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tractions which followed, and the paucity of any striking poetical genius for at least a century and a half after his death, too truly exemplify the fine simile of Warton, that Chaucer was like a genial day in an English spring, when a brilliant sun enlivens the face of nature with unusual warmth and lustre, but is succeeded by the redoubled horrors of winter, and those tender buds and early blossoms which were called forth by the transient gleam of a temporary sunshine, are nipped by frosts and torn by tempests.'

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GEOFFREY CHAUCER.

With these imperfect models as his only native guides, arose our first great author, GEOFFREY CHAUCER, distinctively known as the Father of English poetry. Though our language had risen into importance with the rise of the Commons in the time of Edward I., the French long kept possession of the court and higher circles, and it required a genius like that of Chaucer-familiar with different modes

He stoop'd to truth, and moralised his song.

When about sixty, in the calm evening of a busy

of life both at home and abroad, and openly patronised by his sovereign-to give literary permanence and consistency to the language and poetry of Eng-life, he composed his Canterbury Tales, simple and land. Henceforward his native style, which Spenser varied as nature itself, imbued with the results terms the pure well of English undefiled,' formed of extensive experience and close observation, and a standard of composition, though the national dis- coloured with the genial lights of a happy temperament, that had looked on the world without austerity, and passed through its changing scenes without los

1 Hanging wider than his chin.

bacon he eats, so was his beard beslabbered-an image still familiar in England.

2 As the mouth of a bondman or rural labourer is with the ing the freshness and vivacity of youthful feeling and imagination. The poet tells us himself (in his Testament of Love) that he was born in London, and the year 1328 is assigned, by the only authority we possess on the subject, namely, the inscription on his tomb, as the date of his birth. One of his poems

3 Loveday is a day appointed for the amicable settlement of

5 Nuns.

Chaucer.

Chaucer was a man of the world as well as a

student; a soldier and courtier, employed in public affairs of delicacy and importance, and equally acquainted with the splendour of the warlike and magnificent reign of Edward III., and with the bitter reverses of fortune which accompanied the subsequent troubles and convulsions. He had partaken freely in all; and was peculiarly qualified to excel in that department of literature which alone can be universally popular, the portraiture of real life and genuine emotion. His genius was not, indeed, fully developed till he was advanced in years. His early pieces have much of the frigid conceit and pedantry of his age, when the passion of love was erected into a sort of court, governed by statutes, and a system of chivalrous mythology (such as the poetical worship of the rose and the daisy) supplanted the stateliness of the old romance. In time he threw

off these conceits

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is signed Philogenet of Cambridge, Clerk,' and
hence he is supposed to have attended the Univer-
sity there; but Warton and other Oxonians claim
him for the rival university. It is certain that he
accompanied the army with which Edward III. in-
vaded France, and was made prisoner about the
year 1359, at the siege of Retters. At this time the
poet was honoured with the steady and effective
patronage of John of Gaunt, whose marriage with
Blanche, heiress of Lancaster, he commemorates in
his poem of the Dream. Chaucer and time-honoured
Gaunt' became closely connected. The former mar-
ried Philippa Pyckard, or De Rouet, daughter of a
knight of Hainault, and maid of honour to the queen,
and a sister of this lady, Catherine Swinford (widow
of Sir John Swinford) became the mistress, and ulti-
mately the wife, of John of Gaunt. The fortunes of
the poet rose and fell with those of the prince, his
patron. In 1367, he received from the crown a grant
of twenty marks, equal to about £200 of our present
money. In 1372, he was a joint envoy on a mission
to the Duke of Genoa; and it has been conjectured
that on this occasion he made a tour of the northern
states of Italy, and visited Petrarch at Padua. The
only proof of this, however, is a casual allusion in
the Canterbury Tales, where the clerk of Oxford says
of his tale--

CHAUCER

Learned at Padua of a worthy clerk—
Francis Petrarch, the laureat poet,
Hight this clerk, whose rhetoric sweet
Enlumined all Italy of poetry.

And right anon as I the day espied,
No longer would I in my bed abide,
I went forth myself alone and boldely,
And held the way down by a brook side,
Till I came to a land of white and green,
So fair a one had I never in been.
The ground was green y-powdered with daisy,
The flowers and the groves alike high,
All green and white was nothing else seen.

The destruction of the Royal Manor at Woodstock, and the subsequent erection of Blenheim, have changed the appearance of this classic ground; but the poet's morning walk may still be traced, and some venerable oaks that may have waved over him, lend poetic and historical interest to the spot. The opening of the reign of Richard II. was unpropitious to Chaucer. He became involved in the civil and religious troubles of the times, and joined with the party of John of Northampton, who was attached to the doctrines of Wickliffe, in resisting the measures of the court. The poet fled to Hainault (the country of his wife's relations), and afterwards to Holland. He ventured to return in 1386, but was thrown into the Tower, and deprived of his comptrollership. In May 1388, he obtained leave to dispose of his two patents of twenty marks each; a measure prompted, no doubt, by necessity. He obtained his release by impeaching his previous associates, and confessing to his misdemeanours, offering also to prove the truth of his information by entering the lists of combat with the accused parties. The tale thus learned is the pathetic story of Patient How far this transaction involves the character of Grisilde, which, in fact, was written by Boccaccio, the poet, we cannot now ascertain. He has painted and only translated into Latin by Petrarch. Why,' his suffering and distress, the odium which he inasks Mr Godwin, 'did Chaucer choose to confess curred, and his indignation at the bad conduct of his his obligation for it to Petrarch rather than to Boc-former confederates, in powerful and affecting lancaccio, from whose volume Petrarch confessedly guage in his prose work, the Testament of Love. The translated it? For this very natural reason-be- sunshine of royal favour was not long withheld after cause he was eager to commemorate his interview this humiliating submission. In 1389, Chaucer is with this venerable patriarch of Italian letters, and registered as clerk of the works at Westminster; to record the pleasure he had reaped from his society.' and next year he was appointed to the same office at We fear this is mere special pleading; but it would Windsor. These were only temporary situations, be a pity that so pleasing an illusion should be dis- held about twenty months; but he afterwards repelled. Whether or not the two poets ever met, the ceived a grant of £20, and a tun of wine, per anItalian journey of Chaucer, and the fame of Petrarch, num. The name of the poet does not occur again must have kindled his poetical ambition and refined for some years, and he is supposed to have retired his taste. The Divine Comedy of Dante had shed a to Woodstock, and there composed his Canterbury glory over the literature of Italy; Petrarch received Tales. In 1398, a patent of protection was granted his crown of laurel in the Capitol of Rome only five to him by the crown; but, from the terms of the years before Chaucer first appeared as a poet (his deed, it is difficult to say whether it is an amnesty Court of Love was written about the year 1346); and for political offences, or a safeguard from creditors. Boccaccio (more poetical in his prose than his verse) In the following year, still brighter prospects opened had composed that inimitable century of tales, his on the aged poet. Henry of Bolingbroke, the son Decameron, in which the charms of romance are of his brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, ascended the clothed in all the pure and sparkling graces of com- throne: Chaucer's annuity was continued, and forty position. These illustrious examples must have in-marks additional were granted. Thomas Chaucer, spired the English traveller; but the rude northern whom Mr Godwin seems to prove to have been the speech with which he had to deal, formed a chilling poet's son, was made chief butler, and elected Speaker contrast to the musical language of Italy! Edward of the House of Commons. The last time that the III. continued his patronage to the poet. He was poet's name occurs in any public document, is in a made comptroller of the customs of wine and wool lease made to him by the abbot, prior and convent in the port of London, and had a pitcher of wine of Westminster, of a tenement situate in the gardaily from the royal table, which was afterwards den of the chapel, at the yearly rent of 53s. 4d. commuted into a pension of twenty marks. He was This is dated on the 24th of December 1399; and appointed a joint envoy to France to treat of a mar- on the 25th of October 1400, the poet died in Lonriage between the Prince of Wales and Mary, the don, most probably in the house he had just leased, daughter of the French king. At home, he is sup- which stood on the site of Henry VII.'s chapel. He posed to have resided in a house granted by the was buried in Westminster Abbey-the first of that king, near the royal manor at Woodstock, where, illustrious file of poets whose ashes rest in the sacred according to the description in his Dream, he was edifice. surrounded with every mark of luxury and distinction. The scenery of Woodstock Park has been described in the Dream with some graphic and picturesque touches :

The character of Chaucer may be seen in his works. He was the counterpart of Shakspeare in cheerfulness and benignity of disposition-no enemy to mirth and joviality, yet delighting in his books,

[blocks in formation]

differences.

A male servant.

tractions which followed, and the paucity of any striking poetical genius for at least a century and a half after his death, too truly exemplify the fine simile of Warton, that Chaucer was like a genial day in an English spring, when a brilliant sun enlivens the face of nature with unusual warmth and lustre, but is succeeded by the redoubled horrors of winter, and those tender buds and early blossoms which were called forth by the transient gleam of a temporary sunshine, are nipped by frosts and torn by tempests.'

[graphic]

GEOFFREY CHAUCER.

With these imperfect models as his only native guides, arose our first great author, GEOFFREY CHAUCER, distinctively known as the Father of English poetry. Though our language had risen into importance with the rise of the Commons in the time of Edward I., the French long kept possession of the court and higher circles, and it required a genius like that of Chaucer-familiar with different modes of life both at home and abroad, and openly patronised by his sovereign-to give literary permanence and consistency to the language and poetry of Eng-life, he composed his Canterbury Tales, simple and land. Henceforward his native style, which Spenser varied as nature itself, imbued with the results terms the pure well of English undefiled,' formed of extensive experience and close observation, and a standard of composition, though the national dis- coloured with the genial lights of a happy temperament, that had looked on the world without austerity, and passed through its changing scenes without los

He stoop'd to truth, and moralised his song.

When about sixty, in the calm evening of a busy

1 Hanging wider than his chin.

bacon he eats, so was his beard beslabbered-an image still familiar in England.

2 As the mouth of a bondman or rural labourer is with the ing the freshness and vivacity of youthful feeling and imagination. The poet tells us himself (in his Testament of Love) that he was born in London, and

3 Loveday is a day appointed for the amicable settlement of the year 1328 is assigned, by the only authority we

possess on the subject, namely, the inscription on his tomb, as the date of his birth. One of his poems

5 Nuns.

Chaucer.

Chaucer was a man of the world as well as a student; a soldier and courtier, employed in public affairs of delicacy and importance, and equally acquainted with the splendour of the warlike and magnificent reign of Edward III., and with the bitter reverses of fortune which accompanied the subsequent troubles and convulsions. He had partaken freely in all; and was peculiarly qualified to excel in that department of literature which alone can be universally popular, the portraiture of real life and genuine emotion. His genius was not, indeed, fully developed till he was advanced in years. His early pieces have much of the frigid conceit and pedantry of his age, when the passion of love was erected into a sort of court, governed by statutes, and a system of chivalrous mythology (such as the poetical worship of the rose and the daisy) supplanted the stateliness of the old romance. In time he threw

off these conceits

is signed Philogenet of Cambridge, Clerk,' and hence he is supposed to have attended the University there; but Warton and other Oxonians claim him for the rival university. It is certain that he accompanied the army with which Edward III. invaded France, and was made prisoner about the year 1359, at the siege of Retters. At this time the poet was honoured with the steady and effective patronage of John of Gaunt, whose marriage with Blanche, heiress of Lancaster, he commemorates in his poem of the Dream. Chaucer and time-honoured Gaunt' became closely connected. The former married Philippa Pyckard, or De Rouet, daughter of a knight of Hainault, and maid of honour to the queen, and a sister of this lady, Catherine Swinford (widow of Sir John Swinford) became the mistress, and ultimately the wife, of John of Gaunt. The fortunes of the poet rose and fell with those of the prince, his patron. In 1367, he received from the crown a grant of twenty marks, equal to about £200 of our present money. In 1372, he was a joint envoy on a mission to the Duke of Genoa; and it has been conjectured that on this occasion he made a tour of the northern states of Italy, and visited Petrarch at Padua. The only proof of this, however, is a casual allusion in the Canterbury Tales, where the clerk of Oxford says of his tale

Learned at Padua of a worthy clerk-
Francis Petrarch, the laureat poet,
Hight this clerk, whose rhetoric sweet
Enlumined all Italy of poetry.

And right anon as I the day espied,
No longer would I in my bed abide,
I went forth myself alone and boldely,
And held the way down by a brook side,
Till I came to a land of white and green,
So fair a one had I never in been.
The ground was green y-powdered with daisy,
The flowers and the groves alike high,
All green and white was nothing else seen.

The destruction of the Royal Manor at Woodstock, and the subsequent erection of Blenheim, have changed the appearance of this classic ground; but the poet's morning walk may still be traced, and some venerable oaks that may have waved over him, lend poetic and historical interest to the spot. The opening of the reign of Richard II. was unpropitious to Chaucer. He became involved in the civil and religious troubles of the times, and joined with the party of John of Northampton, who was attached to the doctrines of Wickliffe, in resisting the measures of the court. The poet fled to Hainault (the country of his wife's relations), and afterwards to Holland. He ventured to return in 1386, but was thrown into the Tower, and deprived of his comptrollership. In May 1388, he obtained leave to dispose of his two patents of twenty marks each; a measure prompted, no doubt, by necessity. He obtained his release by impeaching his previous associates, and confessing to his misdemeanours, offering also to prove the truth of his information by entering the lists of combat with the accused parties. The tale thus learned is the pathetic story of Patient How far this transaction involves the character of Grisilde, which, in fact, was written by Boccaccio, the poet, we cannot now ascertain. He has painted and only translated into Latin by Petrarch. Why,' his suffering and distress, the odium which he inasks Mr Godwin, did Chaucer choose to confess curred, and his indignation at the bad conduct of his his obligation for it to Petrarch rather than to Boc- former confederates, in powerful and affecting lancaccio, from whose volume Petrarch confessedly guage in his prose work, the Testament of Love. The translated it? For this very natural reason-be- sunshine of royal favour was not long withheld after cause he was eager to commemorate his interview this humiliating submission. In 1389, Chaucer is with this venerable patriarch of Italian letters, and registered as clerk of the works at Westminster; to record the pleasure he had reaped from his society.' and next year he was appointed to the same office at We fear this is mere special pleading; but it would Windsor. These were only temporary situations, be a pity that so pleasing an illusion should be dis- held about twenty months; but he afterwards repelled. Whether or not the two poets ever met, the ceived a grant of £20, and a tun of wine, per anItalian journey of Chaucer, and the fame of Petrarch, num. The name of the poet does not occur again must have kindled his poetical ambition and refined for some years, and he is supposed to have retired his taste. The Divine Comedy of Dante had shed a to Woodstock, and there composed his Canterbury glory over the literature of Italy; Petrarch received Tales. In 1398, a patent of protection was granted his crown of laurel in the Capitol of Rome only five to him by the crown; but, from the terms of the years before Chaucer first appeared as a poet (his deed, it is difficult to say whether it is an amnesty Court of Love was written about the year 1346); and for political offences, or a safeguard from creditors. Boccaccio (more poetical in his prose than his verse) In the following year, still brighter prospects opened had composed that inimitable century of tales, his on the aged poet. Henry of Bolingbroke, the son Decameron, in which the charms of romance are of his brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, ascended the clothed in all the pure and sparkling graces of com- throne: Chaucer's annuity was continued, and forty position. These illustrious examples must have in-marks additional were granted. Thomas Chaucer, spired the English traveller; but the rude northern whom Mr Godwin seems to prove to have been the speech with which he had to deal, formed a chilling poet's son, was made chief butler, and elected Speaker contrast to the musical language of Italy! Edward of the House of Commons. The last time that the III continued his patronage to the poet. He was poet's name occurs in any public document, is in a made comptroller of the customs of wine and wool lease made to him by the abbot, prior and convent in the port of London, and had a pitcher of wine of Westminster, of a tenement situate in the gardaily from the royal table, which was afterwards den of the chapel, at the yearly rent of 53s. 4d. commuted into a pension of twenty marks. He was This is dated on the 24th of December 1399; and appointed a joint envoy to France to treat of a mar- on the 25th of October 1400, the poet died in Lonriage between the Prince of Wales and Mary, the don, most probably in the house he had just leased, daughter of the French king. At home, he is sup- which stood on the site of Henry VII.'s chapel. He posed to have resided in a house granted by the was buried in Westminster Abbey-the first of that king, near the royal manor at Woodstock, where, illustrious file of poets whose ashes rest in the sacred according to the description in his Dream, he was edifice. surrounded with every mark of luxury and distinction. The scenery of Woodstock Park has been described in the Dream with some graphic and picturesque touches:—

The character of Chaucer may be seen in his works. He was the counterpart of Shakspeare in cheerfulness and benignity of disposition-no enemy to mirth and joviality, yet delighting in his books,

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period of their sojourn; and we have thus a hundred stories, lively, humorous, or tender, and full of characteristic painting in choice Italian. Chaucer seems to have copied this design, as well as part of the Florentine's freedom and licentiousness of detail; but he greatly improved upon the plan. There is something repulsive and unnatural in a party of ladies and gentlemen meeting to tell loose tales of successful love and licentious monks while the plague is desolating the country around them. The tales of Chaucer have a more pleasing origin. A company of pilgrims, consisting of twenty-nine 'sundry folk,' meet together in fellowship at the Tabard Inn, Southwark,* all being bent on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. These pilgrimages were scenes of much enjoyment, and even mirth; for, satisfied with thwarting the Evil One by the object of their mission, the devotees did not consider it necessary to preserve any religious

And as the new-abashed nightingale, That stinteth first when she beginneth sing, When that she heareth any herdes tale, Or in the hedges any wight stirring, And after, sicker, doth her voice outring; Right so Cresseide, when that her dread stent, Opened her heart, and told him her intent. The House of Fame, afterwards so richly paraphrased by Pope, contains some bold imagery, and the romantic machinery of Gothic fable. It is, however, very unequal in execution, and extravagant in conception. Warton has pointed out many anachronisms in these poems. We can readily believe that the unities of time and place were little regarded by the old poet. They were as much defied by Shakspeare; but in both we have the higher qualities of true feeling, passion, and excitement, which blind us to mere scholastic blemishes and defects.

*The house is supposed still to exist, or an inn built upon

the site of it, from which the personages of the Canterbury Tales set out upon their pilgrimage. The sign has been con

verted by a confusion of speech from the Tabard-"a sleeveless

coat worn in times past by noblemen in the wars," but now hound; and the following inscription is to be found on the only by heralds (Speght's Glossary)-to the Talbot, a species of

The Canterbury Tales form the best and most durable monument of Chaucer's genius. Boccaccio, in his Decameron, supposes ten persons to have re-spot: "This is the inn where Geoffrey Chaucer and nine-andtired from Florence during the plague of 1348, and twenty pilgrims lodged on their journey to Canterbury in 1383" there, in a sequestered villa, amused themselves by The inscription is truly observed by Mr Tyrrwhit to be modern, relating tales after dinner. Ten days formed the and of little authority.-Godwin's Life of Chaucer.

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