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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Tale of Melibee

§ 26        Now, sith that I have toold yow of which folk ye sholde been conseilled, now wol I teche yow which conseil ye oghte to eschewe. First, ye shul eschue the conseillyng of fooles; for Salomon seith, 'taak no conseil of a fool, for he ne kan noght conseille but after his owene lust and his affeccioun.' The book seith that 'the propretee of a fool is this: he troweth lightly harm of every wight, and lightly troweth alle bountee in hymself.' Thou shalt eek eschue the conseillyng of alle flatereres, swiche as enforcen hem rather to preise youre persone by flaterye than for to telle yow the soothfastnesse of thynges. Wherfore Tullius seith, 'amonges alle the pestilences that been in freendshipe the gretteste is flaterie.' And therfore is it moore nede that thou eschue and drede flatereres than any oother peple. The book seith, 'thou shalt rather drede and flee fro the sweete wordes of flaterynge preiseres than fro the egre wordes of thy freend that seith thee thy sothes.' Salomon seith that 'the wordes of a flaterere is a snare to cacche with innocentz.' He seith also that 'he that speketh to his freend wordes of swetnesse and of plesaunce, setteth a net biforn his feet to cacche hym.' And therfore Seith Tullius, 'enclyne nat thyne eres to flatereres, ne taak no conseil of the wordes of flaterye.' And Caton seith, 'avyse thee wel, and eschue the wordes of swetnesse and of plesaunce.' And eek thou shalt eschue the conseillyng of thyne olde enemys that been reconsiled. The book seith that 'no wight retourneth saufly into the grace of his olde enemy.' And Isope seith, 'ne trust nat to hem to whiche thou hast had som tyme werre or enemytee, ne telle hem nat thy conseil.' And Seneca telleth the cause why: 'it may nat be,' seith he, 'that where greet fyr hath longe tyme endured, that ther ne dwelleth som vapour of warmness.' And therfore seith Salomon, 'in thyn olde foo trust nevere.' For sikerly, though thyn enemy be reconsiled, and maketh thee chiere of hymylitee, and lowteth to thee with his heed, ne trust hym nevere. For certes he maketh thilke feyned humilitee moore for his profit than for any love of thy persone, by cause that he deemeth to have victorie over thy persone by swich feyned contenance, the which victorie he myghte nat have by strif or werre. And Peter Alfonce seith, 'make no felawshipe with thyne olde enemys; for if thou do hem bountee, they wol perverten it into wikkednesse.' And eek thou most eschue the conseillyng of hem that been thy servantz and beren thee greet reverence, for peraventure they seyn it moore for drede than for love. And therfore seith a philosophre in this wise: 'ther is no wight parfitly trewe to hym that he to soore dredeth.' And Tullius seith, 'ther nys no myght so greet of any emperour that longe may endure, but if he have moore love of the peple than drede.' Thou shalt also eschue the conseiling of folk that been dronkelewe, for they ne kan no conseil hyde. For Salomon seith, 'ther is no privetee ther as regneth dronkenesse.' Ye shul also han in suspect the conseillyng of swich folk as conseille yow o thyng prively, and conseille yow the contrarie openly. For Cassidorie seith that 'it is a manere sleighte to hyndre, whan he sheweth to doon o thyng openly and werketh prively the contrarie.' Thou shalt also have in suspect the conseillyng of wikked folk, for the book seith, 'the conseillyng of wikked folk is alwey ful of fraude.' And David seith, 'blisful is that man that hath nat folwed the conseilyng of shrewes.' Thou shalt also eschue the conseillyng of yong folk, for hir conseil is nat rype.
§ 27        Now, sire, sith I have shewed yow of which folk ye shul take youre conseil, and of which folk ye shul folwe the conseil, now wol I teche yow how ye shal examyne youre conseil, after the doctrine of Tullius. In the examynynge thanne of youre conseillour ye shul considere manye thynges. Alderfirst thou shalt considere that in thilke thyng that thou purposest, and upon what thyng thou wolt have conseil, that verray trouthe be seyd and conserved; this is to seyn, telle trewely thy tale. For he that seith fals may nat wel be conseilled in that cas of which he lieth. And after this thou shalt considere the thynges that acorden to that thou purposest for to do by thy conseillours, if resoun accorde therto; and eek if thy myght may atteine therto; and if the moore part and the bettre part of thy conseillours acorde therto, or noon. Thanne shaltou considere what thyng shal folwe of that conseillyng, as hate, pees, werre, grace, profit, or damage, and manye othere thynges. And in alle thise thynges thou shalt chese the beste, and weyve alle othere thynges. Thanne shaltow considere of what roote is engendred the matiere of thy conseil, and what fruyt it may conceyve and engendre. Thou shalt eek considere alle thise causes, fro whennes they been sprongen. And whan ye han examyned youre conseil, as I have seyd, and which partie is the bettre and moore profitable, and han approved it by manye wise folk and olde, thanne shaltou considere if thou mayst parfourne it and maken of it a good ende. For certes, resoun wol nat that any man sholde bigynne a thyng, but if he myghte parfourne it as hym oghte; ne no wight sholde take upon hym so hevy a charge that he myghte nat bere it. For the proverbe seith, ;'he that to muche embraceth, distreyneth litel.' And Catoun seith, 'assay to do swich thyng as thou hast power to doon, lest that the charge oppresse thee so soore that thee bihoveth to weyve thyng that thou hast bigonne.' And if so be that thou be in doute wheither thou mayst parfourne a thing or noon, chese rather to suffre than bigynne. And Piers Alphonce seith, 'if thou hast myght to doon a thyng of which thou most repente, it is bettre nay than ye. This is to seyn, that thee is bettre holde thy tonge stille than for to speke. Thanne may ye understonde by strenger resons that if thou hast power to parfourne a werk of which thou shalt repente, thanne is it bettre that thou suffre than bigynne. Wel seyn they that defenden every wight to assaye a thyng of which he is in doute wheither he may parfourne it or noon. And after, whan ye han examyned youre conseil, as I have seyd biforn, and knowen wel that ye may parfourne youre emprise, conferme it thanne sadly til it be at and ende.
§ 28        Now is it resoun and tyme that I shewe yow whanne and wherfore that ye may chaunge youre conseillours withouten youre repreve. Soothly, a man may chaungen his purpos and his conseil if the cause cesseth, or whan a newe caas bitydeth. For the lawe seith that 'upon thynges that newely bityden bihoveth newe conseil. And Senec seith, 'if thy conseil is comen to the eeris of thyn enemy, chaunge thy conseil.' Thou mayst also chaunge thy conseil if so be that thou fynde that by errour, or by oother cause, harm or damage may bityde. Also if thy conseil be dishonest, or ellis cometh of dishonest cause, chaunge thy conseil. For the lawes seyn that 'alle bihestes that been dishoneste been of no value'; and eek if so be that it be inpossible, or may nat goodly be parfourned or kept.
§ 29        And take this for a general reule, that every conseil that is affermed so strongly that it may nat be chaunged for no condicioun that may bityde, I seye that thilke conseil is wikked.
§ 30        This Melibeus, whanne he hadde herd the doctrine of his wyf dame Prudence, answerde in this wyse: "Dame," quod he, "as yet into this tyme ye han wel and covenably taught me as in general, how I shal governe me in the chesynge and in the withholdynge of my conseillours. but now wolde I fayn that ye wolde condescende in especial, and telle me how liketh yow, or what semeth yow, by oure conseillours that we han chosen in oure present nede."
§ 31        "My lord," quod she, "I biseke yow in al humblesse that ye wol nat wilfully replie agayn my resouns, ne distempre youre herte, thogh I speke thyng that yow displese. For God woot that, as in myn entente, I speke it for youre beste, for youre honour, and for youre profite eke. And soothly, I hope that youre benyngnytee wol taken it in pacience. Trusteth me wel," quod she, "that youre conseil as in this caas ne sholde nat, as to speke properly, be called a conseillyng, but a mocioun or a moevyng of folye, in which conseil ye han erred in many a sondry wise.
§ 32        First and forward, ye han erred in th' assemblynge of youre conseillours. For ye sholde first have cleped a fewe folk to youre conseil, and after ye myghte han shewed it to mo folk, if it hadde been nede. But certes, ye han sodeynly cleped to youre conseil a greet multitude of peple, ful chargeant and ful anoyous for to heere. Also ye han erred, for theras ye sholden oonly have cleped to youre conseil youre trewe frendes olde and wise. Ye han ycleped straunge folk, yonge folk, false flatereres, and enemys reconsiled, and folk that doon yow reverence withouten love. And eek also ye have erred, for ye han broght with yow to youre conseil ire, coveitise, and hastifnesse, the whiche thre thinges been contrariouse to every conseil honest and profitable; the whiche thre thinges ye han nat anientissed or destroyed hem, neither in youreself, ne in youre conseillours, as yow oghte. Ye han erred also, for ye han shewed to youre conseillours youre talent and youre affeccioun to make werre anon, and for to do vengeance. They han espied by youre wordes to what thyng ye been enclyned; and therfore han they rather conseilled yow to youre talent that to youre profit. Ye han erred also, for it semeth that yow suffiseth to han been conseilled by thise conseillours oonly, and with litel avys, whereas in so greet and so heigh a nede it hadde been necessarie mo conseillours and moore deliberacion to parfourne youre emprise. Ye han erred also, for ye ne han nat examyned youre conseil in the forseyde manere, ne in due manere, as the caas requireth. Ye han erred also, for ye han maked no division bitwixe youre conseillours; this is to seyn, bitwixen youre trewe freendes and youre feyned conseillours; ne ye han nat knowe the wil of youre trewe freendes olde and wise; but ye han cast alle hire wordes in an hochepot, and enclyned youre herte to the moore part and to the gretter nombre, and there been ye condescended. And sith ye woot wel that men shal alwey fynde a gretter nombre of fooles than of wise men, and therfore the conseils that been at congregaciouns and multitudes of folk, there as men take moore reward to the nombre than to the sapience of persones, ye se wel that in swiche conseillynges fooles han the maistrie."
§ 33        Melibeus answerde agayn, and seyde, "I graunte wel that I have erred; but there as thou hast toold me heerbiforn that he nys nat to blame that chaungeth his conseillours in certein caas and for certeine juste causes, I am al redy to chaunge my conseillours right as thow wolt devyse. The proverbe seith that 'for to do synne is mannyssh, but certes for to persevere longe in synne is werk of the devel.'"
§ 34        To this sentence answered anon dame Prudence, and seyde: "examineth," quod she, "youre conseil, and lat us see the whiche of hem han spoken most resonably and taught yow best conseil. And for as muche as that the examynacion is necessarie, lat us bigynne at the surgiens and at the phisiciens, that first speeken in this matiere. I sey yow that the surgiens and phisiciens han seyd yow in youre conseil discreetly, as hem oughte; and in hir speche seyden ful wisely that to the office of hem aperteneth to doon to every wight honour and profit, and no wight for to anoye; and after hir craft to doon greet diligence unto the cure of hem which that they han in hir governaunce. And, sire, right as they han answered wisely and discreetly, right so rede I that they been heighly and sovereynly gerdoned for hir noble speche; and eek for they sholde do the moore ententif bisynesse in the curacion of youre doghter deere. For al be it so that they been youre freendes, therfore shal ye nat suffren that they serve yow for noght, but ye oghte the rather gerdone hem and shewe hem youre largesse. And as touchynge the proposicioun which that the phisiciens encreesceden in this caas, this is to seyn. That in maladies that oon contrarie is warisshed by another contrarie, I wolde fayn knowe hou ye understonde thilke text, and what is youre sentence."
§ 35        "Certes," quod Melibeus, "I understonde it in this wise: that right as they han doon me a contrarie, right so sholde I doon hem another. For right as they han venged hem on me and doon me wrong, right so shal I venge me upon hem and doon hem wrong; and thanne have I cured oon contrarie by another."
§ 36        "Lo, lo," quod dame Prudence, "how lightly is every man enclined to his owene desir and to his owene plesaunce! Certes," quod she, "the wordes of the phisiciens ne sholde nat han been understonden in thys wise. For certes, wikkednesse is nat contrarie to wikkednesse, ne vengeance to vengeaunce, ne wrong to wrong, but they been semblable. And therfore o vengeaunce is nat warisshed by another vengeaunce, ne o wroong by another wroong, but everich of hem encreesceth and aggreggeth oother. But certes, the wordes of the phisiciens sholde been understonden in this wise: for dood and wikkednesse been two contraries, and pees and werre, vengeaunce and suffraunce, discord and accord, and manye othere thynges. But certes, wikkednesse shal be warisshed by goodnesse, discord by accord, werre by pees, and so forth of othere thynges. And heerto accordeth Seint Paul the Apostle in manye places. He seith: 'ne yeldeth nat harm for harm, ne wikked speche for wikked speche; but do wel to hym that dooth thee harm, and blesse hym that seith to thee harm.' And in manye othere places he amonesteth pees and accord. But now wol I speke to yow of the conseil which that was yeven to yow by the men of lawe and the wise folk, that seyden alle by oon accord, as ye han herd bifore, that over alle thynges ye shal doon youre diligence to kepen youre persone and to warnestoore youre hous; and seyden also that in this caas yow oghten for to werken ful avysely and with greet deliberacioun. And, sire, as to the firste point, that toucheth to the kepyng of youre persone, ye shul understonde that he that hath werre shal everemoore mekely and devoutly preyen, biforn alle thynges, that Jhesus Crist of his mercy wol han hym in his proteccion and been his sovereyn helpyng at his nede. For certes, in this world ther is no wight that may be conseilled ne kept sufficeantly withouten the kepyng of oure lord Jhesu Crist. To this sentence accordeth the prophete David, that seith, 'if God ne kepe the citee, in ydel waketh he that it kepeth.' Now, sire, thanne shul ye committe the kepyng of youre persone to youre trewe freendes, that been approved and yknowe, and of hem shul ye axen help youre persone for to kepe. For Catoun seith: 'if thou hast nede of help, axe it of thy freendes; for ther nys noon so good a phisicien as thy trewe freend.' And after this thanne shul ye kepe yow fro alle straunge folk, and fro lyeres, and have alwey in suspect hire compaignye. For Piers Alfonce seith, 'ne taak no compaignye by the weye of a straunge man, but if so be that thou have knowe hym of a lenger tyme. And if so be that he falle into thy compaignye paraventure, withouten thyn assent, enquere thanne as subtilly as thou mayst of his conversacion, and of his lyf bifore, and feyne thy wey; seye that thou wolt thider as thou wolt nat go; and if he bereth a spere, hoold thee on the right syde, and if he bere a swerd, hoold thee on the lift syde.' And after this thanne shul ye kepe yow wisely from all swich manere peple as I have seyd bifore, and hem and hir conseil eschewe. And after this thanne shul ye kepe yow in swich manere that, for any presumpcion of youre strengthe, that ye ne dispise nat, ne accompte nat the myght of youre adversarie so litel, that ye lete the kepyng of youre persone for youre presumpcioun; for every wys man dredeth his enemy. And Salomon seith: 'weleful is he that of alle hath drede; for certes, he that thurgh the hardynesse of his herte, and thurgh the hardynesse of hymself, hath to greet presumpcioun, hym shal yvel bityde.' Thanne shul ye everemoore contrewayte embusshementz and alle espiaille. For Senec seith that 'the wise man that dredeth harmes, eschueth harmes, ne he ne falleth into perils that perils eschueth.' And al be it so that it seme that thou art in siker place, yet shaltow alwey do thy diligence in kepynge of thy persone; this is to seyn, ne be nat necligent to kepe thy persone, nat oonly for thy gretteste enemys, but fro thy leeste enemy. Senek seith: 'a man that is well avysed, he dredeth his leste enemy.' Ovyde seith that 'the litel wesele wol slee the grete bole and the wilde hert.' And the book seith, 'a litel thorn may prikke a kyng ful soore, and an hound wol holde the wolde boor.' But nathelees, I sey nat thou shalt be so coward that thou doute ther wher as is no drede. The book seith that somme folk han greet lust to deceyve, but yet they dreden hem to be deceyved. Yet shaltou drede to been empoisoned, and kepe the from the compaignye of Scorneres. For the book seith, 'with scorneres make no compaignye, but flee hire wordes as venym.'
§ 37        Now, as to the seconde point, where as youre wise conseillours conseilled yow to warnestoore youre hous with gret diligence, I wolde fayn knowe how that ye understonde thilke wordes and what is youre sentence."
§ 38        Melibeus answerde, and seyde, "certes, I understande it in this wise: that I shal warne stoore myn hous with toures, swiche as han castelles and othere manere edifices, and armure, and artelries; by whiche thynges I may my persone and myn hous so kepen and deffenden that myne enemys shul been in drede myn hous for to approche."
§ 39        To this sentence answerde anon Prudence: "Warnestooryng," quod she, "of heighe toures and of grete edifices apperteyneth somtyme to pryde. And eek men make heighe toures, and grete edifices with grete costages and with greet travaille; and whan that they been accompliced, yet be they nat worth a stree, but if they be defended by trewe freendes that been olde and wise. And understoond wel that the gretteste and strongeste garnysoun that a riche man may have, as wel to kepen his persone as his goodes, is that he be biloved with hys subgetz and with his neighebores. For thus seith Tullius, that 'ther is a manere garnysoun that no man may vanquysse ne disconfite, and that is a lord to be biloved of his citezeins and of his peple.'
§ 40        Now, sire, as to the thridde point, where as youre olde and wise conseillours seyden that yow ne oghte nat sodeynly ne hastily proceden in this nede, but that yow oghte purveyen and apparaillen yow in this caas with greet diligence and greet deliberacioun; trewely, I trowe that they seyden right wisely and right sooth. For Tullius seith: 'in every nede, er thou bigynne it, apparaille thee with greet diligence.' Thanne seye I that in vengeance-takyng, in were, in bataille, and in warnestooryng, er thow bigynne, I rede that thou apparaille thee therto, and do it with greet deliberacion. For Tullius seith that 'longe apparaillyng biforn the bataille maketh short victorie.' And Cassidorus seith, 'the garnysoun is stronger, whan it is longe tyme avysed.'
§ 41        But now lat us speken of the conseil that was accorded by youre neighebores, swiche as doon yow reverence withouten love, youre olde enemys reconsiled, youre flatereres, that conseilled yow certeyne thynges prively, and openly conseilleden yow the contrarie; the yonge folk also, that conseilleden yow to venge yow, and make werre anon. And certes, sire, as I have seyd biforn, ye han greetly erred to han cleped swich manere folk to youre conseil, which conseillours been ynogh repreved by the resouns aforeseyd. But nathelees, lat us now descende to the special. Ye shuln first procede after the doctrine of Tullius. Certes, the trouthe of this matiere, or of this conseil, nedeth nat diligently enquere; for it is wel wist whiche they been that han doon to yow this trespas and vileynye, and how manye trespassours, and in what manere they han to yow doon al this wrong and al this vileynye. And after this, thanne shul ye examyne the seconde condicion which that the same Tullius addeth in this matiere. For Tullius put a thyng which that he clepeth 'consentynge'; this is to seyn, who been they, and which been they and how manye, that consenten to thy conseil in thy wilfulnesse to doon hastif vengeance. And lat us considere also who been they, and how manye been they, and whiche been they, that consenteden to youre adversaries. And certes, as to the first poynt, it is wel knowen whiche folk been they that consenteden to youre hastif wilfulnesse; for trewely, alle tho that conseilleden yow to maken sodeyn were ne been nat youre freendes. Lat us now considere whiche been they that ye holde so greetly youre freendes as to youre persone. For al be it so that ye be myghty and riche, certes ye ne been but allone, for certes ye ne han no child but a doghter, ne ye ne han brotheren, ne cosyns germayns, ne noon oother neigh kynrede, wherfore that youre enemys for drede wholde stinte to plede with yow, or to destroye youre persone. Ye knowen also that youre richesses mooten been dispended in diverse parties, and whan that every wight hath his part, they ne wollen taken but litel reward to venge thy deeth. But thyne enemys been thre, and they han manie children, bretheren, cosyns, and oother ny kynrede. And though so were that thou haddest slayn of hem two or three, yet dwellen ther ynowe to wreken hir deeth and to sle thy persone. And though so be that youre kynrede be moore siker and stedefast than the kyn of youre adversarie, yet nathelees youre kynrede nys but a fer kynrede; they been but litel syb to yow, and the kyn of youre enemys been nysyb to hem. And certes, as in that, hir condicioun is bet than youres. Thanne lat us considere also if the conseillung of hem that conseilleden yow to taken sodeyn bengeaunce, wheither it accorde to resoun. And certes, ye knowe wel 'nay'.For, as by right and resoun, ther may no man taken vengeance on no wight. But the juge that hath the jurisdiccioun of it, whan it is graunted hym to take thilke vengeance hastily or attemprely, as the lawe requireth. And yet mooreover of thilke word that Tullius clepeth 'consentynge,' thou shalt considere if thy myght and thy power may consenten and suffise to thy wilfulnesse and to thy conseillours. And certes thou mayst wel seyn that 'nay'. For sikerly, as for to speke proprely, we may do no thyng, but oonly swich thyng as we may doon rightfully. And certes rightfully ne mowe ye take no vengeance, as of youre propre auctoritee. Thanne mowe ye seen that youre power ne consenteth nat, ne accordeth nat, with youre wilfulnesse.
§ 42        Lat us now examyne the thridde point, that Tullius clepeth 'consequent.' Thou shal understonde that the vengeance that thou purposest for to take is the consequent; and therof folweth another vengeaunce, peril, and werre, and othere damages withoute nombre, of whiche we be nat war, as at this tyme.
§ 43        And as touchynge the fourthe point, that Tullius clepeth 'engendrynge', thou shalt considere that this wrong which that is doon to thee is engendred of the hate of thyne enemys, and of the vengeance-takynge upon that wolde engendre another vengeance, and muchel sorwe and wastynge of richesses, as I seyde.
§ 44        Now, sire, as to the point that Tullius clepeth 'causes,;' which that is the laste point, thou shalt understonde that the wrong that thou hast receyved hath certeine causes, whiche that clerkes clepen Oriens and Efficiens, and Causa longinqua and Causa propinqua, this is to seyn, the fer cause and the ny cause. The fer cause is almyghty god, that is cause of alle thynges. The neer cause is thy thre enemys. The cause accidental was hate. The cause material been the fyve woundes of thy doghter. The cause formal is the manere of hir werkynge that broghten laddres and cloumben in at thy wyndowes. The cause final was for to sle thy doghter. It letted nat in as muche as in hem was. But for to speken of the fer cause, as to what ende they shul come, or what shal finally bityde of hem in this caas, ne kan I nat deeme but by conjectynge and by supposynge. For we shul suppose that they shul come to a wikked ende, by cause that the Book of Decrees seith, 'seelden, or with greet peyne, been causes ybroght to good ende whanne they been baddely bigonne.'




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The Tale of Melibee (§§ 45-71)