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Boecius made for his Comforte and Consolacion;' a Treatise on the Astrolabe,' addressed to his son Lewis, in 1391, and printed (at least in part) in the earlier editions of his works; and 'The Testament of Love,' an apparent imitation of the treatise of Boethius, written towards the end of his life, and also printed in the old editions of his collected works. But, perhaps, the most highly finished, and in other respects also the most interesting, of the great poet's prose compositions, are the Tale of Meliboeus and the Parson's Tale, in the Canterbury Tales. The former, which he tells himself as one of the company of pilgrims, and which is a very close translation from a French treatise, entitled Le Livre de Melibee et de Dame Prudence, (existing both in prose and verse), has been supposed, as mentioned above, to be written in a sort of blank measure or rhythm, perhaps, Mr. Guest thinks, the same that is called cadence in the House of Fame: the following extract is from the earlier portion of the Tale, where the rhythmical style is conceived to be most marked:
This Melibee answered unto his wife Prudence; I purpose not, quod he, to werken by thy counsel for many causes and reasons, for certes every wight wold hold me than a a fool; this is to sayn, if I for thy counseling wold change things that been ordained and affirmed by so many wise men. Secondly, I say that all women ben wick, and none good of hem ball; for of a thousand men, saith Salomon, I found o good man; but certes of all women good woman found I never. And also, certes if I governed me by thy counsel it should seem that I had yeve thee over me the maistry; and God forbid that it so were; for Jesus Sirach saith, that if the wif have the maistry she is contrarious to her husband; and Salo
mon sayeth, Never in thy life, to thy wife, ne to thy child, ne to thy friend, ne yeve no power over thyself; for better it were that thy children ax of thee thinges that hem needeth, than thou see thyself in the hands of thy children. And also, if I wol werch by they counselling, certes it must be some time secree f till it were time that it be knowen; and this it may not be if I should be counselled by thee. For it is written, the janglery of women ne can nothing hide, save that which they wot not. After, the philosopher sayeth, In wicked counsel women venquishen men. And for these reasons I ne owe not to be counselled by thee.h
Whan Dame Prudence, full debonairly and with great patience, had heard all that her husbond liked for to say, than axed she of him licence for to speak, and said in this wise: My lord, quod she, as to your first reason it may lightly been answered, for I say that it is no folly to change counsel when the thing is changed, or else when the thing seemeth otherwise than it seemed before. And moreover I say, though that ye have sworn and behight to perform your emprise, and nevertheless ye waive to perform thilk same emprise by just cause, men should not say therefore ye were a liar ne forsworn, for the book saith that the wise man maketh no leasing whan he turneth his courage for the better. And, all be it that your emprise be established by great multitude of folk, yet thark you not accomplish thilk ordinance, but you liketh, for the truth of things and the profit ben rather founden in few folk that ben wise and full of reason, than by great multitude of folk there every man cryeth and clattereth what him liketh; soothly swich m multitude is not honest. As to the second reason, whereas ye say that all women
& Ought not. h These three last sentences are not in the MSS., but are an insertion of Tyrwhitt's, translated from the French Melibee. Engaged, pledged yourself.
j Heart, inclination. n Such.
ben wicked; save your grace, certes ye despise all women in this wise, and he that all despiseth, as saith the book, all displeaseth. And Senek saith, that who so wol have sapience shall no man dispraise, but he shall gladly teach the science that he can without presumption or pride, and swich things as he nought can he shall not be ashamed to lear hem,P and to inquere of less folk than himself. And, sir, that there hath ben full many a good woman may lightly be preved; for certes, sir, our Lord Jesu Christ whan he was risen from death to life appeared rather to a woman than to his apostles. And, though that Salomon said he found never no good woman, it followeth not therefore that all women be wicked; for, though that he ne found no good woman, certes many another man hath found many a woman full good and true; or else, peradventure, the intent of Šalomon was this, that in sovereign bounty he found no woman; this is to say, that there is no wight that hath sovereign bounty save God above, as he himself recordeth in his Evangelies; for there is no creature so good that in him ne wanteth somewhat of the perfection of God that is his maker. Your third reason is this: ye say that if that ye govern you by my counsel it should seem that ye had yeve me the maistry and the lordship of your person. Sir, save your grace, it is not so; for, if so were that no man should be counselled, but only of hem that han lordship and maistry of his person, men n'old not be counselled so often; for, soothly, thilk man that asketh counsel of a purpose, yet hath he free choice whether he wol werk after that counsel or none. as to your fourth reason, there as ye sains, that the janglery of women can hide things that they wot not, as whoso saith that a woman cannot hide that she wot; sir, these words ben understood of women that ben jangleresses and wicked, of which women men sain that three things driven a man out of his house, that is to say,
• Knows, understands. ¶ Meaning. J Goodness.
P Learn them. 8 Whereas you say.
smoke, dropping of rain, and wicked wives; and of swich women Salomon saith, that a man were better dwell in desert than with a woman that is riotous; and, sir, by your leave, am not I; for ye have full often assayed my great silence and my great patience, and eke how well that I can hide and hele things that men oughten secretly to hiden. And, soothly, as to your fifth reason, whereas ye say that in wicked counsel women venquishen men, God wot that thilk reason stant here in no stead; for understondeth now ye axen counsel for to do wickedness, and if ye wol werken wickedness, and your wife restraineth thilk wicked purpose, and overcometh you by reason and by good counsel, certes your wife ought rather to be praised than to be blamed: thus should ye understond the philosopher that saith, In wicked counsel women venquishen hiru husbonds. And there as ye blamen all women and hir reasons, I shall show you by many ensamples that many women nave been full good, and yet ben, and hir counsel wholesome and profitable. Eke some men han said that the counsel of women is either too dear or else too little of price; but all be it so that full many a woman be bad, and hir counsel vile and nought worth, yet han men founden full many a good woman, and discreet and wise in counselling. Lo Jacob thorough the good counsel of his mother Rebeck, wan the benison of his father and the lordship over all his brethren. Judith, by her good counsel, delivered the city of Bethuly, in which she dwelt, out of the hond of Holofern, that had it besieged and wold it all destroy. Abigail delivered Nabal, her housbond, fro David the king, that wold han slain him, and appeased the ire of the king by her wit, and by her good counselling. Hester, by her counsel, enhanced greatly the people of God, in the reign of Assuerus the king. And the same bounty in good counselling of many a good woman moun w men read and tell. And,
▾ Still are.
further more, whan that our Lord had created Adam, our form father, he said in this wise; It is not good to be a man alone; make we to him an help semblable to himself. Here moun ye see that if that women weren not good, and hir counsel good and profitable, our Lord God of heaven wold neither had wrought hem ne called hem help of man, but rather confusion of man. And then said a clerk once in two verses, what is better than gold? Jasper. What is better than Jasper? Wisdom. And what is better than wisdom? Woman. And what is better than a good woman? Nothing. And, sir, by many other reasons moun ye seen that many women ben good, and hir counsel good and profitable; and therefore, sir, if ye wol trost to my counsel I shall restore you your daughter whole and sound, and I wol don to you so much that ye shalen have honour in this case.
Whan Melibee had heard the words of his wife Prudence, he said thus: I see well that the word of Salomon is sooth; for he saith that words that ben spoken discreetly by ordinance ben honeycombs, for thy yeven sweetness to the soul and wholesomeness to the body; and, wife, because of thy sweet words, and eke for I have preved and assayed thy great sapience and thy great truth, I wol govern me by thy counsel in all thing.
This is probably one of the passages that have been conceived to have most of a rhythmical character; yet its balanced style does not go beyond what is common in rhetorical prose. Part of the measured march of the language may arise from the French tale, in perhaps its original form, having been in verse. What is called the Parson's (or Persones) Tale, which winds up the Canterbury Tales, as we possess the work, is a long moral discourse, which, for the greater part, is not very entertaining, but which yet contains some passages curiously
* First, original.