THE "Gesta Romanorum;" is a mediæval compilation of tales that might be used to enforce and enliven lessons from the pulpit. Each was provided with its "Application." The French Dominican, Vincent of Beauvais, tells in his "Mirror of History" that in his time--the thirteenth century--it was the practice of preachers, to rouse languid hearers by quoting fables out of Æsop, and he recommends a sparing and discreet use of profane fancies in discussing sacred subjects. Among the Harleian MSS. is an ancient collection of 215 stories, romantic, allegorical and legendary, compiled by a preacher for the use of monastic societies. There were other such collections, but the most famous of all, widely used not only by the preachers but also by the poets, was the Latin story-book known as the "Gesta Romanorum." Its name, "Deeds of the Romans," was due to its fancy for assigning every story to some emperor who had or had not reigned in Rome; the emperor being a convenient person in the Application, which might sometimes begin with, "My beloved, the emperor is God." Perhaps the germ of the collection may have been a series of applied tales from Roman history. But if so, it was soon enriched with tales from the East, from the "Clericalis Disciplina," a work by Petrus Alfonsus, a baptized Jew who lived in 1106, and borrowed professedly from the Arabian fabulists. Mediæval tales of all kinds suitable for the purpose of the "Gesta Romanorum" were freely incorporated, and the book so formed became a well-known storehouse of material for poetic treatment. Gower, Shakespeare, Schiller are some of the poets who have used tales which are among the thirty given in this volume.
The "Gesta Romanorum" was first printed in 1473, and after that date often reprinted. It was translated into Dutch as early as the year 1484. There was a translation of forty-three of its tales into English, by Richard Robinson, published in 1577, of which there were six or seven editions during the next twenty-four years. A version of forty-five of its tales was published in 1648 as "A Record of Ancient Histories." The fullest English translation was that by the Rev. C. Swan, published in 1824. In this volume two or three tales are given in the earlier English form, the rest from Mr. Swan's translation, with a little revision of his English. Mr. Swan used Book English, and was apt to write "an instrument of agriculture" where he would have said "a spade." I give here thirty of the Tales, but of the "Applications" have left only enough to show how they were managed.
H. M. October 1884.