Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
 
Prologue to the Recueil des Histoires de Troye
By William Caxton (c. 1415–1491)
 
HERE beginneth the volume entitled and named the recueil 1 of the histories of Troy, composed and drawn out of divers books of Latin into French, by the right venerable person and worshipful man, Raoul le Fevre, priest and chaplain unto the right noble, glorious, and mighty prince in his time, Philip, duke of Bourgoyne, of Brabant, etc., in the year of the incarnation of our Lord God one thousand four hundred sixty and four, and translated and drawn out of French into English by William Caxton, mercer of the city of London, at the commandment of the right high, mighty, and virtuous princess, his redoubted lady Margaret, by the grace of God Duchess of Bourgoyne, of Lotryk, of Brabant, etc., which said translation and work was begun in Bruges in the County of Flanders, the first day of March, the year of the incarnation of our said Lord God one thousand four hundred sixty and eight, and ended and finished in the holy city of Cologne the 19th day of September, the year of our said Lord God one thousand four hundred sixty and eleven, etc.  1
  And on that other side of this leaf followeth the prologue.  2
  When I remember that every man is bounden by the commandment and counsel of the wise man to eschew sloth and idleness, which is mother and nourisher of vices, and ought to put myself unto virtuous occupation 2 and business, then I, having no great charge of occupation, following the said counsel, took a French book and read therein many strange and marvellous histories wherein I had great pleasure and delight, as well for the novelty of the same as for the fair language of French, which was in prose so well and compendiously set and written, which methought I understood the sentence and substance of every matter. And forsomuch as this book was new and late made and drawn into French, and never had seen it in our English tongue, I thought in myself it should be a good business to translate it into our English, to the end that it might be had as well in the realm of England as in other lands, and also for to pass therewith the time, and thus concluded in myself to begin this said work. And forthwith took pen and ink and began boldly to run forth as blind Bayard, 3 in this present work which is named the Recueil of the Trojan histories. And afterward when I remembered myself of my simpleness and unperfectness that I had in both languages, that is, to wit, in French and in English, for in France was I never, and was born and learned mine English in Kent in the Weald where, I doubt not, is spoken as broad and rude English as in any place of England, and have continued, by the space of thirty years, for the most part in the countries of Brabant, Flanders, Holland, and Zeeland; and thus when all these things came tofore me after that I had made and written a five or six quires, I fell in despair of this work and purposed no more to have continued therein, and those quires laid apart, and in two years after laboured no more in this work. And was fully in will to have left it, till on a time it fortuned that the right high, excellent, and right virtuous princess, my right redoubted lady, my lady Margaret, by the grace of God sister unto the King of England and of France, my sovereign lord—Duchess of Bourgoyne, of Lotryk, 4 of Brabant, of Lymburgh, and of Luxembourg, Countess of Flanders and Artois and of Bourgoyne, Palatine of Hainault, of Holland, of Zeeland, and of Namur, Marchioness of the holy empire, lady of Fries, of Salins, and of Mechlin—sent for me to speak with her good grace of divers matters. Among the which, I let her highness have knowledge of the foresaid beginning of this work, which anon commanded me to show the said five or six quires to her said grace, and when she had seen them, anon she found a default in mine English, which she commanded me to amend, and moreover commanded me straitly to continue and make an end of the residue then not translated; whose dreadful commandment I durst in no wise disobey, because I am a servant unto her said grace, and receive of her yearly fee, and other many good and great benefits, and also hope many more to receive of her highness; but forthwith went and laboured in the said translation after my simple and poor cunning; also, nigh as I can, following mine author, meekly beseeching the bounteous highness of my said lady that of her benevolence list to accept and take in gree 5 this simple and rude work here following. And if there be anything written or said to her pleasure, I shall think my labour well employed, and whereas there is default that she arette 6 it to the simpleness of my cunning which is full small in this behalf, and require and pray all them that shall read this said work to correct it, and to hold me excused of the rude and simple translation. And thus I end my prologue.  3
 
Note 1. recueil = collection. [back]
Note 2. ought to put myself unto virtuous occupation. Himself would be more logical; but Caxton anticipates the application of the maxim to himself (in the next sentence). [back]
Note 3. blind Bayard.  Bayard is properly “a bay horse”; and a blind Bayard was used as a proverbial expression for the recklessness that leaps before it looks. [back]
Note 4. Lotryk = Lorraine or Lothringen. [back]
Note 5. take in gree = the French prendre en gré, or agréer. [back]
Note 6. arette = set it down to. Perhaps from French arrêter, in the sense of fixing. [back]
 
 
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