One of the Library’s most beautiful books is this copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, produced by William Morris’ Kelmscott Press. It includes engravings designed by Birmingham artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Born into poverty, Burne-Jones rose to fame and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his services to art.
The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 1896 (AF094/KEL/1896)
Here bigynneth the Tale of the Wife of Bath
In tholde dayes of Kyng Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
Al was this land fulfild of faierye.
The led queene with hir joly compaignye
Daunced ful ofte in manye a grene mede;
This was the olde opinon, as I rede,
I speke of manye hundred yeres ago;
But now kan no man se none elves mo,
for now the grete charitee and prayeres
Of lymytours, and othere hooly freres,
That serchen every lond and every streem,
As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,
Blessynge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,
Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures,
Thorpes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes,
This maketh than ther been no faieryes;
for ther as wont to walken was an elf,
Ther walketh now the lymytour hymself,
In undermeles and in morwenynges,
And seyth his matyns and his hooly thynges
As he gooth in his lymytacioun.
Wommen may go saufly up and down;
In every bussh, or under every tree,
Ther is noon noother incubus but he,
And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
And so bifel it, that is kynge Arthour,
Haddle in his hous a lusty bacheler,
That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver;
And happed that, allone as she was born,
He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn,
Of whiche mayde, anon, maugree hir heed,
By verray force he rafte hire maydenhed;
for which oppressioun was swich clamour,
And swich pursute unto the kyng Arthour,
That dampned was this knyght for to be deed
By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed
Paraventure, swich was the statut tho;
But that the queene and othere ladyes mo
So longe preyeden the kyng of grace,
Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place,
And yaf hym to the queene al at hir wille,
To chese, wheither she wolde hym save or spille.
The queene thanketh the kyng with al hir myght,
And after this thus spak she to the knyght,
Whan that she saugh hir tyme, upon a day:
Thou standest yet, quod she, in swich array,
That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me
What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren;
Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from iren.
And if thou kanst nat tellen it anon,
Yer shal I yeve thee leve for to gon
A twelfmonth and a day, to seche and leere
An answere suffisant in this mateere;
And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace,
Thy body for to yelden in this place.
Mo was this knyght, and sorwefully he siketh;
But what he may nat do alas hym liketh;
And at the laste, he chees hym for to wende,
And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,
With swich answere as God wolde hym purveye;
And taketh his leve, and wendeth forth his weye.
He seketh every hous and every place
Wheras he hopeth for to fynde grace
To lerne, what thyng wommen loven moost;
But he ne koude arryven in no coost
Wheras he myghte fynde in this mateere
Two creatures accordynge in feere.
Somme seyde, wommen loven best richesse,
Somme seyde, honour, somme seyde, jolynesse,
Somme, riche array, somme seyden, lust abedde,
And ofte tyme to be wydwe and wedde.
Somme seyde, that oure hertes ben moost esed
Whan that we been yflatered and yplesed.
He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye,
A man shal wynne us best with flaterye;
And with attendance, and with bisynesse,
Been we ylymed, bothe moore and lesse.
And somme seyn, how that we loven best
For to be free, and do right as us lest,
And that no man repreve us of oure vice,
But seye that we be wise, and nothyng nyce.
For trewely, ther is noon of us alle,
If any wight wol clawe us on the galle,
That we nel kike; for he seith us sooth;
Assay, and he shal fynde it that so dooth.
For, be we never so vicious withinne,
We sol been holden wise, and clene of synne.
And somme seyn, that greet delit han we
For to been holden stable and eek secree,
And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,
And nat biwreye thyng that men us telle.
But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele,
Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele.
Witnesse on Myda, - wol ye heere the tale?
Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
Seyde, Myda hadde under his longe heres
Growynge upon his heed two asses eres,
The whiche vice he hydde, as he best myghte,
Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo.
He loved hire moost and trusted hir also;
He preyede hire, that to no creature
She sholde tellen of his disfigure.
She swoor him nay, for al this world to wynne,
She nolde do that vileynye or synne,
To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.
But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde,
That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte
That nedely som word hir moste asterte;
And sith she dorste telle it to no man,
Doun to a mareys faste by she ran,
Til she cam there, hir herte was a fyre,
And as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun:
Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,
Quod she, to thee I telle it and namo,
Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two!
Now is myn herte al hool, now is it oute.
I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute.
Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,
Yet out it moot, we kan no conseil hyde.
The remenant of the tale, if ye wol heere,
Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it leere.
This knyght, of which my tale is specially,
Whan that he saugh he myghte nat come therby,
This is to seye, what wommen love moost,
Withinne his brest ful sorweful was the goost.
But hoom he gooth, he myghte nat sojourne;
The day was come that homward moste he tourne.
And in his wey it happed hym to ryde,
In al this care under a forest syde,
Wher as he saugh upon a daunce go
Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo;
Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,
In hope that som wysdom sholde he lerne.
But certeinly, er he came fully there,
Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where.
No creature saugh he that bar lyf,
Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf -
A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.
Agayn the knyght this olde wyf gan ryse,
And seyde, Sire knyght, heer forth ne lith no wey.
Tel me what that ye seken, by your fey!
Paraventure it may the bettre be,
Thise olde folk kan muchel thyng, quod she.
My leeve mooder, quod this knyght, certeyn
I nam but deed, but if that I kan seyn
What thyng it is, that wommen moost desire.
Koude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quite youre hire.
Plight me thy trouthe, heere in myn hand, quod she,