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doing Chaucer into modern English, a single specimen may suffice,
Chaucer, in describing the Haberdasher, the Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, and Tapestry manufacturer, five “fair burgesses' all fit "to sitten in a Gilde-Hall on a Deys,” gives us the following personal and domestic sketch of city manners and character:
“ Everich for the Wisdom that he can,
Was shapely for to bin an alderman;
And han a mantel royally ybore."
Their heads with senatorial wisdom fraught:
Room for my lady,' most delightful sound.” In which it will be seen, that every intimation of the nature of the property by which the growing opulence of thriving burgesses in those days was indicated their cattle, rents, &c.) is thrown out of sight, and the “ well-stored purse' alone of the capitalists, or money-dealers of a new era, is substituted in place; while their spouses, the city madams of the fourteenth century, are paraded to the theatres, which, for a century and half after their date of being, had no existence*,
* The only dramatic representations known in the time of Chaucer, seem to have been the “ Mysteries,” noticed in former articles ; and these, so far from theatres to which city madams could be " paraded with mantles borne before them or trains behind,” were acted, as is apparent from the only allusion to them we remember in the Canterbury Tales, and which will hereafter be quoted in the description of Absolon, the amorous parish clerk, on mere temporary scaffolds in the streets.
or made to display their ostentatious finery in that still more recent resort, the Mall of St. James's Park—as if it had been the age of Charles the Second instead of Edward the Third, in which Chaucer lived and wrote.
Nor is Betterton himself always more true to the sense, or the costume of his author, or more happy in his adherence to the manners of the olden time. Even in the description of the knight, (one of the least unfaithful of his transcripts,) the picturesquely characteristic circumstance of marking pre-eminent valour, by placing the distinguished champion at the head of the banquet table,
“ Full often time he had-de the board begun,
Aboven all-e na-ti-ons* in Pruce,” is entirely dropped; and in the description of the gentle—the gay and gallant squire, (the son and heir of this worthy knight) we have the “ treats and balls” of modern gallantry, mingled with the chivalrous manners and accomplishments by which the galants of those days sought " to standen in their ladies' grace."
The verses of Chaucer throughout this description, to an ear accustomed to the pronunciation of his time, must have been felt to be eminently sweet and beautiful, as for example:
“ Well could he sit on horse, and fair-e ride.
He could-e song-es make, and well endict,
He slept no more than doth the nightingale." And perhaps the melody is not more improved than the sense in the modern version,
“ Well could he sing, and treats and balls provide,
His fiery steed he gracefully could sit ;
* That is to say—“ He had frequently been placed at the head of the table, the usual compliment to extraordinary merit. our military inen wanted employment, it was usual for them to go
and serve in. Pruce, or Prussia, with the knights of the Teutonic order, who were in a state of constant warfare with their heathen neighbours in Lettow, (Lithuania,) Ruse, (Russia,) and elsewhere." - Tyrwhitt.
Here it will be perceived, among other deviations, the little trait so descriptive of the educational manners of the times, of specifying that he “ could write,” as a distinguishing accomplishment, even in the heir of knighthood, an order of high distinctions in those days,) is entirely omitted ; and more censurably still we find, as we proceed, the concluding couplet, which points to another trait of the manners of the olden times, when the sons of our ancestral gentry and nobility performed for their parents many of those offices which are now exclusively consigned to menials, passed over unnoticed. In Chaucer, we are told that this youth, though in his apparel,
66 Embroider'd was he as it were a mede,
All full of fresh-e flowers white and red," and who
“ Had been some time in chivalry,
In Flanders, in Artois, and in Picardy," and whom we find adorned with all the accomplishments of his rank, thus ministering at the parental board.
“ Courteous he was, lowly and serviceable,
And carv'd before his father at the table."
we have already suggestes, are even quite inverted : for example, Chaucer's description of the Merchant thus concludes
“ This worthy man full well his wit beset,
There wisted no man that he was in debt;
Forsooth he was a worthy man with all." Mr. Betterton, however, has thought fit to throw this twice attested worth entirely out of the description, and to substitute something very different in its place :-in short, to make the punctual, high-minded, [stately] and worthy merchant, a mere Old Gripus, who
In debt to none, in bargains strict and nice,
Not charitable, for he seldom gave." The finely drawn character of the Franklin, the liberalminded, hospitable, and not unaccomplished, (as accomplishment then was,) country gentleman of his age, is scarcely less disfigured. Chaucer tells us of his good cookery and sumptuous fare
“For he was Epicurus' owen son;"
and adds that his hospitable board was so constantly and so plenteously supplied with baked meats, fish and flesh, &c.
“ It snowed in his mouth of meat and drink
His table dormant in his hall alway
Stood ready covered all the livelong day.” Mr. Betterton gratuitously turns the hall into a pigstye, and tells us that
“ Fragments and marrow-bones bespread the floor!” Nor is this the only substance, or the only mode, in which the moderniser has given grossness instead of polish to his improved version. Thus for example, in the character of the Sompnour, (Summoner,) which in the original is coloured with no sparing or fastidious hand, we have the following lines of Chaucer:
“Well loved he garlick, onions and leeks,
And for to drink strong wine as red as blood.
Then would he speaken no word but Latine.” Mr. Betterton seems to have thought, that in describing a gross and vulgar character, the poet should be as gross and vulgar as his subject; and thus, accordingly he modernised:
“Strong bloody wine he lov'd, and well dress'd fish,
And stunk of garlick like a Spanish dish:
And belch out Latin with unsavoury breath.” It is curious to observe, that even in the elegance of imaginative language, and the harmony of versification, the original of Chaucer is frequently superior to the modern version. The reader will probably have noticed an instance or two of this in the parallel passages already quoted. From the multitude that might be selected, we present another from the character of the Fryer : though in this, the reader must remember the dissyllabic quantity of the words ey-en and starr-es.
“ Somewhat be lisped in his wantonness,
As don the starres in a frosty night.”
“Something he humm'd betwixt a lispe and song,
To make his English sweet upon his tongue.
His little pigs eyes gave unequal light,
Like small stars twinkling in a frosty night." If, however, (as seems very probable,) out of the first part of this volume, (the version of the original text from collated MSS.) arose the complete edition of the Canterbury Tales, by Mr. Tyrwhitt, out of the second part, arose more indisputably, after a lapse of ten years, the three volumes of “ Ogle's Chaucer,” specified at the head of our present article. To the general prologue and characters, by Mr. Betterton, &c., (revised in several parts by Mr. Ogle himself,) and the Kuight's Tale, by Dryden, Ogle's version adds, “ by several bands," the separate Prologues and Tales of the Miller, the Reve, the Cook, the Man of Law, the Squire, (with a continuation of his Tale from Spencer,) the Merchant, the Wife of Bath, the Fryer, the Sompnour, and the Clerk of Oxenford, about one half of the extant portion of the work.
As co-operators with Mr. Ogle in this task of rendering Chaucer into modern English, in addition to those of Betterton and Markland, we find the names of Cobb, Brooke, Boyse, and Grosvenor-names almost forgotten in the poetical catalogue; and whose claims to grateful remembrance, as illustrators of the genius or restorers of the popularity of Chaucer, are not much more distinguishing than from their original compositions. What is incorporated from the previous paraphrases of Dryden and Pope, constitute the principal merits of these three volumes; and in what the merit of those consist we have already specified.
A very large portion of the remainder, (and that certainly not the worst,) is from the editorial pen of Mr. Ogle himself. But the highest reputation to which he can aspire, even as a versifier, is only that of mediocrity. The style, neither of his diction nor of his mind, was competent to the task of giving a vigorous interpretation, either to the humour, the pathos, or his gravity of Chaucer. Nothing less than a real poet, and a poet of great versatility of talent, can render into modern language, the spirit and the pregnancy of that master genius of his age. Neither did Mr. Ogle (nor did any of his coadjutors) look far enough, or with an eye sufficiently acute and discriminative, into the antiquities of our manners or our language, to be enabled to preserve with fidelity the characteristic waits of the original, and transmute into modern phrase those graphic sketches, which should bring before us, in all the striking lines and vivid hues of feature, resemblance, and habitude, our ancestors of all ranks and conditions of five hundred years agone.
Since the attempt of Ogle,no further efforts have, we believe, been made in this way; and it is not therefore from the gloss of modernising pens that, up to this time, we can expect