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- Playful Poems - 2/35 -


"Then said Arthour the king, 'Anon, without dwelling, Tell me thy name aplight! For sethen I was ybore, Ne found I me before None so fair of sight.'

"That child said, 'By Saint Jame, I not what is my name; I am the more nis; But while I was at hame My mother, in her game, Cleped me Beaufis.'

"Then said Arthour the king, 'This is a wonder thing By God and Saint Denis! When he that would be knight Ne wot not what he hight, And is so fair of vis.

"'Now will I give him a name Before you all in same, For he is so fair and free, By God and by Saint Jame, So cleped him ne'er his dame, What woman so it be.

"'Now clepeth him all of us, Li Beaus Disconus, For the love of me! Then may ye wite a rowe, "'The Faire Unknowe,' Certes, so hatte he"

John Gower's "Confessio Amantis" was a story book, like the Canterbury Tales, with a contrivance of its own for stringing the tales together, and Gower was at work on it nearly about the time when his friend Chaucer was busy with his Pilgrims. The story here extracted was an old favourite. It appeared in Greek about the year 800, in the romance of Barlaam and Josaphat. It was told by Vincent of Beauvais in the year 1290 in his "Speculum Historiale;" and it was used by Boccaccio for the first tale of the tenth day of his "Decameron."

Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate were the old poetical triumvirate, though Lydgate, who was about thirty years old when Chaucer died, has slipped much out of mind. His verses on the adventures of the Kentish rustic who came to London to get justice in the law courts, and his words set to the action of an old piece of rustic mumming, "Bicorn and Chichevache," here represent his vein of playfulness. He was a monk who taught literature at Bury St. Edmunds, and was justly looked upon as the chief poet of the generation who lived after Chaucer's death.

Next follows in this volume a scrap of wise counsel to take life cheerfully, from the Scottish poet, William Dunbar. He lived at the Scottish Court of James the Fourth when Henry the Seventh reigned in England, and who was our greatest poet of the north country before Burns.

Next we come to the poets "who so did please Eliza and our James," and represent their playfulness by Drayton's "Dowsabell," and that most exquisite of fairy pieces, his "Nymphidia," where Oberon figures as the mad Orlando writ small, and Drayton earned his claim to be the Fairies' Laureate, though Herrick, in the same vein, followed close upon him. Michael Drayton, nearly of an age with Shakespeare, was, like Shakespeare, a Warwickshire man. Empty tradition says that Shakespeare died of a too festive supper shared with his friend Drayton, who came to visit him.

Then follows in this volume the playful treatment of a quarrel between friends, in Pope's "Rape of the Lock." Lord Petre, aged twenty, audaciously cut from the head of Miss Arabella Fermor, daughter of Mr. Fermor of Tusmore, a lock of her hair while she was playing cards in the Queen's rooms at Hampton Court. Pope's friend, Mr. Caryll, suggested to him that a mock heroic treatment of the resulting quarrel might restore peace, and Pope wrote a poem in two cantos, which was published in a Miscellany in 1712, Pope's age then being twenty-four. But as epic poems required supernatural machinery, Pope added afterwards to his mock epic the machinery of sylphs and gnomes, suggested to him by the reading of a French story, "Le Comte de Gabalis," by the Abbe Villars. Here there were sylphs of the air and gnomes of the earth, little spirits who would be in right proportion to the substance of his poem, which was refashioned into five cantos, and republished as we have it now in February 1714.

"John Gilpin" was written by William Cowper in the year 1782, when Lady Austin was lodging in the Vicarage at Olney, and spent every evening with Cowper and Mrs. Unwin, cheering Cowper greatly by her liveliness. One evening she told the story of John Gilpin's ride in a way that tickled the poet's fancy, set him laughing when he woke up in the night, and obliged him to turn it next day into ballad rhyme. Mrs. Unwin's son sent it to the Public Advertiser, for the poet's corner. It was printed in that newspaper, and thought no more of until about three years later. Then it was suggested to a popular actor named Henderson, who gave entertainments of his own, that this piece would tell well among his recitations. He introduced it into his entertainments, and soon all the town was running after John Gilpin as madly as the six gentlemen and the post-boy.

John Gilpin's flight is followed in this volume by the flight of Tam o' Shanter. Burns wrote "Tam o' Shanter" at Elliesland, and himself considered it the best of all his poems. He told the story to Captain Grose, as it was current among the people in his part of the country, its scene laid almost on the spot where he was born. Captain Grose, the antiquary, who was collecting materials for his "Antiquities of Scotland," published in 1789-91, got Burns to versify it and give it to him. The poem made its first appearance, therefore, in Captain Grose's book. Mrs. Burns told of it that it was the work of a day. Burns was most of the day on his favourite walk by the river, where his wife and some of the children joined him in the afternoon. Mrs. Burns saw that her husband was busily engaged "crooning to himsell," and she loitered behind with the little ones among the broom. Presently she was attracted by the poet's strange and wild gesticulations; he seemed agonised with an ungovernable joy. He was reciting very loud. Every circumstance suggested to heighten the impression of fear in the lines following,

"By this time he was 'cross the ford Where in the snaw the chapman smoored," etc.,

was taken from local tradition. Shanter was the real name of a farm near Kirkoswald, then occupied by a Douglas Grahame, who was much of Tam's character, and was well content to be called by his country neighbours Tam o' Shanter for the rest of his life, after Burns had made the name of the farm immortal.

Our selection ends with two pieces by Thomas Hood, whose "Tale of a Trumpet" is luxuriant with play of wit that has its earnest side. Hood died in 1845.

A Note upon the Game of Ombre is added, which is founded upon the description of the game in a little book--"The Court Gamester"-- which instructed card-players in the reigns of the first Georges. In the "Rape of the Lock" there is a game of ombre played through to the last trick. That note will enable any reader to follow Belinda's play. It will also enable any one who may care to do so to restore to a place among our home amusements a game which carried all before it in Queen Anne's day, and which is really, when cleared of its gambling details, as good a domestic game for three players as cribbage or piquet is for two. My "Court Gamester," which was in its fifth edition in 1728, after devoting its best energies to ombre, contented its readers in fewer pages with the addition only of piquet and chess.

Obsolete words and words of Scottish dialect, with a few more as to the meaning of which some readers might be uncertain, will be found explained in the Glossary that ends this volume.

CHAUCER'S MANCIPLE'S TALE OF PHOEBUS AND THE CROW MODERNISED BY LEIGH HUNT.

NOTE.

The reader is to understand, that all the persons previously described in the "Prologue to the Canterbury Tales" are now riding on their way to that city, and each of them telling his tale respectively, which is preceded by some little bit of incident or conversation on the road. The agreement, suggested by the Host of the Tabard, was, first, that each pilgrim should tell a couple of tales while going to Canterbury, and another couple during the return to London; secondly, that the narrator of the best one of all should sup at the expense of the whole party; and thirdly, that the Host himself should be gratuitous guide on the journey, and arbiter of all differences by the way, with power to inflict the payment of travelling expenses upon any one who should gainsay his judgment. During the intervals of the stories he is accordingly the most prominent person.--LEIGH HUNT.

PROLOGUE TO THE MANCIPLE'S TALE.

Wottest thou, reader, of a little town, {17} Which thereabouts they call Bob-up-and-down, Under the Blee, in Canterbury way? Well, there our host began to jest and play, And said, "Hush, hush now: Dun is in the mire. What, sirs? will nobody, for prayer or hire, Wake our good gossip, sleeping here behind? Here were a bundle for a thief to find. See, how he noddeth! by St. Peter, see! He'll tumble off his saddle presently. Is that a cook of London, red flames take him! He knoweth the agreement--wake him, wake him: We'll have his tale, to keep him from his nap, Although the drink turn out not worth the tap. Awake, thou cook," quoth he; "God say thee nay; What aileth thee to sleep thus in the day? Hast thou had fleas all night? or art thou drunk? Or didst thou sup with my good lord the monk, And hast a jolly surfeit in thine head?"

This cook that was full pale, and nothing red, Stared up, and said unto the host, "God bless My soul, I feel such wondrous heaviness,


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