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1 Ther was, as telleth Titus Livius,
2 A knyght that called was Virginius,
3 Fulfild of honour and of worthynesse,
4 And strong of freendes, and of greet richesse.
5 This knyght a doghter hadde by his wyf;
6 No children hadde he mo in al his lyf.
7 Fair was this mayde in excellent beautee
8 Aboven every wight that man may see;
9 For Nature hath with sovereyn diligence
10 Yformed hire in so greet excellence,
11 As though she wolde seyn, “Lo! I, Nature,
12 Thus kan I forme and peynte a creature,
13 Whan that me list; who kan me countrefete?
14 Pigmalion noght, though he ay forge and bete,
15 Or grave, or peynte; for I dar wel seyn
16 Apelles, Zanzis, sholde werche in veyn
17 Outher to grave, or peynte, or forge, or bete,
18 If they presumed me to countrefete.
19 For He that is the formere principal
20 Hath maked me his vicaire general,
21 To forme and peynten erthely creaturis
22 Right as me list, and ech thyng in my cure is
23 Under the moone, that may wane and waxe,
24 And for my werk right no thyng wol I axe;
25 My lord and I been ful of oon accord.
26 I made hire to the worshipe of my lord;
27 So do I alle myne othere creatures,
28 What colour that they han or what figures.”
29 Thus semeth me that Nature wolde seye.
30 This mayde of age twelve yeer was and tweye,
31 In which that Nature hadde swich delit.
32 For right as she kan peynte a lilie whit,
33 And reed a rose, right with swich peynture
34 She peynted hath this noble creature,
35 Er she were born, upon hir lymes fre,
36 Where as by right swiche colours sholde be;
37 And Phebus dyed hath hire tresses grete
38 Lyk to the stremes of his burned heete.
39 And if that excellent was hire beautee,
40 A thousand foold moore vertuous was she.
41 In hire ne lakked no condicioun
42 That is to preyse, as by discrecioun.
43 As wel in goost as body chast was she,
44 For which she floured in virginitee
45 With alle humylitee and abstinence,
46 With alle attemperaunce and pacience,
47 With mesure eek of beryng and array.
48 Discreet she was in answeryng alway;
49 Though she were wis as Pallas, dar I seyn,
50 Hir facound eek ful wommanly and pleyn,
51 No countrefeted termes hadde she
52 To seme wys, but after hir degree
53 She spak, and alle hire wordes, moore and lesse,
54 Sownynge in vertu and in gentillesse.
55 Shamefast she was in maydens shamefastnesse,
56 Constant in herte, and evere in bisynesse
57 To dryve hire out of ydel slogardye.
58 Bacus hadde of hir mouth right no maistrie;
59 For wyn and youthe dooth Venus encresse,
60 As men in fyr wol casten oille or greesse.
61 And of hir owene vertu, unconstreyned,
62 She hath ful ofte tyme syk hire feyned,
63 For that she wolde fleen the compaignye
64 Where likly was to treten of folye,
65 As is at feestes, revels, and at daunces,
66 That been occasions of daliaunces.
67 Swich thynges maken children for to be
68 To soone rype and boold, as men may se,
69 Which is ful perilous and hath been yoore.
70 For al to soone may she lerne loore
71 Of booldnesse, whan she woxen is a wyf.
72 And ye maistresses, in youre olde lyf,
73 That lordes doghtres han in governaunce,
74 Ne taketh of my wordes no displesaunce.
75 Thenketh that ye been set in governynges
76 Of lordes doghtres oonly for two thynges:
77 Outher for ye han kept youre honestee,
78 Or elles ye han falle in freletee,
79 And knowen wel ynough the olde daunce,
80 And han forsaken fully swich meschaunce
81 For everemo; therfore, for Cristes sake,
82 To teche hem vertu looke that ye ne slake.
83 A theef of venysoun, that hath forlaft
84 His likerousnesse and al his olde craft,
85 Kan kepe a forest best of any man.
86 Now kepeth wel, for if ye wole, ye kan.
87 Looke wel that ye unto no vice assente,
88 Lest ye be dampned for youre wikke entente;
89 For whoso dooth, a traitour is, certeyn.
90 And taketh kep of that that I shal seyn:
91 Of alle tresons sovereyn pestilence
92 Is whan a wight bitrayseth innocence.
93 Ye fadres and ye moodres eek also,
94 Though ye han children, be it oon or mo,
95 Youre is the charge of al hir surveiaunce,
96 Whil that they been under youre governaunce.
97 Beth war, if by ensample of youre lyvynge,
98 Or by youre necligence in chastisynge,
99 That they ne perisse; for I dar wel seye
100 If that they doon, ye shul it deere abeye.
101 Under a shepherde softe and necligent
102 The wolf hath many a sheep and lamb torent.
103 Suffiseth oon ensample now as heere,
104 For I moot turne agayn to my matere.
105 This mayde, of which I wol this tale expresse,
106 So kepte hirself hir neded no maistresse,
107 For in hir lyvyng maydens myghten rede,
108 As in a book, every good word or dede
109 That longeth to a mayden vertuous,
110 She was so prudent and so bountevous.
111 For which the fame out sprong on every syde,
112 Bothe of hir beautee and hir bountee wyde,
113 That thurgh that land they preised hire echone
114 That loved vertu, save Envye allone,
115 That sory is of oother mennes wele
116 And glad is of his sorwe and his unheele.
117 (The Doctour maketh this descripcioun.)
118 This mayde upon a day wente in the toun
119 Toward a temple, with hire mooder deere,
120 As is of yonge maydens the manere.
121 Now was ther thanne a justice in that toun,
122 That governour was of that regioun.
123 And so bifel this juge his eyen caste
124 Upon this mayde, avysynge hym ful faste,
125 As she cam forby ther as this juge stood.
126 Anon his herte chaunged and his mood,
127 So was he caught with beautee of this mayde,
128 And to hymself ful pryvely he sayde,
129 “This mayde shal be myn, for any man!”
130 Anon the feend into his herte ran,
131 And taughte hym sodeynly that he by slyghte
132 The mayden to his purpos wynne myghte.
133 For certes, by no force ne by no meede,
134 Hym thoughte, he was nat able for to speede;
135 For she was strong of freendes, and eek she
136 Confermed was in swich soverayn bountee
137 That wel he wiste he myghte hire nevere wynne
138 As for to make hire with hir body synne.
139 For which, by greet deliberacioun,
140 He sente after a cherl, was in the toun,
141 Which that he knew for subtil and for boold.
142 This juge unto this cherl his tale hath toold
143 In secree wise, and made hym to ensure
144 He sholde telle it to no creature,
145 And if he dide, he sholde lese his heed.
146 Whan that assented was this cursed reed,
147 Glad was this juge, and maked him greet cheere,
148 And yaf hym yiftes preciouse and deere.
149 Whan shapen was al hire conspiracie
150 Fro point to point, how that his lecherie
151 Parfourned sholde been ful subtilly,
152 As ye shul heere it after openly,
153 Hoom gooth the cherl, that highte Claudius.
154 This false juge, that highte Apius,
155 (So was his name, for this is no fable,
156 But knowen for historial thyng notable;
157 The sentence of it sooth is, out of doute),
158 This false juge gooth now faste aboute
159 To hasten his delit al that he may.
160 And so bifel soone after, on a day,
161 This false juge, as telleth us the storie,
162 As he was wont, sat in his consistorie,
163 And yaf his doomes upon sondry cas.
164 This false cherl cam forth a ful greet pas,
165 And seyde, “Lord, if that it be youre wille,
166 As dooth me right upon this pitous bille,
167 In which I pleyne upon Virginius;
168 And if that he wol seyn it is nat thus,
169 I wol it preeve, and fynde good witnesse,
170 That sooth is that my bille wol expresse.”
171 The juge answerde, “Of this, in his absence,
172 I may nat yeve diffynytyf sentence.
173 Lat do hym calle, and I wol gladly heere;
174 Thou shalt have al right, and no wrong heere.”
175 Virginius cam to wite the juges wille,
176 And right anon was rad this cursed bille;
177 The sentence of it was as ye shul heere:
178 “To yow, my lord, sire Apius so deere,
179 Sheweth youre povre servant Claudius
180 How that a knyght, called Virginius,
181 Agayns the lawe, agayn al equitee,
182 Holdeth, expres agayn the wyl of me,
183 My servant, which that is my thral by right,
184 Which fro myn hous was stole upon a nyght,
185 Whil that she was ful yong; this wol I preeve
186 By witnesse, lord, so that it nat yow greeve.
187 She nys his doghter nat, what so he seye.
188 Wherfore to yow, my lord the juge, I preye,
189 Yeld me my thral, if that it be youre wille.”
190 Lo, this was al the sentence of his bille.
191 Virginius gan upon the cherl biholde,
192 But hastily, er he his tale tolde,
193 And wolde have preeved it as sholde a knyght,
194 And eek by witnessyng of many a wight,
195 That al was fals that seyde his adversarie,
196 This cursed juge wolde no thyng tarie,
197 Ne heere a word moore of Virginius,
198 But yaf his juggement, and seyde thus:
199 “I deeme anon this cherl his servant have;
200 Thou shalt no lenger in thyn hous hir save.
201 Go bryng hire forth, and put hire in oure warde.
202 The cherl shal have his thral, this I awarde.”
203 And whan this worthy knyght Virginius
204 Thurgh sentence of this justice Apius
205 Moste by force his deere doghter yiven
206 Unto the juge, in lecherie to lyven,
207 He gooth hym hoom, and sette him in his halle,
208 And leet anon his deere doghter calle,
209 And with a face deed as asshen colde
210 Upon hir humble face he gan biholde,
211 With fadres pitee stikynge thurgh his herte,
212 Al wolde he from his purpos nat converte.
213 “Doghter,” quod he, “Virginia, by thy name,
214 Ther been two weyes, outher deeth or shame,
215 That thou most suffre; allas, that I was bore!
216 For nevere thou deservedest wherfore
217 To dyen with a swerd or with a knyf.
218 O deere doghter, endere of my lyf,
219 Which I have fostred up with swich plesaunce
220 That thou were nevere out of my remembraunce!
221 O doghter, which that art my laste wo,
222 And in my lyf my laste joye also,
223 O gemme of chastitee, in pacience
224 Take thou thy deeth, for this is my sentence.
225 For love, and nat for hate, thou most be deed;
226 My pitous hand moot smyten of thyn heed.
227 Allas, that evere Apius the say!
228 Thus hath he falsly jugged the to-day” —
229 And tolde hire al the cas, as ye bifore
230 Han herd; nat nedeth for to telle it moore.
231 “O mercy, deere fader!” quod this mayde,
232 And with that word she bothe hir armes layde
233 Aboute his nekke, as she was wont to do.
234 The teeris bruste out of hir eyen two,
235 And seyde, “Goode fader, shal I dye?
236 Is ther no grace, is ther no remedye?”
237 “No, certes, deere doghter myn,” quod he.
238 “Thanne yif me leyser, fader myn,” quod she,
239 “My deeth for to compleyne a litel space;
240 For, pardee, Jepte yaf his doghter grace
241 For to compleyne, er he hir slow, allas!
242 And, God it woot, no thyng was hir trespas,
243 But for she ran hir fader first to see,
244 To welcome hym with greet solempnitee.”
245 And with that word she fil aswowne anon,
246 And after, whan hir swownyng is agon,
247 She riseth up, and to hir fader sayde,
248 “Blissed be God that I shal dye a mayde!
249 Yif me my deeth, er that I have a shame;
250 Dooth with youre child youre wyl, a Goddes name!”
251 And with that word she preyed hym ful ofte
252 That with his swerd he wolde smyte softe;
253 And with that word aswowne doun she fil.
254 Hir fader, with ful sorweful herte and wil,
255 Hir heed of smoot, and by the top it hente,
256 And to the juge he gan it to presente,
257 As he sat yet in doom in consistorie.
258 And whan the juge it saugh, as seith the storie,
259 He bad to take hym and anhange hym faste;
260 But right anon a thousand peple in thraste,
261 To save the knyght, for routhe and for pitee,
262 For knowen was the false iniquitee.
263 The peple anon had suspect in this thyng,
264 By manere of the cherles chalangyng,
265 That it was by the assent of Apius;
266 They wisten wel that he was lecherus.
267 For which unto this Apius they gon
268 And caste hym in a prisoun right anon,
269 Ther as he slow hymself; and Claudius,
270 That servant was unto this Apius,
271 Was demed for to hange upon a tree,
272 But that Virginius, of his pitee,
273 So preyde for hym that he was exiled;
274 And elles, certes, he had been bigyled.
275 The remenant were anhanged, moore and lesse,
276 That were consentant of this cursednesse.
277 Heere may men seen how synne hath his merite.
278 Beth war, for no man woot whom God wol smyte
279 In no degree, ne in which manere wyse;
280 The worm of conscience may agryse
281 Of wikked lyf, though it so pryvee be
282 That no man woot therof but God and he.
283 For be he lewed man, or ellis lered,
284 He noot how soone that he shal been afered.
285 Therfore I rede yow this conseil take:
286 Forsaketh synne, er synne yow forsake.

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