« PreviousContinue »
“By this gaude have I wonnen year by year,
Here is a picture of a corpulent monk in motion
“Fat as a whale, and walked as a swan.”
Long suffering patience in woman is set forth with exquisite tenderness and beautiful simplicity in the story of Griselda, which Chaucer obtained from Petrarch when he went to visit him in Italy, The young Marquis of Saluzzo was petitioned by his numerous vassals and dependents to marry, lest his estates should pass to a stranger. He chose the daughter of one of them-a poor, old villager. He had often seen her, modest and beautiful, engaged in her domestic duties, and with tender and zealous care ministering to the wants of her aged father. The consent of both was readily obtained to Griselda's marriage and unexpected elevation to the rank of Marchioness, but first, the Marquis required a promise of implicit, uncomplaining submission to his sovereign will.
STORY OF GRISELDA.
Wond’ring upon this thing, quaking for dread,
Griselda wears her honours meekly, is as good and faithful a wife as she had been a daughter, and the happiness of the Marquis and his wife is crowned by the birth of a girl. He is soon tempted to try how far she will keep her vow of obedience, and while she is happily nursing her infant, he tells her, on some pretext, that it must be taken from her, and his mandate is sternly executed by an officer, who is directed to take the babe to Boulogne secretly, to be kept and educated by his sister, the Countess of Pavia.
“But at the last to speaken she began,
She hid her heart's grief, never alluded to her lost darling, but went sadly about her home duties to all appearance as before. Four years afterwards, a boy was born, which gave great joy to all, and for two years it was uninterrupted; but again her domestic tyrant dealt with her son as he had done with her daughter, and she bore the severe trial as meekly. His vassals murmured against him, suspecting that he had murdered his children; but he was stirred up to further acts of
capricious tyranny. He contrived to get a dispensation from the Pope to put away his wife, on the false plea that her ignoble birth caused “rancour and dissension between his people and him.” And she, leaving her ring, jewels, and clothing, was dismissed to her poor father's cottage barefoot, wretched, forlorn.
“Though clerkes praisen women but a lite, *
But that ingenious and insatiable tormentor of a patient wife would not desist, till she had fulfilled her vow to the uttermost farthing. It was announced that a new and young bride was to arrive at the castle, accompanied by a younger brother. A banquet was to be given to welcome her, and the Marquis required Griselda to superintend the arrangements for her reception, and she was brought in and asked by the Marquis
“How liketh thee my wife and her beauty ?”
Thus finishing his long course of mental vivisection. Griselda replied
“A fairer never saw I none than she,
'I pray to God give you prosperity.'
“This is enough, Griselda mine (quod he),
+ If it were, it would be a novelty.
As well as ever woman was assayed,
This is thy daughter, which thou hast supposed
“When she this heard, aswoone down she falleth
For piteous joy; and after her swooning
"O! many a tear on many a piteous face,
After all this wantonly afflicted penance, the meek Griselda is allowed to be happy with her husband and her children—"All's well that ends well.” And Chaucer tells us that the moral of his tale is not that all wives should be Griseldas, for that were impossible, and moreover inexpedient.
“ But for that every wight in his degree
Shoulde be constant in adversity.
SPENSER AND BURNS.
For since a woman was so patient
These accurate and vivid pictures of natural scenery, of female loveliness in form and feature, and character, awakening tender emotions of love and pity, these touches of sly, sarcastic humour had their counterpart centuries later in the pages of Burns, partly in a language not unlike that of the old English bard, and as intelligible to the modern English reader, who will delight in them, notwithstanding the quaint old English or modern Scotch, if only he have the mind to appreciate and the heart to feel the sentiments which are not peculiar to any age or nation.
Spenser wrote, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, his “Faery Queene,” in the language of the time of Chaucer. His great poem is a compound allegory, and even simple allegory is, sometimes often difficult for an author to sustain, and for a reader to follow. The path in the Pilgrim's Progress is so plain, and so illuminated by heavenly light, that old and young, learned and unlearned, follow it with pleasure and instruction.
Spenser chose Fairyland for the scene of his marvellous adventures, and the twelve cardinal virtues personified for his heroes; and these heroes are Prince Arthur and his knights contending with the opposite vices in the chivalrous style of knight-errantry, which Italian and Spanish writers illustrated, and which Cervantes so successfully ridiculed.
But while there are Holiness, and Temperance, and Justice, with their appropriate knightly personifications, and Despair, and Pride, and the Sirens, and Prince Arthur, in quest of the Faery Queene, there is a double allegory_in which that visionary personage becomes Queen Elizabeth or Gloriana, and her attendants in fairy land are those grave statesmen and gay courtiers,
* De bon gre, in good will.