Ther was, as telleth Titus Livius,
|A knyght that called was Virginius,
|Fulfild of honour and of worthynesse,
|And strong of freendes, and of greet richesse.
| This knyght a doghter hadde by his wyf,
|No children hadde he mo in al his lyf.
|Fair was this mayde in excellent beautee
|Aboven every wight that man may see.
|For Nature hath with sovereyn diligence
|Yformed hir in so greet excellence,
|As though she wolde seyn, "Lo, I, Nature,
|Thus kan I forme and peynte a creature
|Whan that me list; who kan me countrefete?
|Pigmalion noght, though he ay forge and bete,
|Or grave, or peynte, for I dar wel seyn
|Apelles, Zanzis sholde werche in veyn
|Outher to grave or peynte, or forge, or bete,
|If they presumed me to countrefete.
|For He that is the former principal
|Hath maked me his vicaire general
|To forme and peynten erthely creaturis
|Right as me list, and ech thyng in my cure is
|Under the moone, that may wane and waxe,
|And for my werk right nothyng wol I axe.
|My lord and I been ful of oon accord;
|I made hire to the worship of my lord,
|So do I alle myne othere creatures,
|What colour that they han, or what figures."
|Thus semeth me that Nature wolde seye.
This mayde of age twelf yeer was and tweye,
|In which that Nature hadde swich delit.
|For right as she kan peynte a lilie whit,
|And reed a rose, right with swich peynture
|She peynted hath this noble creature,
|Er she were born, upon hir lymes fre,
|Where as by right swiche colours sholde be.
|And Phebus dyed hath hir tresses grete,
|Lyk to the stremes of his burned heete;
|And if that excellent was hir beautee,
|A thousand foold moore vertuous was she.
|In hire ne lakked no condicioun
|That is to preyse, as by discrecioun;
|As wel in goost as body chast was she,
|For which she floured in virginitee
|With alle humylitee and abstinence,
|With alle attemperaunce and pacience,
|With mesure eek of beryng and array.
|Discreet she was in answeryng alway,
|Though she were wise Pallas, dar I seyn,
|Hir facound eek ful wommanly and pleyn,
|No countrefeted termes hadde she
|To seme wys, but after hir degree
|She spak, and alle hir wordes, moore and lesse,
|Sownynge in vertu and in gentillesse.
|Shamefast she was in maydens shamefastnesse,
|Constant in herte, and evere in bisynesse
|To dryve hir out of ydel slogardye.
|Bacus hadde of hire mouth right no maistrie;
|For wyn and youthe dooth Venus encresse,
|As man in fyr wol casten oille or greesse.
|And of hir owene vertu unconstreyned,
|She hath ful ofte tyme syk hir feyned,
|For that she wolde fleen the compaignye
|Where likly was to treten of folye,
|As is at feestes, revels, and at daunces
|That been occasions of daliaunces.
|Swich thynges maken children for to be
|To soone rype and boold, as men may se,
|Which is ful perilous, and hath been yoore;
|For al to soone may they lerne loore
|Of booldnesse, whan she woxen is a wyf.
And ye maistresses, in youre olde lyf,
|That lordes doghtres han in governaunce,
|Ne taketh of my wordes no displesaunce;
|Thenketh that ye been set in governynges
|Of lordes doghtres, oonly for two thynges;
|Outher for ye han kept youre honestee,
|Or elles ye han falle in freletee,
|And knowen wel ynough the olde daunce,
|And han forsaken fully swich meschaunce
|For everemo; therfore for Cristes sake,
|To teche hem vertu looke that ye ne slake.
| A theef of venysoun, that hath forlaft
|His likerousnesse, and al his olde craft,
|Kan kepe a forest best of any man.
|Now kepeth wel, for if ye wole, ye kan.
|Looke wel that ye unto no vice assente,
|Lest ye be dampned for your wikke entente.
|For whoso dooth, a traitour is, certeyn;
|And taketh kepe of that that I shal seyn,
|Of alle tresons, sovereyn pestilence
|Is whan a wight bitrayseth innocence.
Ye fadres and ye moodres, eek also,
|Though ye han children, be it oon or two,
|Youre is the charge of al hir surveiaunce
|Whil that they been under youre governaunce.
|Beth war, if by ensample of youre lyvynge,
|Or by youre necligence in chastisynge,
|That they ne perisse; for I dar wel seye,
|If that they doon ye shul it deere abeye;
|Under a shepherde softe and necligent
|The wolf hath many a sheep and lamb torent.
|Suffiseth oon ensample now as here,
|For I moot turne agayn to my mateere.
This mayde, of which I wol this tale expresse,
|So kepte hirself, hir neded no maistresse.
|For in hir lyvyng maydens myghten rede,
|As in a book, every good word or dede
|That longeth to a mayden vertuous,
|She was so prudent and so bountevous.
|For which the fame out-sprong on every syde
|Bothe of hir beautee and hir bountee wyde,
|That thurgh that land they preised hire echone
|That loved vertu; save encye allone,
|That sory is of oother mennes wele,
|And glad is of his sorwe and his unheele.
|(The doctour maketh this descripcioun.)
This mayde upon a day wente in the toun
|Toward a temple, with hir mooder deere,
|As is of yonge maydens the manere.
|Now was ther thanne a justice in that toun,
|That governour was of that regioun,
|And so bifel this juge hise eyen caste
|Upon this mayde, avysynge hym ful faste
|As she cam forby, ther as this juge stood.
|Anon his herte chaunged and his mood,
|So was he caught with beautee of this mayde,
|And to hymself ful pryvely he sayde,
|"This mayde shal be myn, for any man."
Anon the feend into his herte ran,
|And taughte hym sodeynly, that he by slyghte
|The mayden to his purpos wynne myghte.
|For certes, by no force, ne by no meede,
|Hym thoughte he was nat able for to speede;
|For she was strong of freends, and eek she
|Confermed was in swich soverayn bountee,
|That wel he wiste he myghte hir nevere wynne,
|As for to maken hir with hir body synne.
|For which, by greet deliberacioun,
|He sente after a cherl, was in the toun,
|Which that he knew for subtil and for boold.
|This juge unto this cherl his tale hath toold
|In secree wise, and made hym to ensure
|He sholde telle it to no creature,
|And if he dide, he sholde lese his heed.
|Whan that assented was this cursed reed,
|Glad was this juge, and maked him greet cheere,
|And yaf hym yiftes preciouse and deere.
Whan shapen was al hir conspiracie
|Fro point to point, how that his lecherie
|Parfourned sholde been ful subtilly,
|As ye shul heere it after openly,
|Hoom gooth the cherl, that highte Claudius.
|This false juge, that highte Apius,
|(So was his name, for this is no fable,
|But knowen for historial thyng notable;
|The sentence of it sooth is out of doute),
|This false juge gooth now faste aboute
|To hasten his delit al that he may.
|And so bifel soone after on a day,
|This false juge, as telleth us the storie,
|As he was wont, sat in his consistorie,
|And yaf his doomes upon sondry cas.
|This false cherl cam forth a ful greet pas
|And seyde, "Lord, if that it be youre wille,
|As dooth me right upon this pitous bille
|In which I pleyne upon Virginius;
|And if that he wol seyn it is nat thus,
|I wol it preeve, and fynde good witnesse,
|That sooth is, that my bille wol expresse."
"To yow, my lord, Sire Apius so deere,
|Sheweth youre povre servant Claudius,
|How that a knyght called Virginius
|Agayns the lawe, agayn al equitee,
|Holdeth expres agayn the wyl of me
|My servant, which that is my thral by right,
|Which fro myn hous was stole upon a nyght,
|Whil that she was ful yong; this wol I preeve
|By witnesse, lord, so that it nat yow greeve.
|She nys his doghter, nat what so he seye.
|Wherfore to yow, my lord the Juge, I preye
|Yeld me my thral, if that it be youre wille."
|Lo, this was al the sentence of his bille.
Virginius gan upon the cherl biholde,
|But hastily, er he his tale tolde,
|And wolde have preeved it as sholde a knyght,
|And eek by witnessyng of many a wight,
|That it was fals, that seyde his adversarie,
|This cursed juge wolde no thyng tarie,
|Ne heere a word moore of Virginius,
|But yaf his juggement and seyde thus:
| "I deeme anon this cherl his servant have,
|Thou shalt no lenger in thyn hous hir save.
|Go, bryng hir forth, and put hir in our warde.
|The cherl shal have his thral, this I awarde."
| And whan this worthy knyght Virginius,
|Thurgh sentence of this justice Apius,
|Moste by force his deere doghter yeven
|Unto the juge in lecherie to lyven,
|He gooth hym hoom, and sette him in his halle,
|And leet anon his deere doghter calle,
|And with a face deed as asshen colde,
|Upon hir humble face he gan biholde
|With fadres pitee stikynge thurgh his herte,
|Al wolde he from his purpos nat converte.
"Doghter," quod he, "Virginia, by thy name,
|Ther been two weyes, outher deeth or shame
|That thou most suffre, allas, that I was bore!
|For nevere thou deservedest wherfore
|To dyen with a swerd, or with a knyf.
|O deere doghter, endere of my lyf,
|Which I have fostred up with swich plesaunce,
|That thou were nevere out of my remembraunce.
|O doghter, which that art my laste wo,
|And in my lyf my laste joye also,
|O gemme of chastitee, in pacience
|Take thou thy deeth, for this is my sentence,
|For love and nat for hate, thou most be deed;
|My pitous hand moot smyten of thyn heed.
|Allas, that evere Apius the say!
|Thus hath he falsly jugged the to day."
|And tolde hir al the cas, as ye bifore
|Han herd, nat nedeth for to telle it moore.
"Thanne yif me leyser, fader myn," quod she,
|"My deeth for to compleyne a litel space,
|For, pardee, Jepte yaf his doghter grace
|For to compleyne, er he hir slow, allas!
|And, God it woot, no thyng was hir trespas
|But for she ran hir fader for to see
|To welcome hym with greet solempnitee."
|And with that word she fil aswowne anon;
|And after whan hir swownyng is agon
|She riseth up and to hir fader sayde,
|"Blissed be God that I shal dye a mayde;
|Yif me my deeth, er that I have a shame.
|Dooth with youre child youre wyl, a Goddes name."
And with that word she preyed hym ful ofte
|That with his swerd he wolde smyte softe,
|And with that word aswowne doun she fil.
|Hir fader, with ful sorweful herte and wil
|Hir heed of smoot, and by the top it hente,
|And to the juge he gan it to presente
|As he sat yet in doom, in consistorie.
|And whan the juge it saugh, as seith the storie,
|He bad to take hym and anhange hym faste.
|But right anon a thousand peple in thraste
|To save the knyght for routhe and for pitee;
|For knowen was the false iniquitee.
|The peple anon hath suspect of this thyng,
|By manere of the cherles chalangyng,
|That it was by the assent of Apius;
|They wisten wel that he was lecherus;
|For which unto this Apius they gon
|And caste hym in a prisoun right anon,
|Ther as he slow hymself, and Claudius
|That servant was unto this Apius,
|Was demed for to hange upon a tree,
|But that Virginius, of his pitee,
|So preyde for hym, that he was exiled;
|And elles, certes, he had been bigyled.
|The remenant were anhanged, moore and lesse,
|That were consentant of this cursednesse.
Heere men may seen, how synne hath his merite.
|Beth war, for no man woot whom God wol smyte
|In no degree, ne in which manere wyse
|The worm of conscience may agryse
|Of wikked lyf, though it so pryvee be
|That no man woot therof but God and he.
|For be he lewed man, or ellis lered,
|He noot how soone that he shal been afered.
|Therfore I rede yow this conseil take,
|Forsaketh synne, er synne yow forsake.