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JANUARY AND MAY;
The story of January and May, now before us, is of the comic kind; and the character of a fond old dotard, betrayed into disgrace by an unsuitable match, is supported in a lively manner. Pope has endeavoured suitably to familiarize the stateliness of our heroic measure, in this ludicrous narrative ; but, after all his pains, this measure is not adapted to such subjects so well as the lines of four feet, or the French numbers of Fontaine. Fontaine is, in truth, the capital and unrivalled writer of comic tales. He generally took his subjects from Buccace, Poggius, and Ariosto ; but adorned them with so many natural strokes, with such quaintness in his reflections, and such a dryness and archness of humour, as cannot fail to excite laughter.
Our Prior has happily caught his manner in many of his lighter tales, particularly in Hans Carvel ; the invention of which, if its genealogy be worth tracing, is first due to Poggius. It is found in the hundred and thirty-third of his Facetiæ, where it is entitled, Visio Francisci Philelphi ; from hence Rabelais inserted it under another title, in his third book and twenty-eighth chapter. It was afterwards related in the book called the Hundred Novels. Ariosto finishes the fifth of his incomparable satires with it. Malespini also made use of it. Fontaine, who imagined Rabelais to be the inventor of it, was the sixth author who delivered it, as our Prior was the last, and perhaps not the least spirited. Of the tale before us, Mr. Tyrwhitt gives the following account : “ The scene of the Merchant's Tale is laid in Italy ; but none of the names, except Damian and Justin, seem to be Italian, but rather made at pleasure ; so that I doubt whether the story be really of Italian growth. The adventure of the Pear-tree I find in a small collectiou of Latin fables, written by one Adolphus, in elegiac verses of his fashion, in the year 1315. This fable has never been printed but once, and in a book not commonly to be met with.
“ Whatever was the real original of this tale, the machinery of the Fairies, which Chaucer has used so happily, was probably added by himself; and indeed I cannot help thinking that his Pluto and Proserpine were the true progenitors of Oberon and Titania, or rather that they themselves have, once at least, deigned to revisit our poetical system under the latter
“ In the History of English Poetry, vol. i. p. 421, this is said to be an old Lombard story.” But many passages in it are evidently taken from the Polycraticon of John of Salisbury. De molestiis et oneribus conjugiorum secundum Hieronymum et alios philosophos. Et de pernicie libidinis. Et de mulieris Ephesinæ et similium fide. And, by the way, about forty verses belonging to this argument are translated from the same chapter of the Polycraticon, in the Wife of Bath's prologue. In the mean time, it is not improbable that this tale might have originally been Oriental. A Persian tale is just published which it extremely resembles ; and it has much of the allegory of an Eastern apologue.”
The author adds, that the Miller's Tale in Chaucer, excels all his other tales in true and exquisite humour.- Warton.
JANUARY AND MAY.
THERE liv'd in Lombardy, as authors write,
But in due time, when sixty years were o’er, He vow'd to lead this vicious life no more;
10 Whether pure holiness inspir'd his mind, Or dotage turn'd his brain, is hard to find; But his high courage prick'd him forth to wed, And try the pleasures of a lawful bed. This was his nightly dream, his daily care,
15 And to the heav'nly pow’rs his constant pray’r,
JANUARY AND May.) This translation was done at sixteen or seventeen years of age.—P.
In conformity to our author's own practice, it has been thought proper to insert a portion of the original of Chaucer, that the reader may form a judgment of Pope's alterations.—Warton.
" Whilom ther was dwelling in Lumbardie
Praying our Lord to granten him, that he
Mighte ones knowen of that blisful lif, “ That is betwix an husban and his wif;
Once, ere he died, to taste the blissful life
These thoughts he fortified with reasons still,
“ And for to live under that holy bond,
“ And certainly, as soth as God is king,
They finden, whan they wenen sikernesse :
They live but as a bird or as a beste,
The marry'd man may bear his yoke with ease,
spare? Some wicked wits have libell'd all the fair. With matchless impudence they style a wife 45 The dear-bought curse, and lawful plague of life; A bosom-serpent, a domestic evil, A night-invasion, and a mid-day devil. Let not the wise these sland'rous words regard, But curse the bones of ev'ry lying bard.
50 All other goods by fortune's hand are giv’n, A wife is the peculiar gift of Heav'n. Vain fortune's favours, never at a stay, Like empty shadows, pass, and glide away; One solid comfort, our eternal wife,
55 Abundantly supplies us all our life;
Under the yoke of mariage ybound :
Though that he lie bedrede til that he sterve.
Of which he Theophrast is on of tho :
As for to spare in household they dispence :
Thy good to kepe, than doth thin owen wif,
Thy veray friendes or a trewe knave
After thy good, and hath don many a day.
Writeth this man ther God his bones curse.