learn’d and Ingenious Dr. Drake has sav’d 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 læsit is Justification sufficient in the Civil Law. If I answer him in his own Language, Self-defence, I am sure, must be allow’d me; and if I carry it farther, even to a sharp Recrimination, somewhat may be indulged to Humane Frailty. Yet my Resentment has not wrought so far but that I have follow’d Chaucer in his Character of a Holy Man, and have enlarg’d on that Subject with some Pleasure, reserving to my self 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 observ’d 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 escap’d him. All his Pilgrims are severally distinguish’d from each other: and not only in their Inclinations, but in their very Phisiognomies and Persons. Baptista Porta could not have describ’d 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 Educations, Humours and Callings, that each of them would be improper in any other Mouth. Even the grave and serious Characters are distinguish’d 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 vertuous; some are unlearn’d or (as Chaucer calls them) Lewd, and some are Learn’d. Even the Ribaldry of the Low Characters is different: The Reeve, the Miller, and the Cook are several Men, and distinguish’d from each other, as much as the mincing Lady Prioress and the broad-speaking gap-toothed Wife of Bathe. 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 Fore-fathers and Great Grandames 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 Moncks and Fryars, and Chanons, and Lady Abbesses, and Nuns: For Mankind is ever the same, and nothing lost out of Nature, though every thing is alter’d. 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 confin’d my Choice to such Tales of Chaucer as savour nothing of Immodesty. If I had desir’d more to please than to instruct, the Reve, the Miller, the Shipman, the Merchant, the Sumner, and, above all, the Wife of Bathe, in the Prologue to her Tale, would have procur’d 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 Publick Acknowledgment. If anything of this Nature, or of Profaneness, be crept into these Poems, I am so far from defending it, that I disown it. Totum hoc indictum volo. Chaucer makes another manner of Apologie for his broad-speaking, and Boccace makes the like; but I will follow neither of them. Our Country-man, 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 arrete it nought my villany,
Though that I plainly speak in this mattere
To tellen you her words, and eke her chere:
Ne though I speak her words properly,
For this ye knowen as well as I,
Who shall tellen a tale after a man
He mote rehearse as nye as ever he can
Everich word of it been in his charge,
All speke he, never so rudely, ne large.
Or else he mote tellen his tale untrue,
Or feine things, or find words new:
He may not spare, altho he were his brother,
He mote as well say o word as another.
Christ spake himself full broad in holy writ,
And well I wote no villany is it,
Eke Plato saith, who so can him rede,
The words mote been cousin to the dede.
  26
 
  Yet if a Man should have enquir’d of Boccace or of Chaucer, what need they had of introducing such Characters, where obscene Words were proper in their Mouths, but very undecent to be heard, I know not what Answer they could have made: For that Reason, such Tales 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 mention’d 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.
  27
  I have almost done with Chaucer, when I have answer’d 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-fashion’d 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 Publick: Mr. Cowley was too modest to set up for a Dictatour; and being shock’d perhaps with his old Style, never examin’d into the depth of his good Sense. Chaucer, I confess, is a rough Diamond; and must first be polish’d e’er 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 beside Chaucer, 4 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 observ’d this Redundancy in Chaucer (as it is an easie Matter for a Man of ordinary Parts to find a Fault in one of greater) I have not ty’d 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 presum’d 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 embolden’d, because (if I may be permitted to say it of my self) 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 describ’d, you find these Verses in all the Editions of our Author:
        There saw I Danè, turned unto a Tree,
I mean not the Goddess Diane,
But Venus daughter, which that hight Danè.
Which after a little Consideration I knew was to be reform’d into this Sense, that Daphne, the Daughter of Peneus, was turn’d into a Tree. I durst not make thus bold with Ovid; lest some future Milbourn should arise, and say, Ivaried from my Author, because I understood him not.
  28
  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 mention’d, the late Earl of Leicester, who valu’d Chaucer as much as Mr. Cowley despis’d him. My Lord dissuaded me from this Attempt (for I was thinking of it some Years before his Death) and his Authority prevail’d so far with me as to defer my Undertaking while he liv’d, in deference to him: Yet my Reason was not convinc’d with what he urg’d 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 renascuntur quæ nunc cecidere; cadenlque quæ nunc sent 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 reviv’d, I have that reasonable Veneration for Antiquity, to restore it. All beyond this is Superstition. Words are not like Land-marks, so sacred as never to be remov’d: Customs are chang’d, and even Statutes are silently repeal’d, when the Reason ceases for which they were enacted. As for the other Part of the Argument, that his Thoughts will lose of their original Beauty, by the innovation of Words; in the first place, not only their Beauty, but their Being is 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 maim’d, 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 farther, and dare to add, that what Beauties I lose in some Places, I give to others which had them not originally: But in this I may be partial to my self; 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 hoord 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 my self. 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 alter’d 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 deserv’d 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 inform’d by them, that Mademoiselle de Scudery, who is as old as Sibyl, and inspir’d 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 Provençall (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 renew’d, 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 tax’d with Superstition.  29
  Boccace comes last to be consider’d, who, living in the same Age with Chaucer, had the same Genius, and follow’d 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 borrow’d many Tales from the Italian, yet it appears, that those of Boccace were not generally of his own making, but taken from Authors of former Ages, and by him only modell’d: So that what there was of invention in either of them, may be judg’d equal. But Chaucer has refin’d on Boccace, and has mended the Stories which he has borrow’d, in his way of telling; though Prose allows more Liberty of Thought, and the Expression is more easie, when unconfin’d 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, pitch’d 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 forc’d to marry, and consequently loath’d 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 her self, (as who could blame her?) in hope to mollifie the sullen Bridegroom. She takes her Topiques 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 Vertue, which is the true Nobility. When I had clos’d Chaucer, I return’d 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 Vertue to Nobility of Blood, and Titles, in the Story of Sigismonda; which I had certainly avoided for the Resemblance of the two Discourses, if my Memory had not fail’d me. Let the Reader weigh them both; and if he thinks me partial to Chaucer, ’tis in him to right Boccace.  30
  I prefer in our Countryman, far above all his other Stories, the Noble Poem of Palamon and Arcite, which is of the Epique kind, and perhaps not much inferiour to the Ilias or the Æneis: The Story is more pleasing than either of them, the Manners as perfect, the Diction as poetical, the Learning as deep and various; and the Disposition full as artful: only it includes a greater length of time; as taking up seven years at least; but Aristotle has left undecided the Duration of the Action; which yet is easily reduc’d into the Compass of a year, by a Narration of what preceded the Return of Palamon to Athens. I had thought for the Honour of our Nation, and more particularly for his, whose Laurel, tho’ unworthy, I have worn after him, that this Story was of English Growth and Chaucer’s own: But I was undeceiv’d 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 Fiametta gran pezza cantarono insieme d’ Arcita e di Pala mone: 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 receiv’d many Beauties by passing through his Noble Hands. Besides this Tale, there is another of his own Invention, after the manner of the Provencalls, called The Flower and the Leaf; with which I was so particularly pleas’d, both for the Invention and the Moral; that I cannot hinder my self from recommending it to the Reader.  31
  As a Corollary to this Preface, in which I have done Justice to others, I owe somewhat to my self: not that I think it worth my time to enter the Lists with one M——— or one B———, but barely to take notice, that such Men there are who have written scurrilously against me, without any Provocation. M———, 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 answer’d his Criticisms on mine. If (as they say, he has declar’d in print) he prefers the Version of Ogilby to mine, the World has made him the same Compliment: For ’tis agreed on all hands, that he writes even below Ogilby: That, you will say, is not easily to be done; but what cannot M——— bring about? I am satisfy’d, 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 desir’d him underhand to write so ill against me: But upon my honest word I have not brib’d 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 no body will be persuaded to take the same with his. If I had taken to the Church (as he affirms, but which was never in my Thoughts) I should have had more Sense, if not more Grace, than to have turn’d 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.  32
  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 Fanatique Patrons in London.  33
  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 Epick 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 Whirl-bats 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 in stead of it, to traduce me in a Libel.  34
  I shall say the less of Mr. Collier, because in many Things he has tax’d me justly; and I have pleaded Guilty to all Thoughts and Expressions of mine, which can be truly argu’d 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 Baudry, of which they were not guilty. Besides that, he is too much given to Horse-play in his Raillery; and comes to Battel, like a Dictatour from the Plough. I will not say, The zeal of God’s House has eaten him up; but I am sure it has devour’d 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 employ’d 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 suppos’d, that he read them not without some Pleasure. They who have written Commentaries on those Poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and Martial, have explain’d some Vices, which without their Interpretation had been unknown to Modern Times. Neither has judg’d impartially betwixt the former Age and us.  35
  There is more Baudry 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 reform’d 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 answer’d 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 Battel of Senneph: 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. B——— and M——— are only distinguish’d from the Crowd by being remember’d to their Infamy.
        
Demelri, Teque Tigelli  
Discipularum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.
  36
 
Note 1. Text from the original and only contemporary edition, 1700. [back]
Note 2. Counterbanded] Some editors wrongly give contrabanded. [back]
Note 3. forgo any conceit] forgive any conceit 1700. This can hardly be right, though most editors print it without comment. Christie, also without comment, prints forego. [back]
Note 4. beside Chaucer] Most editors give besides Chaucer. [back]
 
 
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors