The Decameron

Conclusion of the Author

Most noble damsels, for whose solace I have addressed myself to so long a labour, I have now, methinketh, with the aid of the Divine favour, (vouchsafed me, as I deem, for your pious prayers and not for my proper merits,) throughly accomplished that which I engaged, at the beginning of this present work, to do; wherefore, returning thanks first to God and after to you, it behoveth to give rest to my pen and to my tired hand. Which ere I accord them, I purpose briefly to reply, as to objections tacitly broached, to certain small matters that may peradventure be alleged by some one of you or by others, since meseemeth very certain that these stories have no especial privilege more than other things; nay, I mind me to have shown, at the beginning of the fourth day, that they have none such. There are, peradventure, some of you who will say that I have used overmuch license in526 inditing these stories, as well as in making ladies whiles say and very often hearken to things not very seemly either to be said or heard of modest women. This I deny, for that there is nothing so unseemly as to be forbidden unto any one, so but he express it in seemly terms, as meseemeth indeed I have here very aptly done. But let us suppose that it is so (for that I mean not to plead with you, who would overcome me,) I say that many reasons very readily offer themselves in answer why I have done this. Firstly, if there be aught thereof[484] in any of them, the nature of the stories required it, the which, an they be considered with the rational eye of a person of understanding, it will be abundantly manifest that I could not have otherwise recounted, an I would not altogether disfeature them. And if perchance there be therein some tittle, some wordlet or two freer, maybe, than liketh your squeamish hypocritical prudes, who weigh words rather than deeds and study more to appear, than to be, good, I say that it should no more be forbidden me to write them than it is commonly forbidden unto men and women to say all day long hole and peg and mortar and pestle and sausage and polony and all manner like things; without reckoning that no less liberty should be accorded to my pen than is conceded to the brush of the limner, who, without any (or, at the least, any just) reprehension, maketh—let be St. Michael smite the serpent with sword or spear and St. George the dragon, whereas it pleaseth them—but Adam male and Eve female and affixeth to the cross, whiles with one nail and whiles with two, the feet of Him Himself who willed for the salvation of the human race to die upon the rood. Moreover, it is eath enough to see that these things are spoken, not in the church, of the affairs whereof it behoveth to speak with a mind and in terms alike of the chastest (albeit among its histories there are tales enough to be found of anothergates fashion than those written by me), nor yet in the schools of philosophy, where decency is no less required than otherwhere, nor among churchmen or philosophers anywhere, but amidst gardens, in a place of pleasance and diversion and among men and women, though young, yet of mature wit and not to be led astray by stories, at a time when it was not forbidden to the most virtuous to go, for their own preservation, with their breeches on their heads. Again, such as they are, these stories, like everything else, can both harm and profit, according to the disposition of the listener. Who knoweth not that wine, though, according to Cinciglione and Scolajo[485] and many others, an excellent thing for people in health,[486] is hurtful unto whoso hath the fever? Shall we say, then, because it harmeth the fevered, that it is naught? Who knoweth not that fire is most useful, nay, necessary to mortals? Shall we say, because it burneth houses and villages and cities, that it is naught? Arms on like wise assure the welfare of those who desire to live in peace and yet oftentimes slay men, not of any malice of their own, but of the527 perversity of those who use them wrongfully. Corrupt mind never understood word healthily, and even as seemly words profit not depraved minds, so those which are not altogether seemly avail not to contaminate the well-disposed, any more than mire can sully the rays of the sun or earthly foulness the beauties of the sky. What books, what words, what letters are holier, worthier, more venerable than those of the Divine Scriptures? Yet many there be, who, interpreting them perversely, have brought themselves and others to perdition. Everything in itself is good unto somewhat and ill used, may be in many things harmful; and so say I of my stories. If any be minded to draw therefrom ill counsel or ill practice, they will nowise forbid it him, if perchance they have it in them or be strained and twisted into having it; and who so will have profit and utility thereof, they will not deny it him, nor will they be ever styled or accounted other than useful and seemly, if they be read at those times and to those persons for which and for whom they have been recounted. Whoso hath to say paternosters or to make tarts and puddings for her spiritual director, let her leave them be; they will not run after any to make her read them; albeit your she-saints themselves now and again say and even do fine things.

There be some ladies also who will say that there are some stories here, which had been better away. Granted; but I could not nor should write aught save those actually related, wherefore those who told them should have told them goodly and I would have written them goodly. But, if folk will e'en pretend that I am both the inventor and writer thereof (which I am not), I say that I should not take shame to myself that they were not all alike goodly, for that there is no craftsman living (barring God) who doth everything alike well and completely; witness Charlemagne, who was the first maker of the Paladins, but knew not to make so many thereof that he might avail to form an army of them alone. In the multitude of things, needs must divers qualities thereof be found. No field was ever so well tilled but therein or nettles or thistles or somewhat of briers or other weeds might be found mingled with the better herbs. Besides, having to speak to simple lasses, such as you are for the most part, it had been folly to go seeking and wearying myself to find very choice and exquisite matters, and to use great pains to speak very measuredly. Algates, whoso goeth reading among these, let him leave those which offend and read those which divert. They all, not to lead any one into error, bear branded upon the forefront that which they hold hidden within their bosoms.

Again, I doubt not but there be those who will say that some of them are overlong; to whom I say again that whoso hath overwhat to do doth folly to read these stories, even though they were brief. And albeit a great while is passed from the time when I began to write to this present hour whenas I come to the end of my toils, it hath not therefor escaped my memory that I proffered this my travail to idle women and not to others, and unto whoso readeth to pass away the time, nothing can be overlong, so but it do that for which he useth it. Things brief are far better suited unto stu528dents, who study, not to pass away, but usefully to employ time, than to you ladies, who have on your hands all the time that you spend not in the pleasures of love; more by token that, as none of you goeth to Athens or Bologna or Paris to study, it behoveth to speak to you more at large than to those who have had their wits whetted by study. Again, I doubt not a jot but there be yet some of you who will say that the things aforesaid are full of quips and cranks and quodlibets and that it ill beseemeth a man of weight and gravity to have written thus. To these I am bound to render and do render thanks, for that, moved by a virtuous jealousy, they are so tender of my fame; but to their objection I reply on this wise; I confess to being a man of weight and to have been often weighed in my time, wherefore, speaking to those ladies who have not weighed me, I declare that I am not heavy; nay, I am so light that I abide like a nutgall in water, and considering that the preachments made of friars, to rebuke men of their sins, are nowadays for the most part seen full of quips and cranks and gibes, I conceived that these latter would not sit amiss in my stories written to ease women of melancholy. Algates, an they should laugh overmuch on that account, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the Passion of our Saviour and the Complaint of Mary Magdalen will lightly avail to cure them thereof.

Again, who can doubt but there will to boot be found some to say that I have an ill tongue and a venomous, for that I have in sundry places written the truth anent the friars? To those who shall say thus it must be forgiven, since it is not credible that they are moved by other than just cause, for that the friars are a good sort of folk, who eschew unease for the love of God and who grind with a full head of water and tell no tales, and but that they all savour somewhat of the buck-goat, their commerce would be far more agreeable. Natheless, I confess that the things of this world have no stability and are still on the change, and so may it have befallen of my tongue, the which, not to trust to mine own judgment, (which I eschew as most I may in my affairs,) a she-neighbour of mine told me, not long since, was the best and sweetest in the world; and in good sooth, were this the case, there had been few of the foregoing stories to write. But, for that those who say thus speak despitefully, I will have that which hath been said suffice them for a reply; wherefore, leaving each of you henceforth to say and believe as seemeth good to her, it is time for me to make an end of words, humbly thanking Him who hath, after so long a labour, brought us with His help to the desired end. And you, charming ladies, abide you in peace with His favour, remembering you of me, if perchance it profit any of you aught to have read these stories.