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At one time in this harbourage as is now. *
Ye gon to Canterbury; God you speed !
liketh all by one assent
* “ At ones in this herberwe, as is now.” Ones as a dissyllable. Herberwe-harbour, place of shelter : lodging-house, or inn. The word bower is used, by a parallel licence, or metaphor, by our old writers, for a chamber or bed-room; and is not, in the same sense, quite discarded by our amatory contemporaries.
+ “ The blissful martyr quite you your mede.” To modern ears quit-e, as a dissyllable, would be somewhat grating, especially before the semi-vowel (y): perhaps, however, the line might more properly have been rendered,
“ The blissful martyr quit you of your meed :" i.e. give you quittance of your deserts.
1" For trewely comfort, ne mirthe is non,
Edits. 1532 and 1542. This is one of the instances in which we think Mr. Tyrwhitt has unwisely departed from the oldest and best authenticated editions, merely, as it should seem, because they did not happen to agree with the MSS. he had consulted. The fair presumption surely is, that the best reading is the true reading, whether it be found in manuscript or in printed copy.
“ For | tréw-e- } lý com | fórt, ne | mirth is , non,” is not, however, as good a reading to the ear as,
“ For | tréwly | comfort, | ne / mýrth is there none.” § This is evidently a line of four metrical feet:
“ Now for to standen | at my I judg-e-ment "
And for to worken as I shall you say
merry, smiteth off my head. Hold up your hand-es withouten more speech.” The proposal is readily accepted; the merry host proceeds:
“Lordings (quod he) now hearkeneth for the best;
of which parallels frequently occur in Milton, who makes of them an exquisite harmonic variety : as in the following unique blank couplet:
“ That to the highth of this great argument |
I may as- / sert e-| ternal | providence !" * Evidently a line of trisyllabic feet throughout. A licence not common in the heroic couplets even of Chaucer. It has a grace here, standing as a detached sentence. The fols. however, of 1532 and 1542 read,
“ Holde up your handes without more speech :" which supposes both hand-es and mor-e dissyllables.
+" At youre aller (altogether] cost."
| We have preferred the use of the expletive particle a' sitting, as less obsolete to Chaucer's dissyllabic pronunciation of plac-e
“Here in this place, sitting by this post.”. This line presents a picture of interior architecture, of which some reliques are yet to be met with in antiquated buildings in remote parts of England and Wales; and which was formerly, in all probability, common in the large dining-halls of inns, and of other marisions of a secondary—perhaps almost of the first description; the ceiling being in the centre, or towards one or both of the ends, propts by strong posts or beams of timber. Against one of these we inay suppose the
And, for to maken you the mor-e merry,
And I will early shapen me therefore."
The proposition is received" with full glad heart;" mine, host is installed, by one assent, in a full authority to rule" at his devise, in high and low.” The guests finish their wine cheerfully, and retire to rest, “ withouten any longer tarrying;" and
" At morrow when the day began to spring,
for all that by the way is spent.
He who that hath the shortest shall begin.' The jolly host, however, shews himself not deficient in the courtesy of his craft; and even while professing to put all upon a footing of equality by the proposed expedient of lots, knows what is due to the comparative rank of his guests. His familiarity is not without the discriminations of courtesy.
“ Sir knight (quoth he) my master and my lord,
Now draw your cutt, for that is mine accord.
host to be seated, at the head of his table, as is still the custom at rustic ordinaries-a post of honour, that is to be surrendered to the victor, at the prize supper, on their return.
*«And who that will my jug-e-ment withsay."
s“ Unto the watering of Saint Thomas." The well or tank, at which it was usual for travellers to water their horses.
Draw near (quoth he) my lady prioress;
Ne studieth nought: lay hand to, every man." The pilgrims proceed accordingly to the ballot; and it is insinuated, that it is not without contrivance on the part of our politic host, that the lot of precedency falls to the knight; who accordingly tells the first tale: and certainly a subject more adapted for knightly theme, or more appropriate to the character that had been delineated—more sounding with chivalrous feats of arms, and no less chivalrous devotion to the fair, at a time when tout a l'amour, tout a l'honor, was the universal motto of the knighthood of Europe, could not well have been put into knightly mouth. An observation, the spirit of which will equally apply to all the rest : the adaptation of the stories, as well as the dialogue, to the characters from whom they proceed, being a circumstance in which our author never loses sight of the dramatic model of his machine.
This tale of Palemon and Arcite (epic in its subject, and almost so in its construction, and extending almost to epic length-nearly 2300 verses) is so well known, that it is unnecessary to enter into any detail of the fable and action, or to animadvert upon that curious admixture of Gothic manners and classical mythology-the exploits and jousts of chivalry, with the names and incidents of the heroic age of Greece, (a usual characteristic in the romantic compositions of the times) with which it abounds.
It has been popularised by the paraphrastic version of Dryden, already alluded to, and dramatised by Fletcher: assisted (as is pretended) by the master hand of Shakspeare.
With respect to Dryden's paraphrastic version, however, of this, the noblest of the Canterbury Tales, we must have the temerity (notwithstanding his high reputation) to contend, that it does not do all the justice that might have been expected to the venerable original. The incidents indeed remain unaltered; and the language and versification of Dryden cannot fail of being more acceptable to the modern ear than that of the great master harmonist of the fourteenth century. Nor will it be doubted by those who are acquainted with the voluptuous cast and character of Dryden's style, that beauty would become more decorate, and description more forid, under the colourings of his hand. But these adornments seem to have been purchased by a more than necessary sacrifice of the venerable simplicity of the original. The ornament is not always in harmony with the subject—the style not always adapted to the theme It is Corinthian frieze on a Gothic edifice. What is gained also in smoothness, is often lost in strength; and
amplification is not always atoned by the value of what is added. In straining to be more poetical, Dryden is apt to become occasionally outré: and when he would be imaginative, his fancy sometimes evaporates in a conceit, a fault from which even his translations from the classics are not always exempt. Neither does he always forbear, in his fondness for a not over delicate vein of satire, to pervert the sentiment and enfeeble the pathos of his author. There are, at any rate, many passages in the Knight's Tale which, to those who have sufficiently mastered the language to enter into the spirit of the original, will appear more touching in the comparative rudeness of their primitive simplicity, than in the gloss and equanimity of their modern array.
In short, Chaucer does not continue sufficiently Chaucer for our taste, in the garb in which he is presented to us by Dryden ; who, though he has not taken any thing like the liberties with this tale that Pope has taken with the January and May, has not given to his amplifications the same redeeming graces. It is in style and versification alone that Dryden has improved upon Chaucer; and instances might be pointed out in which, even in these respects, the vantage might be disputed: for lines occasionally present themselves in the original text, which, even to a modern ear, have a rhythmical and euphonous harmony that has seldom been surpassed in the most polished era of our language and versification.
But whatever may be the superiority of Dryden's version in the general current of dictiore and metrical modulation, we cannot but wish that, in every other respect, he had left his author as he found him.
The greater part of these strictures may, perhaps, be sufficiently illustrated, by quoting (with such license only as we have already prescribed to ourselves) the sixty-six lines in which Chaucer describes the death of Arcite, and inserting immediately afterwards the ninety-five lines of Dryden's paraphrase. See Cant. T. v. 2744, &c.
“Swelleth the breast of Arcite, and the sore
• There is no denying that, even independently of the harmony of polished diction, the January and May of Pope is an improvement upon Chaucer-in the imaginative part especially. The Oberon and Mab of the modern conspicuously outshine the Pluto and Proserpine of the elder bard. The names of classical deities accord but ill with the functions and attributes of Gothic Fairies.