« AnteriorContinuar »
mitted 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 errours 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 Danè turned into a tree,
But Venus daughter, which that light Danè: 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 bave translated Chaucer into English, out of a quite contrary notion : they suppose there is a certain veneration due to bis 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 quæ jam cecidere; cadentque,
Quem penès arbitrium est, & jus, & norma loquendi. When an ancient word for its sound and significancy deserves to be revived, I have that reasonable veneration for antiqnity, 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 Words are not like landmarks, so sacred as never to be removed; customs are changed; and even statutes are silently repealed, when the reason ceases for which they were enacted.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 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 maimed, when it is scarcely 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. It is 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 understood 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 bad 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 any where 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 bim 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 Provençal (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, it is 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, 1 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 bad not failed me. Let the reader weigh them both; and if he thinks me partial to Chaucer, it is in him to rigbt 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 Æneis: the story is more pleasing than either of them, the manners as perfect, the diction as poetical, the learning as deep and Farious; and the disposition full as artful; only it includes a greater length of tiine, 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 Dame 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 Provençals, 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, wbo is in orders, pretends, amongst the rest, this quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul on priesthood: if I have, I am ouly 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 bands, that
he writes even below Ogilby: that, you will say, is not easily to be done ; but what cannot Milbour 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. It is true, I should be glad, if I could persuade him to continue bis 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 bad 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 bis glosses, and interpreted my words into blasphemy and baudry, of which they were not guilty; besides that he is 100 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 de 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 baudry in one play of Fletcher's, called The Custom of the Country, than in all ours together. Yet this has beeu 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 Senneph; from immoral lays, to no ?s: 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
TALES FROM CHAUCER.
Thus, after length of ages, she returns, HER GRACE THE DUCHESS OF ORMOND, or you perform her office in the sphere,
Restor'd in you, and the same place adorns;
O true Plantagenet, О race divine,
Had Chaucer liv'd, that angel-face to view,
Sure he had drawn his Emily from you;
THE bard, who first adorn'd our native tongue, or had you liv'd to judge the doubtful right,
Your noble Palamon had been the knight; Which Homer might without a blush rehearse, And conquering Theseus from his side had sent And leaves a doubtful palm in Virgil's verse : Your generous lord, to guide the Theban govern. He match'd their beauties, where they most excel; Time shall accomplish that; and I shall see (ment, Of love sung better, and of arms as well.
A Palamon in him, in you an Emily. Vouchsafe, illustrious Ormond, to behold Already have the Fates your path prepard, What power the charms of beauty had of old; And sure presage your future sway declard : Nor wonder if such deeds of arms were done, When westward, like the Sun, you took yourway Inspir'd by two fair eyes, that sparkled like your And from benighted Britain bore the day,
If Chaucer by the best idea wrought, [own. Blue Triton gave the signal from the shore, Aud poets can divine each other's thought, The ready Nereids heard, and swam before The fairest nyinph before his eyes he set;
To smooth the seas; a soft Etesian gale And then the fairest was Plantagenet;
But just inspir'd, and gently swell’d the sail; Who three contending princes made their prize, Portunus took his turn, whose ample hand And ruld the rival nations with her eyes :
Heav'd up his lighten'd keel, and sunk the sand, Who left inimortal trophies of her fame,
And steer'd the sacred vessel safe to land. And to the nobiet order gave the nanie.
The land, if not restrain'd, had met your way, Like her, of equal kiudred to the throne, Projected out a neck, and jutted to the sea. You keep her conquests, and extend your own: Hibernia, prostrate at your feet, ador'd As when the stars, in their etherial race,
In you, the pledge of her expected lord; At length have rolld around the liquid space, Due to her isle; a venerable name; At certain periods they resume their place, His father and his grandsire known to fame ; From the saine point of Heaven their course ad- Awd by that house, accustom’d to conmand, vance,
The sturdy Kerns in due subjection stand; And more in measures of their former dance; Nor bear the reins in any foreign hand.
At your approach, they crowded to the port; And I prepar'd to pay, in verses rude,
Is offerd for your health, the table of my vow. The waste of civil wars, their towns destroy'd, Your angel sure our Morley's mind inspird, Pales unhonour'd, Ceres unemploy'd,
To find the remedy your ill requird; Were all forgot; and one triumphant day As once the Macedon, by Jove's decree, Wip'd all the tears of three campaigns away. Was taught to dream an herb for Ptolomee: Blood, rapines, massacres, were cheaply bought, Or Heaven, which had such over-cost bestow'd, Sa mighty recompense your beauty brouglit. As scarce it could afford to flesh and blood, As when the dove, returning, bore the mark So lik'd the frame, he would not work anew, Of earth restor'd to the long labouring ark, To save the charges of another you. The relics of mankind, secure of rest,
Or by his middle science did he steer, Ope'd every window to receive the guest,
And saw some great contingent good appear And the fair bearer of the message bless'd; Well worth a miracle to keep you here : So, when you came, with loud repeated cries, And for that end, preserv'd the precious mould, The nation took an omen from your eyes,
Which all the future Ormonds was to hold;
Joy to the first and last of each degree,
Who Heaven's alternate beauty well display,
Whose face is Paradise, but fenc'd from sio : Have power to chase all poison, but their own. For God in either eye has plac'd a cherubin. Now in this interval, which Fate has cast
All is your lord's alone; ev'n absent, he Betwixt your future glories and your past,
Employs the care of chaste Penelope. This pause of power, 'tis Ireland's hour to For him you waste in tears your widow'd hours, mourn;
For him your curious needle paints the flowers;
The three fair pledges of your happy love :
Nor dare we trust so soft a messenger,
PALAMON AND ARCITE :
OR THE KNIGHT'S TALE.
In days of old, there liv'd, of mighty fame, And curb his warlike wish to cross the main. A valiant prince, and Theseus was bis name :
Now past the danger, let the learn'd begin A chief, who more in feats of arms excell’d,
The rising nor the setting Sun beheld.
In Scythia with the warrior queen he strove,
And yet the fine materials made it weak: And his victorious army at his side. Porcelain, by being pure, is apt to break:
pass their wavlike pomp, their proud array, Ev'n to your breast the sickness durst aspire ; Their shouts, their songs, their welcome on the And, forc'd from that fair temple to retire,
way: Profanely set the holy place on fire.
But, were it not too long, I would recite