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Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century

Preface to the Treatise on the Astrolabe

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)

LITTLE Lewis my son, I have perceived well by certain evidences thine ability to learn sciences touching numbers and proportions; and as well consider I thy busy prayer in special to learn the treatise of the astrolabe. Then, forasmuch as a philosopher saith, he wrappeth him in his friend that condescendeth to the rightful prayers of his friend, therefore have I given thee a sufficient astrolabe as for our horizon, compounded after the latitude of Oxenford, upon which by mediation of this little treatise, I purpose to teach thee a certain number of conclusions appertaining to the same instrument. I say a certain of conclusions, for three causes. The first cause is this; trust well that all the conclusions that have been found, or else possibly might be found in so noble an instrument as an astrolabe, be unknown perfectly to any mortal man in this region, as I suppose. Another cause is this; that soothly in any treatise of the astrolabe that I have seen there be some conclusions that will not in all things perform their behests. And some of them be too hard to thy tender age of ten year to conceive.

This treatise divided in five parts will I show thee under full light rules and naked words in English; for Latin ne canst thou yet but small, my little son. But natheless suffice to thee these true conclusions in English, as well as sufficeth to these noble clerks Greeks these same conclusions in Greek, and to Arabians in Arabic, and to Jews in Hebrew, and to the Latin folk in Latin; which Latin folk have them first out of other diverse languages, and written in their own tongue, that is to say, in Latin. And God wot that in all these languages, and in many more, have these conclusions been sufficiently learned and taught, and yet by divers rules, right as divers paths lead divers folk the right way to Rome.

Now will I pray meekly every discreet person that readeth or heareth this little treatise, to have my rude enditing for excused, and my superfluity of words, for two causes. The first cause is, for that curious enditing and hard sentence is full heavy at once for such a child to learn. And the second cause is this, that soothly me seemeth better to write unto a child twice a good sentence, than he forget it once.

And, Lewis, if so be that I show thee in my light English as true conclusions touching this matter, and not only as true, but as many and as subtle conclusions as be showed in Latin in any common treatise of the astrolabe, can me the more thank; and pray God save the king, that is lord of this language, and all that him faith beareth and obeyeth, every one in his degree, the more and the less. But consider well, that I ne usurp not to have found this work, of my labour or of mine engine. I am not but a lewd compilator of the labour of old astrologians, and have it translated in mine English only for thy doctrine; and with this sword shall I slay envy.