Tales from Chaucer, by Charles Cowden Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
I HAVE endeavoured to put these Tales, written by one of the finest poets that ever lived, into modern language and into as easy prose as I could, without at the same time destroying the poetical descriptions and strong natural expressions of the author. My object in presenting them in this new form was, first, that you might become wise and good by the example of the sweet and kind creatures you will find described in them; secondly, that you might derive improvement by the beautiful writing (for I have been careful to use the language of Chaucer whenever I thought it not too antiquated for modern and young readers); and, lastly, I hoped to excite in you an ambition to read these same stories in their original poetical dress when you shall have become so far acquainted with your own language as to understand, without much difficulty, the old and now almost forgotten terms.
I can promise those among you who possess an ear for the harmony of verse that when you come to read the compositions of this great poet you will then feel how much they have lost by being reduced to my dull prose—although I have laboured to render my narratives as much like poetical prose as I was able; and, more particularly, to give them the air of ancient writing newly dressed up. And I believe I may say that I have in
no instance omitted to introduce a beautiful or natural thought when I could do so with ease and propriety, and without interfering with the quick progress of the story.
In the original Tales are many long discussions which you would find uninteresting at any age; and there are, also, quaint or curious expressions which would not be pleasing to your differently educated ears: these I have omitted altogether, except when I felt that they would preserve the old character of the narration, and not to be too old-fashioned to be misunderstood by you.
The following sentence from Mr. Lamb's preface to his prose tales from the plays of Shakespeare—a book every one of you should read—will explain all I would say upon the present occasion.
"Faint and imperfect images," he says, "they must be called (of the original dramas), because the beauty of his (Shakespeare's) language is too frequently destroyed by the necessity of changing many of his excellent words into words far less expressive of his true sense to make it read something like prose; and even in some places where his verse is given unaltered, as, hoping from its simple plainness, to cheat the young readers into a belief that they are reading prose, yet still, his language being transplanted from its own natural soil and wild poetic garden, it must want much of its native beauty."
May you, in reading these pages, experience half the pleasure that the writing of them has afforded