A yong man called Melibeus, myghty and riche, bigat upon his wyf, that called was Prudence, a doghter which that called was Sophie.
Upon a day bifel that he for his desport is went into the feeldes hem to pleye. His wyf and eek his doghter hath he left inwith his hous, of which the dores weren faste yshette. Thre of his olde foes han it espyed, and setten laddres to the walles of his hous, and by wyndowes been entred, and betten his wyf, and wounded his doghter with fyve mortal woundes in fyve sondry places, this is to seyn, in hir feet, in hire handes, in hir erys, in hir nose, and in hire mouth, and leften hire for deed, and wenten awey.
Whan Melibeus retourned was in to his hous, and saugh al this meschief, he, lyk a mad man, rentynge his clothes, gan to wepe and crie.
Prudence, his wyf, as ferforth as she dorste, bisoghte hym of his wepyng for to stynte; but nat forthy he gan to crie and wepen evere lenger the moore.
This noble wyf Prudence remembred hire upon the sentence of Ovide, in his book that cleped is the remedie of love, where as he seith , "He is a fool that destourbeth the mooder to wepen in the deeth of hire child, til she have wept hir fille as for a certein tyme; and thanne shal man doon his diligence with amyable wordes hire to reconforte, and preyen hire of hir wepyng for to stynte". For which resoun this noble wyf Prudence suffred hir housbonde for to wepe and crie as for a certein space; and whan she saugh hir tyme, she seyde hym in this wise: "Allas, my lord," quod she, "why make ye youreself for to lyk a fool? For sothe it aperteneth nat to a wys man to maken swich a sorwe. Youre doghter, with the grace of God, shal warisshe and escape. And, al were it so that she right now were deed, ye ne oughte nat, as for hir deeth, youreself to destroye. Senek seith: "The wise man shal nat take to greet disconfort for the deeth of his children; but, certes, he sholde suffren it in pacience as wel as he abideth the deeth of his owene propre persone.'"
This Melibeus answerde anon, and seyde, "what man," quod he, "sholde of his wepyng stente that hath so greet a cause for to wepe? Jhesu Crist, oure lord, hymself wepte for the deeth of Lazarus hys freend."
Prudence answerde: "Certes, wel I wootattempree wepyng is no thyng deffended to hym that sorweful is, amonges folk in sorwe, but it is rather graunted hym to wepe. The apostle Paul unto the Romayns writeth, 'Man shal rejoyse with hem that maken joye, and wepen with swich folk as wepen.' But though attempree wepyng be ygraunted, outrageous wepyng certes is deffended. Mesure of wepyng sholde be considered, after the loore that techeth us Senek: 'Whan that thy frend is deed,' quod he, 'lat nat thyne eyen to moyste been of teeris, ne to muche drye; although the teeris come to thyne eyen, lat hem nat falle; and whan thou hast forgoon thy freend, do diligence to gete another freend; and this is moore wysdom than for to wepe for thy freend which that thou has lorn, for therinne is no boote.' And therfore, if ye governe yow by sapience, put awey sorwe out of youre herte. Remembre yow that Jhesus Syrak seith, 'a man that is joyous and glad in herte, it hym conserveth florissynge in his age; but soothly sorweful herte maketh his bones drye.' He seith eek thus, that sorwe in hertesleeth ful many a man. Salomon seith that right as motthes in shepes flees anoyeth to the clothes, and the smale wormes to the tree, right so anoyeth sorwe to the herte. Wherfore us oghte, as wel in the deeth of oure children as in the los of oure othere goodes temporels, have pacience. Remembre yow upon the pacient job. Whan he hadde lost his children and his temporeel substance, and in his body endured and receyved ful many a grevous tribulacion, yet seyde he thus: 'Oure Lord hath yeve it me; oure Lord hath biraft it me; right as oure Lord hath wold, right so it is doon; blessed be the name of oure Lord!'"
To thise forseide thynges answerde Melibeus unto his wyf Prudence: "Alle thy wordes," quod he, "been sothe, and therto profitable; but trewely myn herte is troubled with this sorwe so grevously that I noot what to doone."
"Lat calle," quod Prudence, "thy trewe freendes alle, and thy lynage whiche that been wise. Telleth youre cas, and herkneth what they seye in conseillyng, and yow governe after hire sentence. Salomon seith, 'werk alle thy thynges by conseil, and thou shalt never repente.'"
Thanne, by the conseil of his wyf Prudence, this Melibeus leet callen a greet congregacion of folk; as surgiens, phisiciens, olde folk and yonge, and somme of his olde enemys reconsiled as by hir semblaunt to his love and into his grace; and therwithal ther coomen somme of his neighebores that diden hym reverence moore for drede than for love, as it happeth ofte. Ther coomen also ful many subtille flatereres, and wise advocatz lerned in the lawe.
And whan this folk togidre assembled weren, this Melibeus in sorweful wise shewed hem his cas. And by the manere of his speche it semed that in herte he baar a crueel ire, redy to doon vengeaunce upon his foes, and sodeynly desired that the werre sholde bigynne; but nathelees, yet axed he hire conseil upon this matiere. A surgien, by licence and assent of swiche as weren wise, up roos, and to Melibeus seyde as ye may heere:
"Sire," quod he, "as to us surgiens aperteneth that we do to every wight the beste that we kan, where as we been withholde, and to oure pacientz that we do no damage; wherfore it happeth many tyme and ofte that whan twey men haneverich wounded oother, oon same surgien heeleth hem bothe; wherfore unto oure art it is nat pertinent to norice werre ne parties to supporte. But certes, as to the warisshynge of youre doghter, al be it so that she perilously be wounded, we shullen do so ententif bisynesse fro day to nyght that with the grace of God she shal be hool and sound as soone as is possible."
Almoost right in the same wise the phisiciens answerden, save that they seyden a fewe woordes moore: that right as maladies been cured by hir contraries, right so shul men warisshewerre by vengeaunce.
His neighebores ful of envye, his feyned freendes that semeden reconsiled, and his flatereres maden semblant of wepyng, and empeireden and agreggeden muchel of this matiere in preisynge greetly Melibee of myght, of power, of richesse, and of freendes, despisynge the power of his adversaries, and seiden outrely that he anon sholde wreken hym on his foes, and bigynne werre.
Up roos thanne an advocat that was wys, by leve and by conseil of othere that were wise, and seide: "Lordynges, the nede for which we been assembled in this place is a ful hevy thyng and an heigh matiere, by cause of the wrong and of the wikkednesse that hath be doon, and eek by resoun of the grete damages that in tyme comynge been possible to fallen for this same cause, and eek by resoun of the grete richesse and power of the parties bothe; for the whiche resouns it were a ful greet peril to erren in this matiere. Wherfore, Melibeus, this is oure sentence: we conseille yow aboven alle thyng that right anon thou do thy diligence in kepynge of thy propre persone in swich a wise that thou ne wante noon espie ne wacche, thy persone for to save. And after that, we conseille that in thyn hous thou sette sufficeant garnisoun so that they may as wel thy body as thyn hous defende. But certes, for to moeve werre, ne sodeynly for to doon vengeaunce, we may nat demen in so litel tyme that it were profitable. Wherfore we axen leyser and espace to have deliberacion in this cas to deme. For the commune proverbe seith thus: 'He that soone deemeth, soone shal repente. and eek men seyn that thilkejuge is wys that soone understondeth a matiere and juggeth by leyser; for al be it so that alle tariyng be anoyful, algates it is nat to repreve in yevynge of juggement ne in vengeance takyng, whan it is sufficeant and resonable. And that shewed oure lord Jhesu Crist by ensample; for whan that the womman that was taken in avowtrie was broght in his presence to knowen what sholde be doon with hire persone, al be it so that he wiste wel hymself what that he wolde answere, yet ne wolde he nat answere sodeynly, but he wolde have deliberacion, and in the ground he wroot twies. And thise causes we axen deliberacioun, and we shal thanne, by the grace of God, conseille thee thyng that shal be profitable.
Up stirten thanne the yonge folk atones, and the mooste partie of that compaignye han scorned this olde wise man, and bigonnen to make noyse, and seyden that right so as, whil that iren is hoot, men sholden smyte, right so men sholde wreken hir wronges whil that they been fresshe and newe; and with loud voys they criden "Werre! Werre!"
Up roos tho oon of thise olde wise, and with his hand made contenaunce that men sholde holden hem stille and yeven hym audience. "Lordynges," quod he, "ther is ful many a man that crieth 'Werre! Werre! that wootful litel what werre amounteth. Werre at his bigynnyng hath so greet an entryng and so large, that every wight may entre whan hym liketh, and lightly fynde werre; but certes what ende that shal therof bifalle, it is nat light to knowe. For soothly, whan that werre is ones bigonne, ther is ful many a child unborn of his mooder that shal sterve yong by cause of thilke werre, or elles lyve in sorwe and dye in wrecchednesse. And therfore, er that any werre bigynne, men moste have greet conseil and greet deliberacion. And whan this olde man wende to enforcen his tale by resons, wel ny alle atones bigonne they to rise for to breken his tale, and beden hym ful ofte his wordes for to abregge. For soothly, he that precheth to hem that listen nat heeren his wordes, his sermon hem anoieth. For Jhesus Syrak seith that "musik in wepynge is a noyous thyng"; this is to seyn: as muche availleth to speken bifore folk to which his speche anoyeth, as it is to synge biforn hym that wepeth. And whan this wise man saugh that hym wanted audience, al shamefast he sette hym doun agayn. For Salomon seith: "Ther as thou ne mayst have noon audience, enforce thee nat to speke." "I see wel," quod this wise man, "that the commune proverbe is sooth, that good conseil wanteth whan it is moost nede.'"
Yet hadde this Melibeus in his conseil many folk that prively in his eere conseilled hym certeyn thyng, and conseilled hym the contrarie in general audience. Whan Melibeus hadde herd that the gretteste partie of his conseil weren accorded that he sholde maken werre, anoon he consented to hir conseillyng, and fully affermed hire sentence. Thanne dame Prudence, whan that she saugh how that hir housbonde shoop hym for to wreken hym on his foes, and to bigynne werre, she in ful humble wise, whan she saugh hir tyme, seide to hym thise wordes: "My lord," quod she, "I yow biseche as hertely as I dar and kan, ne haste yow nat to faste, and for alle gerdons, as yeveth me audience. For Piers Alfonce seith, 'Whoso that dooth to thee oother good or harm, haste thee nat to quiten it; for in this wise thy freend wole abyde, and thyn anemy shal the lenger lyve in drede.' The proverbe seith, 'He hasteth wel that wisely kan abyde, and in wikked haste is no profit.'"
This Melibee answerde unto his wyf Prudence: "I purpose nat," quod he, "to werke by thy conseil, for many causes and resouns. For certes, every wight wolde holde me thanne a fool; this is to seyn, if I, for thy conseillyng, wolde chaungen thynges that been ordeyned and affermed by so manye wyse. Secoundely, I seye that alle wommen been wikke, and noon good of hem alle. For 'of a thousand men,' seith Salomon, 'I foond o good man, but certes, of alle wommen, good womman foond I nevere.' And also, certes, if I governed me by thy conseil, it sholde seme that I hadde yeve to thee over me the maistrie; and God forbede that it so weere! For Jhesus Syrak seith 'that if the wyf have maistrie, she is contrarious to hir housbonde.' And Salomon seith: 'Nevere in thy lyf to thy wyf, ne to thy child, ne to thy freend, ne yeve no power over thyself; for bettre it were that thy children aske of thy persone thynges that hem nedeth, than thou see thyself in the handes of thy children.' And also if I wolde werke by thy conseillyng, certes, my conseil moste som tyme be secree, til it were tyme that it moste be knowe, and this ne may noght be. (Car il est escript, la genglerie des femmes ne puet riens celler fors ce qu' elle ne scet. Apres, le philosophre dit, en mauvais conseil les femmes vainquent les hommes: et par ces raisons je ne dois point user de ton conseil.)"
Whanne dame Prudence, fuldebonairly and with greet pacience, hadde herd al that hir housbonde liked for to seye, thanne axed she of hym licence for to speke, and seyde in this wise: "My lord," quod she, "as to youre firste resoun, certes it may lightly been answered. For I seye that it is no folie to chaunge conseil whan the thyng is chaunged, or elles whan the thyng semeth ootherweyes than it was biforn. And mooreover, I seye that though ye han sworn and bihight to perfourne youre emprise, and nathelees ye weyve to perfourne thilke same emprise by juste cause, men sholde nat seyn therfore that ye were a liere ne forsworn. For the book seith that 'the wise man maketh no lesyng whan he turneth his corage to the bettre.' And al be it so that youre emprise be establissed and ordeyned by greet multitude of folk, yet that ye nat accomplice thilkeordinaunce, but yow like. For the trouthe of thynges and the profit been rather founden in fewe folk that been wise and ful of resoun, than by greet multitude of folk ther every man crieth and clatereth what that hym liketh. Soothlyswich multitude is nat hones. And as to the seconde resoun, where as ye seyn that alle wommen been wikke; save youre grace, certes ye despisen alle wommen in this wyse, and 'he that al despiseth, al displeseth,' as seith the book. And Senec seith that 'whose wole have sapience shal no man dispreyse, but he shal gladly techen the science that he kan withouten presumpcion or pride, and swiche thynges as he noght ne kan, he shal nat been ashamed to lerne hem, and enquere of lasse folk than hymself.' and, sire That ther hath been many a good womman, may lightly be preved. For certes, sire, oure Lord Jhesu Crist wolde nevere have descended to be born of a womman, if alle wommen hadden been wikke. And after that, for the grete bountee that is in wommen, oure lord Jhesu Crist, whan he was risen fro deeth to lyve, appeered rather to a womman than to his apostles. And though that Salomon seith that he ne foond nevere womman good, it folweth nat therfore that alle wommen ben wikke. For though that he ne foond no good womman, certes, many another man hath founden many a womman ful good and trewe. Or elles, per aventure, the entente of Salomon was this, that, as in sovereyn bounte, he foond no womman; this is to seyn, that ther is no wight that hath sovereynbounteesave God allone, as he hymself recordeth in hys Evaungelie. For ther nys no creature so good that hym ne wanteth somwhat of the perfeccioun of God, that is his makere. Youre thridde reson is this: ye seyn that if ye governe yow by my conseil, it sholde seme that ye hadde yeve me the maistrie and the lordshipe over youre persone. Sire, save youre grace, it is nat so. For if it so were that no man sholde be conseilled but oonly of hem that hadden lordshipe and maistrie of his persone, men wolden nat be conseilled so ofte. For soothlythilke man that asketh conseil of a purpos, yet hath he free choys wheither he wole werke by that conseil or noon. And as to youre fourthe resoun, ther ye seyn that the janglerie of wommen kan hyde thynges that they wot noght, as who seith that a womman kan nat hyde that she woot; sire, thise wordes been understonde of wommen that been jangleresses and wikked; of whiche wommen men seyn that thre thynges dryven a man out of his hous, that is to seyn, smoke, droppyng of reyn, and wikked wyves, and of swiche wommen seith Salomon that 'it were bettre dwelle in desert than with a woman that is riotous.' And sire, by youre leve, that am nat I; for ye hanful ofteassayed my grete silence and my grete pacience, and eek how wel that I kan hyde and hele thynges that men oghte secreely to hyde. And soothly, as to youre fifthe resoun, where as ye seyn that in wikked conseil wommen venquisshe men, God woot, thilke resoun stant heere in no stede. For understoond now, ye asken conseil to do wikkednesse; and if ye wole werken wikkednesse, and youre wif restreyneth thilke wikked purpos, and overcometh yow by reson and by good conseil, certes youre wyf oghte rather to be preised than yblamed. Thus sholde ye understonde the philosophre that seith, in wikked conseil wommen venquisshen hir housbondes.' Ther as ye blamen alle wommen and hir resouns, I shal shewe yow by manye ensamples that many a womman hath ben ful good, and yet been, and hir conseils ful hoolsome and profitable. Eek som men han seyd that the conseillynge of wommen is outher to deere, or elles to litel of pris. But al be it so that ful many a womman is badde, and hir conseil vile and noght worth, yet han men founde ful many a good womman, and ful discret and wis in conseillynge. Loo, Jacob, by good conseil of his mooder Rebekka, wan the benysoun of Ysaak his fader, and the lordshipe over alle his bretheren. Judith, by hire good conseil, delivered the citee of Bethulie, in which she dwelled, out of the handes of Olofernus, that hadde it biseged and wolde have al destroyed it. Abygail delivered nabal hir housbonde fro David the kyng, that wolde have slayn hym, and apaysed the ire of the kyng by hir wit and by hir good conseillyng. Hester, by hir good conseil, enhaunced greetly the peple of God in the regne of Assuerus the kyng. And the same bountee in good conseillyng of many a good womman may men telle. And mooreover, whan oure lord hadde creat Adam, oure forme fader, he seyde in this wise: it is nat good to been a man alloone; make we to hym an helpe semblable to hymself. May ye se that if that wommen were nat goode, and hir conseils goode and profitable, oure lord God of hevene wolde nevere han wroght hem, ne called hem help of man, but rather confusioun of man. And ther seyde oones a clerk in two vers, 'What is bettre than gold? Jaspre. What is bettre than jaspre? Wisedoom. And what is better than wisedoom? Womman. And what is bettre than a good womman? Nothyng.' And, sire, by manye of othre resons may ye seen that manye wommen been goode, and hir conseils goode and profitable. And therfore, sire, if ye wol triste to my conseil, I shal restoore yow youre doghter hool and sound. And eek I wol do to yow so muche that ye shul have honour in this cause."
Whan Melibee hadde herd the wordes of his wyf Prudence, he seyde thus: "I se wel that the word of Salomon is sooth. He seith that 'wordes that been spoken discreetly by ordinaunce been honycombes, for they yeven swetnesse to the soule and hoolsomnesse to the body.' And, wyf, by cause of thy sweete wordes, and eek for I have assayed and preved thy grete sapience and thy grete trouthe, I wol governe me by thy conseil in alle thyng."
"Now, sire," quod dame Prudence, "and syn ye vouche sauf to been governed by my conseil, I wol enforme yow how ye shul governe yourself in chesynge of youre conseillours. Ye shul first in alle youre werkes mekely biseken to the heighe God that he wol be youre conseillour; and shapeth yow to swichentente that he yeve yow conseil and confort, as taughte Thobie his sone: 'At alle tymes thou shalt blesse god, and praye hym to dresse thy weyes, and looke that alle thy conseils been in hym for everemoore. Jame eek seith: if any of yow have nede of sapience, axe it of god. and afterward thanne shul ye taken conseil in youreself, and examyne wel youre thoghtes of swich thyng as yow thynketh that is bes for youre profit. And thanne shul ye dryve fro youre hertethre thynges that been contrariouse to good conseil; that is to seyn, ire, coveitise, and hastifnesse.
First, he that axethconseil of hymself, certes he moste been withouten ire, for manye causes. The firste is this: he that hath greet ire and wratthe in hymself, he weneth alwey that he may do thyng that he may nat do. And secoundely, he that is irous and wrooth, he ne may nat wel deme; and he that may nat wel deme, may nat wel conseille. The thridde is this, that he that is irous and wrooth, as seith Senec, ne may nat speke but blameful thynges, and with his viciouse wordes he stireth oother folk to angre and to ire. And eek, sire, ye moste dryve coveitise out of youre herte. For the apostle seith that coveitise is roote of alle harmes. And trust wel that a coveitous man ne kan noght deme ne thynke, but oonly to fulfille the ende of his coveitise; and certes, that ne may nevere been accompliced; For evere the moore habundaunce that he hath of richesse, the moore he desireth. And, sire, ye moste also dryve out of youre hertehastifnesse; for certes, ye ne may nat deeme for the beste by a sodeyn thought that falleth in youre herte, but ye moste avyse yow on it ful ofte. For, as ye herde her biforn, the commune proverbe is this, that he that soone deemeth, soone repenteth. sire, ye ne be nat alwey in lyk disposicioun; for certes, somthyng that somtyme semeth to yow that it is good for to do, another tyme it semeth to yow the contrarie.
Whan ye han taken conseil in youreself, and han deemed by good deliberacion swich thyng as yow semeth bes, thanne rede I yow that ye kepe it secree. Biwrey nat youre conseil to no persone, but if so be that ye wenen sikerly that thurgh youre biwreyyng youre condicioun shal be to yow the moore profitable. for Jhesus Syrak seith, 'neither to thy foo, ne to thy frend, discovere nat thy secree ne thy folie; for they wol yeve yow audience and lookynge and supportacioun in thy presence, and scorne thee in thyn absence.' Another clerk seith that scarsly shaltou fynden any persone that may kepeconseil secrely. The book seith, 'whil that thou kepest thy conseil in thyn herte, thou kepest it in thy prisoun; and whan thou biwreyest thy conseil to any wight, he holdeth thee in his snare.' And therfore yow is bettre to hyde youre conseil in youre herte than praye him to whom ye hanbiwreyed youre conseil that he wole kepen it cloos and stille. For Seneca seith: 'if so be that thou ne mayst nat thyn owene conseil hyde, how darstou prayen any ootherwight thy conseil secrely to kepe?' But nathelees, if thou wene sikerly that the biwreiyng of thy conseil to a persone wol make thy condicion to stonden in the bettre plyt, thanne shaltou tellen hym thy conseil in this wise. First thou shalt make no semblant wheither thee were levere pees or werre, or this or that, ne shewe hym nat thy wille and thyn entente. For trust wel that comunli thise conseillours been flatereres, namely the conseillours of grete Lordes; for they enforcen hem alwey rather to speken plesante wordes, enclynynge to the lordes lust, than wordes that been trewe or profitable. And therfore men seyn that the riche man hath seeld good conseil, but if he have it of hymself.
And after that thou shalt considere thy freendes and thyne enemys. And as touchynge thy freendes, thou shalt considere which of hem been moost feithful and moost wise and eldest and most approved in conseillyng; and of hem shalt thou aske thy conseil, as the caas requireth. I seye that first ye shul clepe to youre conseil youre freendes that been trewe. For Salomon seith that 'right as the herte of a man deliteth in savour that is soote, right so the conseil of certes gold ne silver ben nat so muche worth as the goode wyl of a trewefreend.' And eek he seith that 'a trewe freend is a strong deffense; who so that it fyndeth, certes he fyndeth a greet tresour.' Thanne shul ye eek considere if that youre trewe freendes been discrete and wise. For the book seith, 'axe alwey thy conseil of hem that been wise.' And by this same resoun shul ye clepen to youre conseil of youre freendes that been of age, swiche as han seyn and been expert in manye thynges and been approved in conseillynges. For the book seith 'that in olde men is the sapience, and in longe tyme the prudence.' And Tullius seith 'that grete thynges ne been nat ay accompliced by strengthe, ne by delivernesse of body, but by good conseil, by auctoritee of persones, and by science; the whiche thre thynges ne been nat fieble by age, but certes they enforcen and encreescen day by day.' And thanne shul ye kepe this for a general reule: first shul ye clepen to youre conseil a fewe of youre freendes that been especiale; for Salomon seith, 'manye freendes have thou, but among a thousand chese thee oon to be thy conseillour.' For al be it so that thou first ne telle thy conseil but to a fewe, thou mayst afterward telle it to mo folk if it be nede. But looke alwey that thy conseillours have thilkethre condiciouns that I have seyd bifore, that is to seyn, that they be trewe, wise, and of oold experience. And werke nat alwey in every nede by oon counseillour allone; for somtyme bihooveth it to been conseilled by manye. For Salomon seith, 'salvacion of thynges is where as ther been manye conseillours.'