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JANUARY AND MAY;

OR, THE

MERCHANT'S TALE.

FROM CHAUCER.

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.”

names.

The author adds, that the Miller's Tale in Chaucer, excels all his other tales in true and exquisite humour.- Warton.

VOL. II.

Q

JANUARY AND MAY.

THERE liv'd in Lombardy, as authors write,
In days of old, a wise and worthy knight;
Of gentle manners, as of gen'rous race,
Blest with much sense, more riches, and some grace.
Yet led astray by Venus' soft delights

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He scarce could rule some idle appetites:
For long ago, let Priests say what they cou'd,
Weak sinful laymen were but flesh and blood.

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,

NOTES,

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.

IMITATIONS.

" Whilom ther was dwelling in Lumbardie
“ A worthy knight, that was born in Pavie,
“ In which he lived in gret prosperitee ;
“ And sixty yere a wifles man was he,
“ And folwed ay his bodily delit
“ On women, ther as was his appetit ;
“ As done thise fooles that been seculere.
“ And whan that he was passed sixty yere,
“ Were it for holinesse or for dotage,
“ I cannot sain, but swiche a gret corage
“ Hadde this knight to ben a wedded man,
" That day and night he doth all that he can
“ To espien, wher that he might wedded be ;

Praying our Lord to granten him, that he

Mighte ones knowen of that blisful lif, “ That is betwix an husban and his wif;

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Once, ere he died, to taste the blissful life
Of a kind husband and a loving wife.

These thoughts he fortified with reasons still,
For none want reasons to confirm their will.
Grave authors say, and witty poets sing,
That honest wedlock is a glorious thing:
But depth of judgment most in him appears,
Who wisely weds in his maturer years.
Then let him chuse a damsel young and fair,
To bless his age, and bring a worthy heir;
To sooth his cares, and free from noise and strife,
Conduct him gently to the verge of life.
Let sinful bachelors their woes deplore,
Full well they merit all they feel, and more:
Unaw'd by precepts, human or divine,
Like birds and beasts, promiscuously they join:
Nor know to make the present blessing last,
To hope the future, or esteem the past :
But vainly boast the joys they never try'd,
And find divulg'd the secrets they would hide.

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IMITATIONS.

“ And for to live under that holy bond,
“ With which God firste man and woman bond.
“ Non other lif (said he) is worth a bene ;
“ For wedlock is so esy and so clene,
“ That in this world it is a paradise.
“ Thus saith this olde knight, that was so wise.

And certainly, as soth as God is king,
“ To take a wif, it is a glorious thing,
“ And namely whan a man is old and hore,
“ Than is a wif the fruit of his tresore;
“ Than shuld he take a yong wif and a faire,
“ On which he might engendren him an heire,
“ And lede his lif in joye and in solas,
“ Wheras thise bachelors singen alas,
“ Whan that they finde any adversitee
“ In love, which n'is but childish vanitee.
“ And trewely it sit wel to be so,
“ That bachelors have often peine and wo :
“ On brotel ground they bilde, and brotelnesse

They finden, whan they wenen sikernesse :

They live but as a bird or as a beste,
“ In libertee and under non areste;
“ Ther as a wedded man in his estat
“ Liveth a lif blisful and ordinat,

The marry'd man may bear his yoke with ease,
Secure at once himself and heav'n to please;
And pass his inoffensive hours away,
In bliss all night, and innocence all day:

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Tho' fortune change, his constant spouse remains,
Augments his joys, or mitigates his pains.
But what so pure, which envious tongues will

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;

IMITATIONS.

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Under the yoke of mariage ybound :
“ Wel may his herte in joye and blisse abound.
“ For who can be so buxom as a wif?
“ Who is so trewe and eke so ententif
“ To kepe him, sike and hole, as is his make ?
“ For wele or wo she n'ill him not forsake :
“ She n'is not wery him to love and serve,

Though that he lie bedrede til that he sterve.
“ And yet some clerkes sain, it is not so,

Of which he Theophrast is on of tho :
“ What force though Theophrast list for to lie ?
“ Ne take no wif, quod he, for husbondrie,

As for to spare in household they dispence :
A trewe servant doth more diligence

Thy good to kepe, than doth thin owen wif,
“ For she wol claimen half past al hise lif,
And if that thou be sike, so God me save,

Thy veray friendes or a trewe knave
“ Wol kepe thee bet than she, that waiteth ay

After thy good, and hath don many a day.
“ This sentence, and a hundred thinges werse.

Writeth this man ther God his bones curse.

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