THE Chronicles of Sir John Froissart have, ever since their first publication, when they were circulated only through the medium of manuscripts, and deemed worthy presents to kings and princes, been so highly prized, as to make any apology for their reproduction in a novel, and, it is hoped, an improved form, unnecessary. England is particularly rich in MS. Froissarts, and from these stores most of the illustrations have been drawn. The reader should, however, be made aware that there scarcely exists one single MS. contemporary with the time of the author containing illustrations, and that the dresses, &c. displayed in the wood-cuts interspersed in these volumes, are almost all to be referred to a later date. The manners of the times had not undergone much alteration, nor was the costume materially different, and they at least approach very nearly to an exact representation of the scenes described in the history they illustrate. It is difficult to represent the exquisite finish of ancient illuminations, through the medium of a copy composed of black lines and contrasted lights; but the fidelity of the outlines, and the spirit of the execution, have been scrupulously observed, and it is hoped that the general effect does not discredit the originals.
It may be necessary to say a few words on the mode which has been adopted in the conduct of the present edition. The text of Johnes has been preferred to that of Lord Berners for several reasons; the more modern diction is better adapted for the extended circulation among all classes of readers, which it is the ambition of the proprietor of the Imperial Classics to achieve; the style and language of Lord Berners would probably be preferred by those who are familiar with our earlier writers, but notes and glossaries would be required to make clear to others many words and expressions which to them appear in no degree obscure. Again, Mr. Johnes has in several places introduced extensive additions, which are to found in no other edition, French or English. If these were embodied in the text of Lord Berners, a proceeding necessary to make the edition complete, a very piebald piece of patch-work would be the result; and as the original of these additions was lost when Mr. Johnes's house and library were destroyed by fire, it is not possible to re-translate them in a style assimilated to that of the noble translator.vi
Another objection to adopting the text of Lord Berners, is that imperfection which induced Mr. Johnes to undertake his translation, viz. the inaccuracies in rendering the names of both men and towns, &c. Mr. Johnes did much to correct these, which are dreadfully mangled and disfigured in the original; and they have been still further improved in the present edition. It has not been thought necessary to point out all these emendations; where no doubt existed, the alteration has been made silently; but wherever there was any uncertainty, the emendation has been proposed as a query.
All Mr. Johnes's original notes have been preserved, and many more added on subjects which he had left unnoticed, or regarding which he appeared to be in error. A few of the best passages of Lord Berners' version have been appended as specimens of his style, such as the celebrated episode of Edward III. and the countess of Salisbury, vol. i., p. 102.
The original divisions made by Froissart in his work are commented on and explained in the Essay by M. de St. Palaye, translated by Mr. Johnes, and appended to this edition, and it will therefore be sufficient in this place to explain the system here adopted. The four original divisions into volumes or books have been preserved, and the chapters of each book are separately numbered. For the convenience of binding, the whole work has been divided into two volumes, and the pages are numbered in conformity with this division, without reference to the books or chapters. No two editions or MSS. exactly agree in the arrangement of the chapters, and we have therefore adhered to that adopted by Mr. Johnes.
We will now take our leave of the reader in the words of Gray, who, in a letter to a friend, thus addresses him: — “I rejoice you have met with Froissart; he is the Herodotus of a barbarous age; had he but had the luck of writing in as good a language, he might have been immortal! His locomotive disposition, (for then there was no other way of learning things,) his simple curiosity, his religious credulity, were much like those of the old Grecian. When you have tant chevaucé as to get to the end of him, there is Monstrelet waits to take you up, and will set you down at Philip de Commines.”