Page:Life of William Blake 2, Gilchrist.djvu/208

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150
SELECTIONS FROM BLAKE'S WRITINGS.

It is the same with all his characters; he has done all by chance, or perhaps his fortune, money, money. According to his prospectus he has Three Monks; these he cannot find in Chaucer, who has only One Monk, and that no vulgar character, as he has endeavoured to make him. When men cannot read, they should not pretend to paint. To be sure Chaucer is a little difficult to him who has only blundered over novels and catch-penny trifles of booksellers; yet a little pains ought to be taken, even by the ignorant and weak. He has put the Reeve, a vulgar fellow, between his Knight and Squire, as if he was resolved to go contrary in everything to Chaucer, who says of the Reeve—

'And ever he rode hinderest of the rout.'

In this manner he has jumbled his dumb dollies together, and is praised by his equals for it; for both himself and his friend are equally masters of Chaucer's language. They both think that the Wife of Bath is a young beautiful blooming damsel; and H—— says, that she is the 'Fair Wife of Bath,' and that 'the Spring appears in her cheeks.' Now hear what Chaucer has made her say of herself, who is no modest one:

'But Lord! when it remembereth me
Upon my youth and on my jollity,
It tickleth me about the hearte root.
Unto this day it doth my hearte boot
That I have had my world as in my time;
But age, alas, that all will envenime,
Hath me bireft, my beauty and my pith
Let go; farewell! the devil go therewith!
The flour is gone, there is no more to tell:
The bran, as best I can, I now mote sell;
And yet, to be right merry, will I fond
Now forth to telle of my fourth husbond.'

She has had four husbands, a fit subject for this painter; yet the painter ought to be very much offended with his friend H——, who has called his 'a common scene,' and 'very ordinary forms;' which is the truest part of all, for it is so, and very wretchedly so indeed. What merit can there be in a picture of which such words are spoken with truth?

But the prospectus says that the Painter has represented Chaucer himself as a knave who thrusts himself among honest people to make game of and laugh at them; though I must do justice to the Painter, and say that he has made him look more like a fool than a knave.