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Qui s'excuse s'accuse; but we make no excuse for putting forth these Loose and Humorous Songs. They are part of the Manuscript which we have undertaken to print entire, and as our Prospectus says, “to the student, these songs and the like are part of the evidence as to the character of a past age, and they should not be kept back from him.” Honi soit qui mal y pense. They serve to show how some of the wonderful intellectual energy of Elizabeth's and James I.'s time ran riot somewhat, and how in the noblest period of England's literature a freedom of speech was allowed which Victorian ears would hardly tolerate. That this freedom dulled men's wits or tarnished their minds more than our restraint does ours, we do not believe. We cannot give in to Mr. Procter's opinion that because ladies of the Court liked Jonson's jokes, coarse to us, therefore they could not appreciate his fancy and the higher qualities of his mind. Manners refine slowly, and speech as
1 “On referring, after an interval of the conclusion that civilisation must many years, to these old Masques, we have failed in some respects, and to fear find ourselves somewhat staggered at the that the refined and graceful complicharacter of the jests, and the homely ments which our author so frequently (not to say vulgar) allusions in which lavished upon the high damas' of they abound. The taste of the times King James's court was a pure waste was, indeed, rude enough; and we can of his poetical bounty. It is scarcely easily understand that jests of this possible that the ladies who could sit and nature were tolerated or even relished hear jokes far coarser than Smollett's, by common audiences. But when we uttered night after night, could ever have hear that the pieces which contain them fully relished the delicate and sparkling were exhibited repeatedly, with ap- verses which flowed from Jonson's pen.” plause, before the nobles and court -- Introduction to Ben Jonson's Works, ladies of the time (some of them young ed. 1838, p. xxiii-iv. unmarried women), we are driven to
well. 'Tis custom that prevents the ill effects of habits that seem likely to injure mental and moral health. Foreigners judging from the low dresses in our ball-rooms, English maids judging from French fishwomen's bare legs,' often come to very wrong conclusions. Water clear to one generation needs straining for the next. Even Percy, and he a bishop, has not marked with his three crosses (his marks of loose and humorous songs) a few which we, easy-going laymen, have now thought better to transfer to this volume. These are, See the Bwildinge, Fryar and Boye, The Man that hath, Dulcina, Cooke Laurell, The Mode of France, Lye alone, Downe sate the Shepard. We have not written Introductions to every one of these pieces, as to the Ballads and Romances of the MS. Let it be enough that they are put in type.
1 Cp. Punch: “But that indelicate! There ! you might have knocked me down with a feather!”
Some of these songs the Editors would have been glad had it not fallen to their lot to put forth. But, as was said before, they are part of the Manuscript which has to be printed entire, and must be therefore issued. They are also part of our Elizabethan and Jacobite times; and when you are drawing a noble old oak, you must sketch its scars and disfigurements as well as the glory of its bark, its fruit and leaves. Students must work from the nude, or they'll never draw.
Of the general character of Early English Literature enough has been said in the Introduction to Conscience, in vol. ii. of the Ballads and Romances ; but no age, no man, has been without drawbacks, without sensual feelings or the expression of them. They are natural: improper delight in them alone is wrong. And from the expressions of this improper delight our Early Literature is singularly free. Plain speaking there is, broad humour there is; but of delight in sensuality for sensuality's sake, there is very little indeed. Some of it is here, but it's of our Middle Time, a time when the pressure of early wrongs, and perchance the earnestness of national feeling, had somewhat lessened, when luxury and indulgence more abounded. It is well for the student to see it, that he may be under no illusion as to that time; as it will be right for the student of Victorian England, two or three hundred years hence, to see productions that we would not willingly circulate now. But still, let no one doubt that Professor Morley's words are true - that the spirit of our Early and Middle Times was noble and pure; that, notwithstanding prurient novels and review-articles, and Holywell Street filth, our Victorian time is, in the main, noble and
The Poems not marked with Percy's three crosses as loose, which we have transferred to these pages, are Men that more ; Panche; In a May Morninge; The Turk in Linen; Louers hearke alarum; O nay, 0 nay, not yet; I cannot be contented; Lillumwham ; Last night I thought; A Dainty Ducke (incomplete); A mayden heade; Tom Longe; All in a greene meadowe.
We had not at first intended to have side-notes added to this volume, but See the bwildinge, the Fryar and Boye, and some other poems, having been set with side-notes for the Ballads and Romances before they were turned into this volume, the rest of the pieces were side-noted for uniformity's sake. The italics in the text are extensions of the contractions of the Manuscript.