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PLAYFUL POEMS, (by various authors) EDITED AND WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY HENRY MORLEY.
CHAUCER'S MANCIPLE'S TALE OF PHOEBUS AND THE CROW Modernised by LEIGH HUNT. CHAUCER'S RIME OF SIR THOPAS Modernised by Z. A. Z. CHAUCER'S FRIAR'S TALE; OR, THE SUMNER AND THE DEVIL Modernised by LEIGH HUNT. CHAUCER'S REVE'S TALE Modernised by R. H. HORNE. CHAUCER'S POEM OF THE CUCKOO AND THE NIGHTINGALE Modernised by WILLIAM WORDSWORTH. GOWER'S TREASURE TROVE Modernised from the fifth book of the CONFESSIO AMANTIS. LYDGATE'S LONDON LICKPENNY
LYDGATE'S BICORN AND CHICHEVACHE
DUNBAR'S BEST TO BE BLYTH
POPE'S RAPE OF THE LOCK
COWPER'S JOHN GILPIN
BURNS'S TAM O'SHANTER
HOOD'S DEMON SHIP
HOOD'S TALE OF A TRUMPET
THE GAME OF OMBRE
The last volume of these "Companion Poets" contained some of Chaucer's Tales as they were modernised by Dryden. This volume contains more of his Tales as they were modernised by later poets. In 1841 there was a volume published entitled, "The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer Modernized." Of this volume, when it was first projected, Wordsworth wrote to Moxon, his publisher, on the 24th of February 1840: "Mr. Powell, my friend, has some thought of preparing for publication some portion of Chaucer modernised, as far and no farther than is done in my treatment of 'The Prioress' Tale.' That would, in fact, be his model. He will have coadjutors, among whom, I believe, will be Mr. Leigh Hunt, a man as capable of doing the work well as any living writer. I have placed at my friend Mr. Powell's disposal three other pieces which I did long ago, but revised the other day. They are 'The Manciple's Tale,' 'The Cuckoo and the Nightingale,' and twenty-four stanzas of 'Troilus and Cressida.' This I have done mainly out of my love and reverence for Chaucer, in hopes that, whatever may be the merits of Mr. Powell's attempt, the attention of other writers may be drawn to the subject; and a work hereafter produced, by different persons, which will place the treasures of one of the greatest of poets within the reach of the multitude, which now they are not. I mention all this to you because, though I have not given Mr. Powell the least encouragement to do so, he may sound you as to your disposition to undertake the publication. I have myself nothing further to do with it than I have stated. Had the thing been suggested to me by any number of competent persons twenty years ago, I would have undertaken the editorship and done much more myself, and endeavoured to improve the several contributions where they seemed to require it. But that is now out of the question."
Wordsworth had made his versions of Chaucer in the year 1801. "The Prioress's Tale" had been published in 1820, so that only the three pieces he had revised for his friend's use were available, and of these the Manciple's Tale was withdrawn, the version by Leigh Hunt (which is among the pieces here reprinted) being used. The volume was published in 1841, not by Moxon but by Whitaker. Wordsworth's versions of "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale" (here reprinted), and of a passage taken from "Troilus and Cressida," were included in it. Leigh Hunt contributed versions of the Manciple's Tale and the Friar's Tale (both here reprinted), and of the Squire's Tale. Elizabeth A. Barrett, afterwards Mrs. Browning, contributed a version of "Queen Annelida and False Arcite." Richard Hengist Horne entered heartily into the venture, modernised the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the Reve's Tale, and the Franklin's, and wrote an Introduction of more than a hundred pages, to which Professor Leonhard Schmitz added thirty-two pages of a Life of Chaucer. Robert Bell, to whom we were afterwards indebted for an "Annotated Edition of the English Poets," modernised the Complaint of Mars and Venus. Thomas Powell, the editor, contributed his version of the Legends of Ariadne, Philomene, and Phillis, and of "The Flower and the Leaf," and a friend, who signed only as Z. A. Z, dealt with "The Rime of Sir Thopas."
After the volume had appeared, Wordsworth thus wrote of it to Professor Henry Reed of Philadelphia: "There has recently been published in London a volume of some of Chaucer's tales and poems modernised; this little specimen originated in what I attempted with 'The Prioress' Tale,' and if the book should find its way to America you will see in it two further specimens from myself. I had no further connection with the publication than by making a present of these to one of the contributors. Let me, however, recommend to your notice the Prologue and the Franklin's Tale. They are both by Mr. Horne, a gentleman unknown to me, but are--the latter in particular--very well done. Mr. Leigh Hunt has not failed in the Manciple's Tale, which I myself modernised many years ago; but though I much admire the genius of Chaucer as displayed in this performance, I could not place my version at the disposal of the editor, as I deemed the subject somewhat too indelicate for pure taste to be offered to the world at this time of day. Mr. Horne has much hurt this publication by not abstaining from the Reve's Tale. This, after making all allowance for the rude manners of Chaucer's age, is intolerable; and by indispensably softening down the incidents, he has killed the spirit of that humour, gross and farcical, that pervades the original. When the work was first mentioned to me, I protested as strongly as possible against admitting any coarseness and indelicacy, so that my conscience is clear of countenancing aught of that kind. So great is my admiration of Chaucer's genius, and so profound my reverence for him. . . for spreading the light of Literature through his native land, that, notwithstanding the defects and faults in this publication, I am glad of it, as a means for making many acquainted with the original, who would otherwise be ignorant of everything about him but his name."
Wordsworth's objection to the Manciple's Tale from Ovid's Metamorphoses was an afterthought. He had begun by offering his version of it for publication in this volume. His objection to Horne's treatment of the Reve's Tale was reasonable enough. The original tale was the sixth novel in the ninth day of the Decameron, and probably was taken by Chaucer from a Fabliau by Jean de Boves, "De Gombert et des Deux Clercs." The same story has been imitated in the "Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles," and in the "Berceau" of La Fontaine. Horne's removal from the tale of everything that would offend a modern reader was designed to enable thousands to find pleasure in an old farcical piece that would otherwise be left unread.
Chaucer's "Rime of Sir Thopas" was a playful jest on the long-winded story-telling of the old romances, and had specially in mind Thomas Chestre's version of Launfal from Marie of France, and the same rhymer's romance of "Ly Beaus Disconus," who was Gingelein, a son of Gawain, called by his mother, for his beauty, only Beaufis (handsome son); but when he offered himself in that name to be knighted by King Arthur, he was knighted and named by him Li Beaus Disconus (the fair unknown). This is the method of the tediousness, in which it showed itself akin to many a rhyming tale.
"And for love of his fair vis His mother cleped him Beaufis, And none other name; And himselve was full nis, He ne axed nought y-wis What he hight at his dame.
"As it befel upon a day, To wood he went on his play Of deer to have his game; He found a knight, where he lay In armes that were stout and gay, Y-slain and made full tame.
"That child did off the knightes wede, And anon he gan him schrede In that rich armour. When he hadde do that dede, To Glastenbury he gede, There lay the King Arthour.
"He knelde in the hall Before the knightes all, And grette hem with honour, And said: 'Arthour, my lord, Grant me to speak a word, I pray thee, par amour.
"'I am a child uncouth, And come out of the south, And would be made a knight, Lord, I pray thee nouthe, With thy merry mouthe, Grant me anon right.'
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