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WIFE OF BATH
In days of old, when Arthur fill'd the throne,
convey'd. Above the rest our Britain held they dear More solemnly they kept their Sabbaths here, And made more spacious rings, and revelld half
* Derrick, glance.
I speak of ancient times; for now the swain,
* The disappearance of the Fairies, which Chaucer ascribes to the exercitation of the friars, a later bard, in the same vein of irony, imputes to the Reformation :
By which we note the fairies,
Were of the old profession ;
Their dances were procession.
It so befel in this King Arthur's reign, A lusty knight was pricking o'er the plain ; A bachelor he was, and of the courtly train. It happen'd as he rode, a damsel gay, In russet robes, to market took her way; Soon on the girl he cast an amorous eye; So straight she walk’d, and on her pasterns high : If seeing her behind he liked her pace, Now turning short, he better liked her face. He lights in haste, and, full of youthful fire, By force accomplish'd his obscene desire. This done, away he rode, not unespied, For, swarming at his back, the country cried; And, once in view, they never lost the sight, But seized, and, pinion'd, brought to court the
knight. Then courts of kings were held in high renown, Ere made the common brothels of the town; There virgins honourable vows received, But chaste as maids in monasteries lived ; The king himself, to nuptial ties a slave, No bad example to his poets gave; And they, not bad but in a vicious age, Had not, to please the prince, debauch'd the stage.*
But now alas ! they all are dead,
Or gone beyond the seas ;
Or else they take their ease.
* Our author, to whom, now so far advanced in life, the recollection of some of his plays could not be altogether pleasant, is willing to seek an excuse for their license in the debauchery of Charles and of his court. The attack of Collier had been too just to admit of its being denied; and our author, like other people, was content to make excuses where defence was impossible.
Now,what should Arthur do? Heloved the knight, But sovereign monarchs are the source of right; Moved by the damsel's tears and common cry, He doom'd the brutal ravisher to die. But fair Geneura * rose in his defence, And pray'd so hard for mercy from the prince, That to his queen the king the offender gave, And left it in her power to kill or save. This gracious act the ladies all approve, Who thought it much a man should die for love; And, with their mistress, join'd in close debate, (Cover'd their kindness with dissembled hate,) If not to free him, to prolong his fate. At last agreed, they call'd him by consent Before the queen and female parliament; And the fair speaker, rising from her chair, Did thus the judgment of the house declare :-.
Sir knight, though I have ask'd thy life, yet
Thy destiny depends upon my will ;
* Or Ganore, or Vanore, or Guenever, the wife of Arthur in
Yet (lest surprised, unknowing what to say,
Woe was the knight at this severe command,
His leave thus taken, on his way he went, With heavy heart, and full of discontent, Misdoubting much, and fearful of the event. 'Twas hard the truth of such a point to find, As was not yet agreed among the kind. Thus on he went; still anxious more and more, Ask'd all he met, and knock'd at every door ; Enquired of men; but made his chief request To learn from women what they loved the best. They answer'd each, according to her mind, To please herself, not all the female kind. One was for wealth, another was for place ; Crones, old and ugly, wish'd a better face. The widow's wish was oftentimes to wed; The wanton maids were all for sport a-bed. Some said the sex were pleased with handsome lies, And some gross flattery loved without disguise. Truth is, says one, he seldom fails to win Who flatters well; for that's our darling sin; But long attendance, and a duteous mind, Will work even with the wisest of the kind. One thought the sex's prime felicity Was from the bonds of wedlock to be free;