The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer
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The Canterbury Tales
A MODERN RENDERING INTO PROSE OF
THE PROLOGUE AND TEN TALES
AUTHOR OF “THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS”
WITH PICTURES IN COLOUR BY
WALTER APPLETON CLARK
DUFFIELD & COMPANY
By Fox, Duffield, & Company
TO THE MEMORY OF
PROFESSOR FRANCIS JAMES CHILD
How fain we conjure back his smile! How fain
As, bow’d with musings long on elvish lore,
He clutched his satchel at the class-room door
And shot the quick “Good-morning, gentlemen,”
From under the bronze curls, and entered. Then
For us that hour of quaint illusion wore
Such spell as when, beside the Breton shore,
The wizard clerk astounded Dorigen.
For we beheld the nine and twenty ride
Through those dim aisles their deathless pilgrimage,
Lady and monk and rascal laugh and chide,
Living and loving on the enchanted page,
Whilst, half apart, there murmured side by side
The master-poet and the scholar-mage.
The barrier of obsolete speech is the occasion and the apology for this rendering of the Canterbury Tales in English easily intelligible to-day. Whether this barrier be real, or but generally assumed, matters little, for the assumption itself is obstructive and tends equally to the resultant fact, that—in spite of the immensely widened interest in Chaucer and the diffused knowledge of his works due to labours of profound scholarship in the last fifty years—a very large proportion of the educated public still receives its impressions of the poet at second hand, from literary hearsay, or the epitomising essays of critics.
To present, therefore, a representative portion of Chaucer’s unfinished masterpiece in such form as shall best preserve for a modern reader the substance and style of the original, is the chief aim of this book. When the publishers asked me to carry out this object, the nature of the appropriate form presented itself for solution. As modernisation, the undertaking is not new. At various epochs, and with varying scope of design, poets such as Dryden, Pope, Leigh Hunt, Elizabeth Barrett, Wordsworth, have contrived metrical versions of the Canterbury Tales in the literary forms of their own day. Lesser poets and writers of the past two centuries have executed the like. Their versions possess in common the aim of substituting modern English verse for Chaucer’s, often as an alleged latter-day improvement. All, as Professor Lounsbury has shown, “had a direct tendency at the time to divert men from the study of the original.” The present rendering, therefore, which is rather a modified form than a modernisation of Chaucer’s tales, is believed to differ from all the aforesaid versions in method and, largely, in motive. For the form adopted is prose; it preserves, as closely as possible, the very words of Chaucer and his characteristic constructions; it aims by faithful accuracy to present a text which shall be efficient in promoting the study of the original. In working principle, it has taken advice from the poet himself in his Prologue:
“For this ye knowen al-so wel as I,
Who-so shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce, as ny as ever he can,
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche and large;
Or elles he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feyne thing, or finde wordes newe.”
Briefly, then, the method followed has been to present, so far as possible, Chaucer’s ipsissime verba; to err rather in the direction of literal fidelity than literary license. No archaisms, however, have been retained which are not fairly intelligible. The necessary changes which have been made are: first, omissions on the score of propriety, of intelligibility (as when a long paraphrase would have been required for a trivial matter), and (very seldom) of redundancy; secondly, rare and slight rearrangements for the sake of clearness; thirdly, translation and paraphrase required by clearness and the necessities of prose-style. Proper names have been altered to their classical or modern forms only in the case of historical characters or places fairly familiar to-day. The text of Professor Skeat has been followed almost always and his notes very largely.
The number of tales selected is the result of the particular scope of this volume, which, as I have said, seeks only to present a representative part of the Canterbury Tales. The choice of the tales has been further limited by the expediency of selecting from among those which are neither too broad (as the Summoner’s), nor too prolix (as the Parson’s). To the ten tales chosen have been added those prologues, epilogues, and links which directly pertain to them in the Chaucerian design. The Squire’s Tale, though unfinished, has been included for the sake not only of its own romantic charm, but of that familiar citation of its author by which Milton has immortalised its very incompleteness, and taught us of the after-time still to
“Call up him that left half-told
The story of Cambuscan bold.”
There remains for me to express—what I should have preferred to signify, in other wise, on the title-page—my grateful acknowledgment of the vital assistance given to this book by Dr. John S. P. Tatlock of the University of Michigan. He has read all the text in manuscript, or proof, and in very few instances have I dissented from his emendations. The insight and supervision of his thorough scholarship have been of the utmost benefit to this undertaking.
Cornish, New Hampshire,
- August, 1904.
Forth we rode when day began to spring
Palamon desireth to slay his foe Arcite
Therewith he brought us out of Town
The three Rogues search in the woods for Death
So much of Dalliance and fair Speech
There came a Knight upon a Steed of Brass