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Singers with harpés, baudés,1 waferers,2
A'likerous' thing is wine, and drunkenness
O drunken man! disfigur'd is thy face,
Thy tongue is lost, and all thine honest cure,4 For drunkenness is very sépulture
Of mannés wit and his discretión.
In whom that drink hath dominatión
He can no counsel keep, it is no drede.5
Now keep you from the white and from the rede,6
Now will I speak of oathés false and great A word or two, as oldé bookés treat. Great swearing is a thing abominable, And false swearing is yet more reprovable. The highé God forbade swearing at all, Witness on Mathew; but in special
And look that thou report his name well.'
'The child saith soth, for he hath slain this year,
To be aviséd3 great wisdóm it were Ere that he did a man a dishonour.'
'Yea, Goddés armés!' quod this rioter,
Together have these three their truthés plight
This oldé man 'gan look in his visage,
Ne Death, alas ! ne will not have my life:
'But, Sirs, to you it is no courtesy To speak unto an old man villainy, But hel trespass in word or else in deed. In holy writ ye may yourselven read; "Against an old man, hoar upon his hede, Ye should arise :" therefore I give you rede? Ne do'th unto an old man none harm now, No more than that ye would a man did you In age, if that ye may so long abide ; And God be with you whe'r ye go or ride: I must go thither as I have to go.'
"Nay, oldé churl, by God thou shalt not so,' Saidé this other hazardour anon; 'Thou partest not so lightly, by Saint John. Thou spake right now of thilkes traitour Death, That in this country all our friendés slay'th; Have here my truth, as thou art his espy, Tell where he is, or thou shalt it aby,6 By God and by the holy sacrament, For sothly thou art one of his assent To slay us youngé folk, thou falsé thief.' 'Now, Sirs,' quod he, if it be you so lief? To finden Death, turn up this crooked way; For in that grove I left him, by my fay, Under a tree, and there he will abide, Nor for your boast he will him nothing hide. See ye that oak right there ye shall him find. God save you that bought again mankind, And you amend !' Thus said this oldé man. And evereach of these riotourés ran
Till they came to the tree, and there they found
'Brethren,' quod he,' take keep what I shall say ;
This treasure well; and if he will not tarrien,
Thy profit will I tell thee right anon.
That other answer'd: 'I n'ot1 how that may be: He wot well that the gold is with us tway. What shall we do? what shall we to him say?' Shall it be counsel?' said the firsté shrew,2 'And I shall tellen thee in wordés few What shall we do, and bring it well about.'
'I granté,' quod that other, out of doubt, That by my truth I will thee not betray.'
"Now,' quod the first, 'thou wott'st well we be tway; And tway of us shall stronger be than one. Look, when that he is set, thou right anon Arise, as though thou wouldest with him play, And I shall rive him through the sides tway: While that thou strugglest with him as in game; And with thy dagger look thou do the same; And then shall all this gold departed be, My dearé friend! betwixen thee and me; Then may we both our lustés all fulfil, And play at dice right at our owen will.' And thus accorded been these shrewés tway To slay the third, as ye have heard ine say.
This youngest, which that wenté to the town,
And prayed him that he him wouldé sell
The 'pothecary answer'd: "Thou shalt have
This cursed man hath in his hand yhent12 This poison in a box, and swith13 he ran Into the nexté street unto a man, And borrowed of him largé bottles three, And in the two the poison poured he; The third he kepté cleané for his drink, For all the night he shope him for to swink 14 In carrying of the gold out of that place.
And when this rioter with sorry grace15 Hath filled with wine his greaté bottles three, To his fellows again repaireth he.
1 Know not.
2 A cursed man.
9 Amounting. 13 Immediately.
7 Revenge himself if he could. 10 Give over. 11 Die. 14 Labour, work.
15 Evil, or misfortune.
What needeth it thereof to sermon more? For right as they had cast his death before, Right so they have him slain, and that anon. And when that this was done thus spake that
'Now let us sit and drink, and make us merry,
But certés I suppose that Avicenne
[The Good Parson.]
A true good man there was there of religion,
And his parishioners devoutly teach.
As proven oft; to all who lack'd a friend.
Of his own substance and his dues to give :
Wide was his cure; the houses far asunder,
This noble ensample to his flock he gave, That first he wrought, and afterward he taught. The word of life he from the gospel caught; And well this comment added he thereto, If that gold rusteth what should iron do? And if the priest be foul on whom we trust, What wonder if the unletter'd layman lust? And shame it were in him the flock should keep, To see a sullied shepherd, and clean sheep. For sure a priest the sample ought to give By his own cleanness how his sheep should live. He never set his benefice to hire, Leaving his flock acomber'd in the mire, And ran to London cogging at St Poul's, To seek himself a chauntery for souls, Or with a brotherhood to be enroll'd; But dwelt at home, and guarded well his fold, So that it should not by the wolf miscarry. He was a shepherd, and no mercenary.
Tho holy in himself, and virtuous,
He still to sinful men was mild and piteous:
He waited not on pomp or reverence, Nor made himself a spiced conscience. The lore of Christ and his apostles twelve He taught but, first, he followed it himselve.
1 By accident.
2 Storven (perfect tense of starve)-died.
8 The title of one of the sections in Avicenne's great work, entitled Canun.
Therefore whoso doth them accuse
All is but false collusión,
I dare right well the soth express,
So well fortunéd is their chance,
They set a fell conclusión
Of lombés,3 as in sothfastness,
Sampson yhad experience
That women were full true yfound;
To speak also of Rosamond,
And Cleopatra's faithfulness,
The stories plainly will confound
Single thing is not ypraised,
Nor of old is of no renown,
In balance when they be ypesed,6
O ye women! which be inclinéd
[Last Verses of Chaucer, written on his Deathbed.]
Pain thee not each crooked to redress
That 20 thee is sent receive in buxomness ;21
Either in whispering or musing. To find a flaw in. 3. Though clerks, or scholars, represent women to be like lambs for their truth and sincerity, yet they are all fraught, or filled with doubleness, or falsehood.'—Urry.
* It is always to be kept in mind that the language employed in literary composition is apt to be different from that used by the bulk of the people in ordinary discourse. The literary language of these early times was probably much more refined than the colloquial. During the fourteenth century, various dialects of English were spoken in different parts of the country, and the mode of pronunciation also was very far from being uniform. Trevisa, a historian who wrote about 1380, remarks that, Hit semeth a grete wonder that Englyssmen have so grete dyversyte in their owin langage in sowne and in spekyin of it, which is all in one ilonde.' The prevalent harshness of pronunciation is thus described by the same writer: Some use straunge wlaffing, chytryng, harring, garrying, and grys. byting. The langage of the Northumbres, and specyally at Yorke, is so sharpe, slytting, frotyng, and unshape, that we sothern men maye unneth understande that langage.' Even in the reign of Elizabeth, as we learn from Holinshed's Chronicle, the dialects spoken in different parts of the country were exceedingly various.
+ Mr Hallam mentions, on the authority of Mr Stevenson, sub-commissioner of public records, that in England, all letters, even of a private nature, were written in Latin till the beginning of the reign of Edward I., soon after 1270, when a sudden change brought in the use of French.-Hallam's Introduction to the Lite16 Without fear. 17 Nail. 18 Earthen pitcher. rature of Europe in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth cen20 That (which). 21 Humility, obedience. | turies, i. 63.
4 To round off, to cut round. 5 Impeach.
6 Ypesed, Fr. pesé-weighed. 7 Justice. 8 Security.
Crowd. 12 Striving. 15 Counsel. 19 Judge.
Waiveth thy lust and let thy ghost thee lead,
However far the genius of Chaucer transcended that of all preceding writers, he was not the solitary light of his age. The national mind and the national language appear, indeed, to have now arrived at a certain degree of ripeness, favourable for the production of able writers in both prose and verse.* Heretofore, Norman French had been the language of education, of the court, and of legal documents; and when the Normanised Anglo-Saxon was employed by literary men, it was for the special purpose, as they were usually very careful to mention, of conveying instruction to the common people. But now the distinction between the conquering Normans and subjected Anglo-Saxons was nearly lost in a new and fraternal national feeling, which recognised the country under the sole name of England, and the people and language under the single appellation of English. Edward III. substituted the use of English for that of French in the public acts and judicial proceedings; and the schoolmasters, for the first time, in the same reign, caused their pupils to construe the classical tongues into the vernacular.† The consequence of this ripening of the national mind and language was, that, while English heroism was gaining the victories of Cressy and Poitiers, English genius was achieving milder and more beneficial triumphs, in the productions of Chaucer, of Gower, and of Wickliffe.
JOHN GOWER is supposed to have been born some time about the year 1325, and to have consequently been a few years older than Chaucer. He was a gentleman, possessing a considerable amount of property in land, in the counties of Nottingham and Suffolk. In his latter years, he appears, like Chaucer, to have been a retainer of the Lancaster branch of the royal family, which subsequently ascended the throne; and his death took place in 1408, before which period he had become blind. Gower wrote a poetical work in three parts, which were respectively entitled Speculum Meditantis, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis; the last, which is a grave discussion of the morals and metaphysics of love, being the only part written in English. The solemn sententiousness of this work caused Chaucer, and sub
[Episode of Rariphele.]
[Rosiphele, princess of Armenia, a lady of surpassing beauty, but insensible to the power of love, is represented by the poet as reduced to an obedience to Cupid, by a vision which befell her on a May-day ramble. The opening of this episode is as follows:-]
When come was the month of May,
She saw beasts in their kind,
The saddles were of such a pride,
Might not have bought, after the worth: Thus comen they ridand forth.
[In the rear of this splendid troop of ladies, the princess beheld one, mounted on a miserable steed, wretchedly adorned in everything excepting the bridle. On questioning this straggler why she was so unlike her companions, the visionary lady replied that the latter were receiving the bright reward of having loved faithfully, and that she herself was suffering punishment for cruelty to her admirers. The reason that the bridle alone resembled those of her companions was, that for the last fortnight she had been sincerely in love, and a change for the better was in consequence beginning to show itself in her accoutrements. The parting words of the dame are-]
Now have ye heard mine answer;
[It is scarcely necessary to remark, that the hard heart of the princess of Armenia is duly impressed by this lesson.]
1 Few of her women knew of it.
2 A grove.