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TALE OF THE NUN'S PRIEST.
THERE lived, as authors tell, in days of yore,
A widow, somewhat old, and very poor;
Deep in a cell her cottage lonely stood,
Well thatch'd and under covert of a wood.
This dowager, on whom my tale I found,
Since last she laid her husband in the ground,
A simple sober life in patience led,
And had but just enough to buy her bread;
But housewifing the little heaven had lent,
She duly paid a groat for quarter rent;
And pinch’d her belly, with her daughters two,
To bring the year about with much ado.
The cattle in her homestead were three sows, An ewe called Mally, and three brinded cows. Her parlour-window stuck with herbs around, Of savoury smell, and rushes strew'd the ground. A maple dresser in her hall she had, On which full many a slender meal she made :
For no delicious morsel pass'd her throat ;
According to her cloth she cut her coat.
No poignant sauce she knew, no costly treat,
Her hunger gave a relish to her meat.
A sparing diet did her health assure;
Or sick, a pepper posset was her cure.
Before the day was done, her work she sped,
And never went by candle-light to bed.
With exercise she sweat ill humours out;
Her dancing was not hinder'd by the gout.
Her poverty was glad, her heart content,
Nor knew she what the spleen or vapours meant.
Of wine she never tasted through the year,
But white and black was all her homely cheer ;
Brown bread and milk, (but first she skimm'd her
And rashers of singed bacon on the coals;
On holidays an egg, or two at most;
But her ambition never reach'd to roast.
A yard she had, with pales enclosed about,
Some high, some low, and a dry ditch without.
Within this homestead lived, without a peer,
For crowing loud, the noble Chanticleer;
So hight her cock, whose singing did surpass
The merry notes of organs at the mass.
More certain was the crowing of the cock
To number hours, than is an abbey-clock;
And sooner than the matin-bell was rung,
He clapp'd his wings upon his roost, and sung :
For when degrees fifteen ascended right,
By sure instinct he knew 'twas one at night.
High was his comb, and coral-red withal,
In dents embattled like a castle wall;
His bill was raven-black, and shone like jet;
Blue were his legs, and orient were his feet;
White were his nails, like silver to behold,
His body glittering like the burnish'd gold.
This gentle cock, for solace of his life, Six misses had, beside his lawful wife. Scandal, that spares no king, though ne'er so good, Says, they were all of his own flesh and blood; His sisters, both by sire and mother's side, And sure their likeness shew'd them near allied. But make the worst, the monarch did no more, Than all the Ptolemies had done before : When incest is for interest of a nation, 'Tis made no sin by holy dispensation. Some lines have been maintain'd by this alone, Which by their common ugliness are known.
But passing this as from our tale apart, Dame Partlet* was the sovereign of his heart. Ardent in love, outrageous in his play, He feather'd her a hundred times a-day; And she, that was not only passing fair, But was withal discreet, and debonair, Resolved the passive doctrine to fulfil, Though loth, and let him work his wicked will; At board and bed was affable and kind, According as their marriage-vow did bind, And as the church's precept had enjoin'd. Even since she was a se'nnight old, they say, Was chaste and humble to her dying day, Nor chick nor hen was known to disobey.
By this her husband's heart she did obtain ; What cannot beauty, join'd with virtue, gain! She was his only joy, and he her pride, She, when he walk'd, went pecking by his side ;
* Partlet, or Perthelot, as the proper name of a hen, is a word of difficult and dubious etymology. Ruddiman, in his Glossary to Douglas's Virgil, gives several derivations; the most plausible is that which brings it from Partlet, an old word signifying a woman's ruff.
If, spurning up the ground, he sprung a corn,
The tribute in his bill to her was borne.
But, oh! what joy it was to hear him sing
In summer, when the day began to spring,
Stretching his neck, and warbling in his throat!
Solus cum sola, then was all his note.
For in the days of yore, the birds of parts
Were bred to speak, and sing, and learn the liberal
It happ'd that perching on the parlour-beam,
Amidst his wives, he had a deadly dream,
Just at the dawn; and sigh’d, and groan'd so fast,
As every breath he drew
would be his last.
Dame Partlet, ever nearest to his side,
Heard all his piteous moan, and how he cried
For help from gods and men; and sore aghast
She peck'd and
pull’d, and waken'd him at last.
Dear heart, said she, for love of heaven declare
Your pain, and make me partner of your care.
You groan, sir, ever since the morning-light,
As something had disturb'd your noble sprite.-
And, madam, well I might, said Chanticleer, Never was shrovetide-cock in such a fear. Even still I run all over in a sweat, My princely senses not recover'd yet. For such a dream I had of dire portent, That much I fear my body will be shent : It bodes I shall have wars and woeful strife, Or in a loathsome dungeon end my life. Know, dame, I dreamt within my troubled breast, That in our yard I saw a murderous beast, That on my body would have made arrest. With waking eyes I ne'er beheld his fellow; His colour was betwixt a red and yellow. Tipp'd was his tail, and both his pricking ears, With black, and much unlike his other hairs :
The rest, in shape a beagle's whelp throughout,
With broader forehead, and a sharper snout:
Deep in his front were sunk his glowing eyes,
That yet, methinks, I see him with surprise.
Reach out your hand, I drop with clammy sweat,
And lay it to my heart, and feel it beat.-
Now fie for shame! quoth she; by heaven above,
Thou hast for ever lost thy lady's love.
No woman can endure a recreant knight;
He must be bold by day, and free by night :
Our sex desires a husband or a friend,
Who can our honour and his own defend;
Wise, hardy, secret, liberal of his purse ;
A fool is nauseous, but a coward worse :
No bragging coxcomb, yet no baffled knight,
How darest thou talk of love, and darest not fight?
How darest thou tell thy dame thou art affear'd ?
Hast thou no manly heart, and hast a beard ?
If aught from fearful dreams may be divined,
They signify a cock of dunghill kind.
All dreams, as in old Galen I have read,
Are from repletion and complexion bred ;
From rising fumes of indigested food,
And noxious humours that infect the blood :
And sure, my lord, if I can read aright,
These foolish fancies, you have had to-night,
Are certain symptoms in the canting style)
Of boiling choler, and abounding bile ;
This yellow gall, that in your stomach floats,
Engenders all these visionary thoughts.
When choler overflows, then dreams are bred
Of flames, and all the family of red ;
Red dragons, and red beasts, in sleep we view,
For humours are distinguish'd by their hue.
From hence we dream of wars and warlike things,
And wasps and hornets with their double wings. .