« PreviousContinue »
The following pages contain THE HYSTORYE OF REYNARD THE Foxe, as it was printed by Caxton in 1481, a work of considerable interest and literary merit; and one, moreover, of such excessive rarity, that the last copy exposed to public auction produced, at Mr. Inglis's sale, no less a sum than £184. 16s. This copy is now deposited in the matchless library of the Right Hon. Thomas Grenville, a gentleman who, from the princely munificence with which he purchases books, and the liberality with which he permits students to make use of them, realizes Chaucer's admirable description of the true scholar
“ Full gladly wold he lerne, and gladly teche.”
I beg publicly to return to him my best thanks and acknowledgments, for the readiness with which, at the request of my friend Mr. Amyot, he was kind enough to place in my hands his beautiful copy of the old Dutch REYNAERT DIE Vos, printed by Gheraert de Leeu, from which
Caxton's translation was made. Of the advantage that I thus enjoyed many proofs will be found in the following pages.
The several republications of the History of Reynard the Fox, which appeared during the seventeenth century, professed to be “newly corrected and purged from all grossenesse in phrase and matter;" but notwithstanding such alleged purification, they still contain some most offensive passages.
In the present edition, care has been taken, by the modification of some few words and sentences, which are as little essential to the conduct of the story, as consonant to our present notions of propriety, to lay before the members of the Percy Society a volume which may be perused, it is hoped, with pleasure, certainly without offence. How few and trifling have been the liberties necessary to produce this desirable result, I leave the curious enquirer to ascertain by comparing this reprint with Caxton's own edition: while to those who complain that such alterations or omissions destroy the value of the book, I reply, by denying that such is the case, and by answering that even if it were so, I am prepared to adopt the declaration of Dr. Johnson “ that there are laws of higher authority than those of criticism."
Would that I could defend my introduction and
notes as confidently, as I can the reprint which they accompany. But I am too well aware of the errors of omission and commission which may be found in them, not to entertain some anxiety as to the feeling with which my slight illustrations of Caxton's language, and his allusions to the manners and custom of the olden times, may be received by those who are better skilled than myself in those branches of archæological study.
WILLIAM J. THOMS.
31, Marsham Street, Westminster.
Whitsun Ere, 1844.
OF THE LITERARY HISTORY OF THE ROMANCE OF
REYNARD THE FOX.
“ Was von verwirrung in der Geschichte des Reinekefuchses herzscht, und wie mancher wichtige Punct in derselben noch unaufgeklärt ist, werden diejenigen am besten wissen, die sich mit der Litteratur beschäftigt haben.”-FLÖGEL.
§ 1. For upwards of five centuries has the worldrenowned history of Reynard the Fox, in one or other of its various forms, succeeded in winning golden opinions from all classes of society; its homely wit and quaint humour proving as delightful to the “lewd people," as its truthful pictures of everyday life, and its masterly impersonation of worldly wisdom, have rendered it to the scholar and the philosopher. In Germany, its popularity has been unbounded, far excelling even that which has been bestowed upon its great rival, the Merry Jests of Tyll Eulenspiegel.
One of the most distinguished of the early German poets, J. W. Lawrenberg, is said to have pronounced it the best book in the world, next to the Bible.* No
* See Morhof's Unterricht von der Teutschen Sprache und Poesie, s. 335. The statement was repeated by Hackman in the