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PREFACE

TO THE FABLES

[1700]

'Tis with a Poet, as with a man who designs to build, and is very exact, as he supposes, in casting up the cost beforehand; but, generally speaking, he is mistaken in his account, and reckons short of the expense 5 he first intended. He alters his mind as the work proceeds, and will have this or that convenience more, of which he had not thought when he began. So has it happened to me; I have built a house, where I

intended but a lodge; yet with better success than 10 a certain nobleman, who, beginning with a dog-kennel, never lived to finish the palace he had contrived.

From translating the First of Homer's, Iliads, (which I intended as an essay to the whole work,) I proceeded

to the translation of the Twelfth Book of Ovid's Meta15 morphoses, because it contains, among other things, the

causes, the beginning, and ending, of the Trojan war. Here I ought in reason to have stopped; but the speeches of Ajax and Ulysses lying next in my way,

I could not balk 'em. When I had compassed them, 23 I was so taken with the former part of the Fifteenth

Book, (which is the masterpiece of the whole Metamorphoses,) that I enjoined myself the pleasing task of rendering it into English. And now I found, by the number of my verses, that they began to swell into a little volume; which gave me an occasion of looking backward on some beauties of my author, in his former books: there occurred to me the Hunting of the Boar, Cinyras and Myrrha, the good-natured story of Baucis 5 and Philemon, with the rest, which I hope I have translated closely enough, and given them the same turn of verse which they had in the original; and this, I may say, without vanity, is not the talent of every poet. He who has arrived the nearest to it, is the 10 ingenious and learned Sandys, the best versifier of the former age; if I may properly call it by that name, which was the former part of this concluding century. For Spenser and Fairfax both flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth ; great masters in our language, 15 and who saw much further into the beauties of our numbers than those who immediately followed them. Milton was the poetical son of Spenser, and Mr. Waller of Fairfax; for we have our lineal descents and clans as well as other families. Spenser more than once 20 insinuates, that the soul of Chaucer was transfused into his body; and that he was begotten by him two hundred years after his decease. Milton has acknowledged to me, that Spenser was his original ; and many besides! myself have heard our famous Waller own, that he 25 derived the harmony of his numbers from Godfrey of Bulloign, which was turned into English by Mr. Fairfax.

But to return: having done with Ovid for this time, it came into my mind, that our old English poet, 30 Chaucer, in many things resembled him, and that with no disadvantage on the side of the modern author, as I shall endeavour to prove when I compare them ; and as I am, and always have been, studious to promote the honour of my native country, so I soon resolved 35 to put their merits to the trial, by turning some of the Canterbury Tales into our language, as it is now refined; for by this means, both the poets being set in the same light, and dressed in the same English habit, story to $ be compared with story, a certain judgment may be made betwixt them by the reader, without obtruding my opinion on him. Or, if I seem partial to my countryman and predecessor in the laurel, the friends

of antiquity are not few; and, besides many of the 10 learned, Ovid has almost all the Beaux, and the whole

Fair Sex, his declared patrons. Perhaps I have assumed somewhat more to myself than they allow me, because I have adventured to sum up the evidence;

but the readers are the jury, and their privilege remains 15 entire, to decide according to the merits of the cause;

or, if they please, to bring it to another hearing before some other court. In the mean time, to follow the thread of my discourse (as thoughts, according to

Mr. Hobbes, have always some connexion) so from 20 Chaucer I was led to think on Boccace, who was not

only his contemporary, but also pursued the same studies; wrote novels in prose, and many works in verse; particularly is said to have invented the octave

rhyme, or stanza of eight lines, which ever since has 25 been maintained by the practice of all Italian writers

who are, or at least assume the title of heroic poets. He and Chaucer, among other things, had this in common, that they refined their mother-tongues; but

with this difference, that Dante had begun to file their 30 language, at least in verse, before the time of Boccace,

who likewise received no little help from his master Petrarch; but the reformation of their prose was wholly owing to Boccace himself, who is yet the standard of

purity in the Italian tongue, though many of his phrases 35 are become obsolete, as in process of time it must needs happen. Chaucer (as you have formerly been told by our learned Mr. Rymer) first adorned and amplified our barren tongue from the Provençal', which was then the most polished of all the modern languages; but this subject has been copiously treated 5 by that great critic, who deserves no little commendation from us his countrymen. For these reasons of time, and resemblance of genius, in Chaucer and Boccace, I resolved to join them in my present work; to which I have added some original papers of my own, 10 which whether they are equal or inferior to my other poems, an author is the most improper judge; and therefore I leave them wholly to the mercy of the reader. I will hope the best, that they will not be condemned; but if they should, I have the excuse of 15 an old gentleman, who, mounting on horseback before some ladies, when I was present, got up somewhat heavily, but desired of the fair spectators, that they would count fourscore and eight before they judged him. By the mercy of God, I am already come within 20 twenty years of his number; a cripple in my limbs, but what decays are in my mind, the reader must determine. I think myself as vigorous as ever in the faculties of my soul, excepting only my memory, which is not impaired to any great degree; and if I lose not 25 more of it, I have no great reason to complain. What judgment I had, increases rather than diminishes; and thoughts, such as they are, come crowding in so fast upon me, that my only difficulty is to choose or to reject, to run them into verse, or to give them the 30 other harmony of prose: I have so long studied and practised both, that they are grown into a habit, and become familiar to me. In short, though I may lawfully plead some part of the old gentleman's excuse,

· Provencall, ed. 1700.

yet I will reserve it till I think I have greater need, and ask no grains of allowance for the faults of this my present work, but those which are given of course

to human frailty. I will not trouble my reader with 5 the shortness of time in which I writ it, or the several

intervals of sickness. They who think too well of their own performances, are apt to boast in their prefaces how little time their works have cost them, and what

other business of more importance interfered; but the 10 reader will be as apt to ask the question, why they

allowed not a longer time to make their works more perfect ? and why they had so despicable an opinion of their judges as to thrust their indigested stuff upon

them, as if they deserved no better? 15

With this account of my present undertaking, I conclude the first part of this discourse : in the second part, as at a second sitting, though I alter not the draught, I must touch the same features over again, and change

the dead-colouring of the whole. In general I will only ( 20 say, that I have written nothing which savours of im

morality or profaneness; at least, I am not conscious to myself of any such intention. If there happen to be found an irreverent expression, or a thought too wanton,

they are crept into my verses through my inadvertency: 25 if the searchers find any in the cargo, let them be

staved or forfeited, like counterbanded goods; at least, let their authors be answerable for them, as being but imported merchandise, and not of my own manufacture.

On the other side, I have endeavoured to choose such žo fables, both ancient and modern, as contain in each of

them some instructive nioral; which I could prove by induction, but the way is tedious, and they leap foremost into sight, without the reader's trouble of looking after

them. I wish I could affirm, with a safe conscience, 35 that I had taken the same care in all my former writ

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