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TO THE NEW EDITION.
The present little book is a revival of a publication which met with some favour on its original appearance, in 1786, in two small duodecimo volumes, now of the rarest occurrence. There was a second edition in one volume in 1789, under an altered title, as stated in the old Preface, which has been reprinted verbatim.
The second edition consisted of thirty-three tales, the third and fourth of forty ; the number included in the present republication is fifty, all derived from Le Grand, except two, of which one is “The Friar that Told the Three Children's Fortunes,” No. 48 of “ A Hundred Merry Tales.”
We have here the only work in which are to be
found in English prose those highly popular stories which are so well known in their original French garb, through the collections of Barbazan and Le Grand.
It is only necessary to observe that the former editions abound in faults of punctuation and orthography, not to mention the occasional omission of words and portion of words by the carelessness of the printer. The text has now been corrected throughout.
Of many of the more widely known tales, the poetical version by Ellis and Way, published at the end of the last century, possessed much classical elegance, while the notes are not without interest and value ; but the fidelity of the translation was almost unavoidably sacrificed to the exigencies of verse, and in a lame, though harmonious paraphrase we too often miss the truth of the original picture which, with all its faults on its head—its rough colouring, its homely design, and, to boot, its not over-nice detail, we get with greater force and veracity in a prose book.
The collection supplies a fair sample of the morality, social condition, and humour of the remote period to which the tales belong. A few of them exhibit a breadth which is scarcely consonant with modern ideas of decorum; and it has been a task of some little difficulty to prune these occasional luxuriances without sacrificing a particle of what was really characteristic and valuable. Perhaps it may be said that the spirit pervading them is licentious, and such may be the truth, for they reflect vividly the manners of a licentious period; that is to say, of a period when there was comparatively little social refinement, and it was usual to call a spade a spade. To those who are without the inclination to inquire more deeply, this series of mediæval stories and anecdotes may serve a useful purpose, as depicting roughly, but faithfully, the state of Western society a century before Chaucer, when the most humanising influence was the spirit of gallantry with all its faults, the homage offered by men to women.
The view thus obtained may perhaps be regarded as more curious than gratifying ; nor was the state of affairs in England in any degree better. The tales embrace nearly every class of life, and everywhere we find the same deplorable grossness, ignorance, and brutality. With more immediate reference to the singular tale of the “Two Bankers,” it may be suggested that that is not indecent which the public opinion of the age recognises as customary ; and coming to the abstract question of morality, in its larger sense, it has to be proved, possibly, that England and France have advanced so far onward as might be expected and desired; but we manage those matters differently now, and if we are not much better than we were, we try to seem
The antiquity of the stories here collected must be considered unequal. Many of them may be as old as Le Grand and others have supposed; others, from their character and the nature of their construction, are probably not. There is not much internal evidence to enable us to arrive at more than an approximate estimate of this point; but very