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'HE Wife of Bath is the other piece of Chaucer which Pope cannot wonder at his choice, which perhaps nothing but his youth could excufe. Dryden, who is known not to be nicely fcrupulous, informs us, that he would not verify it on account of its indecency. Pope, however, has omitted or softened the groffer and more offenfive paffages. Chaucer afforded him many subjects of a more fublime and serious species; and it were to be wished Pope had exercised his pencil on the pathetic ftory of the patience of Grifilda, or Troilus and Creffida, or the Complaint of the Black Knight; or, above all, on Cambufcan and Canace. From the accidental circumftance of Dryden and Pope's having copied the gay and ludicrous parts of Chaucer, the common notion feems to have arifen, that Chaucer's vein of poetry was chiefly turned to the light and the ridiculous. But they who look into Chaucer will foon be convinced of this prevailing prejudice, and will find his comic vein, like that of Shakefpear, to be only like one of mercury, imperceptibly mingled with a mine of gold.
Mr. Hughes withdrew his contributions to a volume of Mifcellaneous Poems, published by Steel, because this prologue was to be inserted in it, which he thought too obfcene for the gravity of his character.
"The want of a few lines," fays Mr. Tyrwhitt, "to introduce The Wife of Bath's Prologue, is perhaps one of thofe defects which Chaucer would have fupplied, if he had lived to finish his work. The extraordinary length of it, as well as the vein of pleafantry that runs through it, is very fuitable to the character of the speaker. The greatest part must have been of Chaucer's own invention, though one may plainly fee that he had been reading the popular invectives against marriage and women in general; fuch as the Roman de la Rofe, Valerius ad Rufinum de non ducendâ uxore, and particularly Hyeronymus contra Jovinianum. The holy Father, by way of recommending celibacy, has exerted all his learning and eloquence (and he certainly was not deficient in either) to collect together and aggravate whatever he could
could find to the prejudice of the female fex. Among other things he has inferted his own tranflation (probably) of a long extract from what he calls, Liber aureolus Theophrafti de nuptiis. Next to him in order of time was the treatise, entitled, Epiftola Valerii ad Rufinum de non ducendâ uxore, ns. Reg. 12. D. iii. It has been printed (for the fimilarity of its fentiments I fuppofe) among the works of St. Jerome, though it is evidently of a much later date. Tanner (from Wood's MSS. Collection) attributes it to Walter Map. (Bib. Brit. v. Map). I fhould not believe it to be older; as John of Salisbury, who has treated of the fame subject in his Polycrat. 1. viii. c. xi., does not appear to have seen it. To these two books Jean de Meun has been obliged for some of the fevereft strokes in his Roman de la Rofe; and Chaucer has tranffufed the quinteffence of all the three works (upon the subject of matrimony) into his Wife of Bath's Prologue and Merchant's Tale."
THE WIFE OF BATH.
I was myself the fcourge that caus'd the smart;
Christ faw a wedding once, the Scripture fays, And faw but one, 'tis thought, in all his days; Whence fome infer, whofe confcience is too nice, No pious Christian ought to marry twice.
But let them read, and folve me, if they can,
Five times in lawful wedlock fhe was join'd;
"Encrease and multiply," was Heav'n's command,
And that's a text I clearly understand.
This too, "Let men their fires and mothers leave. "And to their dearer wives for ever cleave." More wives than one by Solomon were try'd, Or else the wifest of mankind's bely'd.
I've had myself full many a merry fit;
'Tis but a counfel-and we women still
Full many a Saint, fince first the world began, Liv'd an unfpotted maid, in fpite of man:
Let fuch (a God's name) with fine wheat be fed,
For me, I'll keep the post affign'd by heav'n,