1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gregory Lewis Way

Leigh Hunt, in Autobiography of Leigh Hunt (1850) 2:260-61.



In this edition of my Poetical Works (1832) is to be found the only printed copy of a poem, the title of which (The Gentle Amor) has been a puzzle for guessers. It originated in curious notions of delicacy. The poem is founded on one of the French fabliaux, entitled Le Trois Chevaliers et la Chemise. It is the story of a knight, who, to free himself from an imputation of cowardice, fights against three other knights in no stouter armor than a lady's garment thus indicated. The late Mr. Way, who first introduced the story to the British public, and who was as respectable and conventional a gentleman, I believe, in every point of view, as could be desired, had no hesitation, some years ago, in rendering the French title of the poem by its (then) corresponding English words, The Three Knights and the Smock; but so rapid are the changes that take place in people's notions of what is decorous, that not only has the word "smock" (of which it was impossible to see see the indelicacy, till people were determined to find it) been displaced since that time by the word "shift," but even that harmless expression for the act of changing one garment for another, has been set aside in favor of the French word "chemise;" and at length not even this word, it seems, is to be mentioned nor the garment itself alluded to, by any decent writer! Such, at least, appears to have been the dictum of some customer, or customers, of the bookseller who published the poem. The title was altered to please these gentlemen; and in a subsequent edition of the Works, the poem itself was withdrawn from virgin eyes.