Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. I/Notes XVII
[ Text of the Poem ]
XVII. Lenvoy a Bukton.
1. Bukton. Most old editions have the queer reading:—'My mayster. &c. whan of Christ our kyng.' Tyrwhitt was the first to correct this, and added:—'It has always been printed at the end of the Book of the Duchesse, with an &c. in the first line instead of the name of Bukton; and in Mr. Urry's edition the following most unaccountable note is prefixed to it—"This seems an Envoy to the Duke of Lancaster after his loss of Blanch." From the reference to the Wife of Bathe, l. 29, I should suppose this to have been one of our author's later compositions, and I find that there was a Peter de Buketon, the King's Escheator for the County of York, in 1397 (Pat. 20 R. II. p. 2, m. 3, ap. Rymer) to whom this poem, from the familiar style of it, is much more likely to have been addressed than to the Duke of Lancaster.' Julian Notary's edition is the only one that retains Bukton's name.
My maister Bukton is in the vocative case.
2. 'What is truth?' See John xviii. 38.
5. Highte, promised; by confusion with heet (A.S. hēht).
8. Eft, again, a second time. This seems to assert that Chaucer was at this time a widower. Cf. C. T. 9103 (E 1227).
9. 'Mariage est maus liens,' marriage is an evil tie; Rom. de la Rose, 8871. And again, with respect to marriage—'Quel forsenerie [witlessness] te maine A cest torment, a ceste paine?' R. Rose, 8783; with much more to the same effect. Cf. Cant. Tales, Marchauntes Prologue (throughout); and Barbour's Bruce, i. 267.
18. Cf. 1 Cor. vii. 9, 28. And see Wife of Bath's Prol. D 154-160.
23. 'That it would be more pleasant for you to be taken prisoner in Friesland.' This seems to point to a period when such a mishap was not uncommon. In fact, some Englishmen were present in an expedition against Friesland which took place in the autumn of 1396. See the whole account in Froissart, Chron. bk. iv. cc. 77, 78. He tells us that the Frieslanders would not ransom the prisoners taken by their enemies; consequently, they could not exchange prisoners, and at lastthey put their prisoners to death. Thus the peculiar peril of being taken prisoner in Friesland is fully explained.
25. Proverbes, set of proverbs. Koch remarks—'Proverbes is rather curious, referring to a singular, but seems to be right, as proverbe would lose its last syllable, standing before a vowel.' Perhaps we should read or proverbe.
27. This answers to the modern proverb—'Let well alone.'
28. I. e. learn to know when you are well off. 'Half a loaf is better than no bread.' 'Better sit still than rise and fall' (Heywood). 'Better some of a pudding than none of pie' (Ray). In the Fairfax MS., the following rimed proverb is quoted at the end of the poem:—
'Better is to suffre, and fortune abyde,
Than hastely to clymbe, and sodeynly to slyde.'
The same occurs (says Hazlitt) at the end of Caxton's edition of Lydgate's Stans Puer ad Mensam; but does not belong to that poem.
29. The reference is to the Wife of Bathes Prologue, which curiously enough, is again referred to by Chaucer in the Marchauntes Tale, C. T. 9559 (E 1685). This reference shews that the present poem was written quite late in life, as the whole tone of it shews; and the same remark applies to the Marchauntes Tale also. We may suspect that Chaucer was rather proud of his Prologue to the Wife of Bathes Tale. Unquestionably, he took a great deal of pains about it.
- The MS. has And for Than (wrongly).