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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

X. The Scottish Chaucerians

§ 6. The Testament of Cresseid

In The Testament of Cresseid, he essays the bold part of a contimuator. Having truned, for fireside companionship on a cold night, to the “quair”

  • Writtin be worthie Chaucer glorious
  • Of fair Cresseid and lustie Troylus,
  • he meditates on Cresseid’s fate, and takes up another “quair” to “break his sleep,”
  • God wait, gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew.
  • Nor I wait nocht gif this narratioun
  • Be authoreist, or fen[char]eit of the new,
  • Be sum Poeit, throw his inventioun
  • Maid to report the Lamentatioun
  • And wofull end of this lustie Cresseid;
  • And quhat distres scho thoillit, and quhat deid!
  • After this introduction, he proceeds, obviously on a hint from Chaucer’s text, to give the sequel to the Diomede episode. Chaucer had prayed each “lady bright of hewe,”
  • That al be that Criseyde was untrewe,
  • That for that gilt she be not wrooth with me.
  • Ye may hir gilt in othere bokes see;
  • And gladier I wol wryten, if yow leste,
  • Penelopëes trouthe and good Alceste.
  • Troilus, V, ll. 1774–8;
  • and he had chivalrously passed on to the closing scene in the tragedy of Troilus. Henryson supplements this with the tragedy of Cresseid. Cast off by Diomede, the distressed woman retires to an oratory and prays to Venus and Cupid, till she falls into an ecstasy. She dreams of her judgment by Saturn, that she shall be stricken with disease, and shall drag out her days in misery. She awakes, to find that she is a leper. A child comes to tell her that her father bids her to supper. She cannot go; and her father appears by her side, and learns how Cupid has taken his vengeance upon her. Sad at heart, he grants her wish to pass straightway with “cop and clapper” to the spital. There, in a dark corner, she “chides her dreary destiny.” On a day there passes Troilus and his company in triumph; and the lepers beg for alms.
  • Than upon him scho kest up bhaith her ene,
  • And with ane blenk it come in to his thocht
  • That he sum tyme hir face befoir had sene,
  • Bot scho was in sic plye he knew hir nocht;
  • Yit than hir luik into his mynd it brocht
  • The sweit visage and amorous blenking
  • Of fair Cresseid, sumtyme his awin darling.
  • He trembles, and changes colour, but no one sees his suffering. To Cresseid he throws rich alms, and passes on. The lepers marvel at his affection for “yone lazarous”; and Cresseid discovers that her friend is Troilus. Not the least effective part of the poem is that which contrasts the sensitiveness of the lovers; or the concluding passage in which the penitent Cresseid makes her testament, and a leper takes her ring from her corpse and carries it to Troilus.
  • He swelt for wo, and fell doun in ane swoun;
  • For greit sorrow his hairt to birst was boun:
  • Siching full sadlie, said, “i can no moir,
  • Scho was untrew, and wo is me thairfoir!”
  • The felicity of the simple style of the next stanza is unmistakable—
  • Sum said he maid ane tomb of merbell gray,
  • And wrait hir name and superscriptioun,
  • And laid it on hir grave, quhair that scho lay,
  • In goldin letteris, conteining this ressoun:
  • “Lo, fair ladyis, Cresseid of Troyis toun,
  • Sumtyme countit the flour of womanheid,
  • Under this stane, late lippeer, lyis deid.”