Slike strani

besides her portrait in the Prologue, is allowed to describe herself, later, in a prologue of her own. The Parson's character is Chaucer's ideal of a good priest; of the Ploughman, his brother, there is a companion portrait, the honest workman. The Reeve, the Miller, the Manciple, the Sumner, with the Pardoner, make up the number of the pilgrims found by Chaucer at the Tabard in Southwark. These latter personages are not carelessly passed over ; they are the less gentle part of the company, but they are not all alike; the Pardoner, the Wife of Bath, has an opportunity of telling all about himself before he begins his tale.

It was the host of the Tabard, Harry Baily, who proposed that they should tell stories by the way, he himself coming with them as “judge and reporter.” Each man was to tell two stories on the way out, and two more on the way home, and the best teller of stories was to be entertained at supper by the other pilgrims when they all came back to the Tabard.

The Canterbury Tales are unfinished. No pilgrim tells more than one story (except Chaucer, whose first attempt, Sir Thopas, is disallowed by the host), though a new companion, the Canon's Yeoman, who joins them on the last day of the outward journey, is permitted to tell his tale against the alchemists.

The plan required interludes between one story and another : in these, of course, the pilgrims discourse in their own character, and one story-teller is dismissed and another is

General called upon to begin. But there are parts of the Tales without any such interlude, and some of the classifica. Tales are not brought into connection with the rest. tion of the On examination it has been found that the following groups have been left. The arrangement, due to Dr. Furnivall, is adopted by the Chaucer Society, by Dr. Skeat, in his edition of Chaucer, and generally for purposes of reference :

First Day.--Group A : Prologue ; Knight, Miller, Reeve, Cook.
Second Day.-Group B: Man of Law, Shipman, Prioress, Chaucer (Sir

Thopas : Melibeus), Monk, Nun's Priest.
Third Day.--Group C: Physician, Pardoner. Group D : Wife of Bath,

Friar, Sumner. Group E : Clerk, Merchant. Fourth Day.-Group F : Squire, Franklin. Group G: Second Nun,

Canon's Yeoman. Group H: Manciple. Group 1 : Parson. The Tales were not all written for their tellers; on the contrary, Chaucer appears to have made use of his earlier work, sometimes without much revision. Thus the Second Nun's Tale, the Man of Law's Tale, and Canterbury the Monk's, have been already mentioned, and the Tales"; a Knight's Tale is apparently a new version of a

résumé of poem on which Chaucer had spent much time work of all before he thought of the pilgrimage. The Tales kinds and

periods. as a whole

do not, like Troilus and Criseyde, The House of Fame, or The Legend of Good Women, represent

scheme and


" The


cne particular stage of his work, or one definite experiment; they contain almost every kind of subject, and most of the various manners of treatment employed by Chaucer.

They represent most of the varied kinds of story in fashion in the Middle Ages. The Knight's Tale is a romance of adventures, including one of the sentimental problems that were in favour in a certain order of romances. The Squire's Tale (left half told) contains a similar problem, with a different settingamong the marvels of the East, such as were to be revived again when the Arabian Nights were translated three centuries after Chaucer. The Wife of Bath's Tale is a fairy story of a kind well known in the old French lais, derived from Welsh or Breton fables ; while the Breton lais (whatever may have been meant by the name) are expressly referred to as sources of the Franklin's Tale. The story of Constance is a familiar story in all popular tradition-the persecuted, innocent wife, the calumnious mother-in-law, with poetical justice to bring all things right in the end. These are romances; but romances were not the only kind of fiction available. The ribald stories of the French Fabliaux are represented by the Reeve and the Miller, and by other of the more churlish pilgrims. A less rudimentary kind of humour was to be found in some of the comic stories of the cycle of Reynard the Fox, from which Chaucer has drawn the material for the most pleasant of his lighter pieces, the tale of the Cock and the Fox, the Nun's Priest's Tale. The Pardoner, like the Wife of Bath, after a monologue in which he utters all his naughtiness, is permitted to change his tone, and gives a moral apologue “of the three knaves who went to look for Death.” The Doctor of Physic tells the story of Virginia in the grave pathetic manner of The Legend of Good Women. The Prioress tells of the boy martyr put to death by the Jews like Hugh of Lincoln. The Cook begins a story of an idle apprentice, which would have competed with the rogues' romances of Nash or Defoe ; the loss of it is, in part, made up by the thorough analytical study of the alchemist (not the sorcerer of romance) in the Canon's Yeoman's Tale. Chaucer's Rime of Sir Thopas is his parody of an old-fashioned kind of poetry, which he appreciated perhaps more highly than he would have us believe. The Parson's Tale and the Tale of Melibeus "a litel thing in prose ”—which is substituted as Chaucer's story when his Sir Thopas is stopped by the host, are specimens of the moralist, one good, the other extremely trying, both equally characteristic of medieval taste. Chaucer, to the end, retained his ordinary sensible views of the advantages of sound education. However far he may have ventured beyond the range of the average man of his day, he was always ready to come back; and for the sake of education and the diffusion of knowledge, he translated his “Boece” and his Melibeus, and compiled his Treatise on the Astrolabe and his Parson's Tale.

$ 6. While engaged in his greater works Chaucer wrote several short poems, many of them very pleasant, such as the address to his secretary Adam-an epigram on the careless transcriber of his poems—and the ballad to Shorter. Rosamond, an ironically graceful version of courtly ballads. sentiment. More than one of his later poems refer to his own distresses, in a tone not infrequently repeated by the greatest of Chaucer's followers, Dunbar. The ballads of Fortune, the Complaint to the Empty Purse, and the Envoys to Scogan and Bukton, belong to the unfortunate years. The Complaint of Venus, as already noted, is a translation from the French of Granson, and a return to the early manner, showing how Chaucer refused to break with his old masters, even when he had learned the imperfection of their ways of thinking. The Treatise on the Astrolabe, written for Lewis, his son, about 1391, is another proof of Chaucer's versatility, and of the strength of his attachment to all the subjects which he had once been led to study.

$ 7. Chaucer represents the Middle Ages by giving form in English to medieval subjects that had not before his time been displayed to advantage in this country. He

Originality represents the Renaissance through his under

of Chaucer's standing of the Italian poets, and his adoption of genius : its their classical principles in all his finest poems. the Middle That he was a critic and a student of literature is Ages and as evident as that he did not always stick at the Renaiscritical scruples. His mastery of style is only partly derived from the Italians. No English poet has borrowed more than the " great translator," none with more originality and independence. It was his own genius that taught him to fill up the outline of the “tragedy” of Troilus, and to reduce the encumbrances of ornament which Boccaccio had given to Palamon and Arcite ; he had no master in the ironical comedy of The Canterbury Tales. In the monologues of the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, and the Canon's Yeoman, he anticipates a form of poetry which is more familiar to modern readers in Tennyson and Browning than in any earlier author. If not the best of Chaucer's poetry, it is this kind which is most distinctly original and most different from that of his contemporaries; it is a kind which is only possible to an author of perfect balance and judgment; the ironical view that it implies is something quite distinct from any of the common literary forms of the Middle Ages, and is used by Chaucer in his own way. The balance of faculties to be observed in Chaucer's best works is something quite different from the “classical” correctness that might be learned in schools of literature. It is his genius, though it is aided by study, and by many experiments and some failures.

In the age of Chaucer there seems to have been a perfect agreement and understanding between the poets and their


audience : the good manners and good temper of the readers bringing out the qualities of the poet. The courtly qualities Decline of

of Chaucer, without his genius, are to be found in literature

Gower. In the next generation there was a change. after Somehow or other the fine manners of the time Chaucer.

of Edward III and Richard II were lost, and for nearly two centuries there was a decline in literature. When poetry revived in the Elizabethan age, it was found that all the rudiments had to be learned over again, and with all their genius none of the great poets of that time were fortunate enough to recover Chaucer's secret, the perfect accommodation of his work at once to his own standard of excellence and to the intelligence and sympathies of those for whom he wrote.


A.-THE PREDECESSORS OF , like modern English that it can be GOWER AND CHAUCER. read with tolerable ease, by proname is LAURENCE Minot (1300 ?- | cast consists of nearly 8000 long 1352), who wrote between 1333 and lines (or couplets) in twenty-three 1352. His poems were discovered passus," or sections. Its first part by Tyrwhitt in 1775, and printed by is devoted to the Vision ; the second Ritson in 1796 (reprinted 1825) with (and longer) part to a sequel, entitled an introduction on the wars of the Vita de Do-Wel, Do-Bet, and Edward III. They celebrate ten Do-Best. Each couplet has two victories of the king in his wars with principal accents, with considerable France and Scotland, but begin with licence as to the number of syllables. his defeat at Halidon Hill (1333), The alliteration falls on three accented and then, after going back, by way syllables in each couplet, namely, on of effective contrast, to Bannock- both those of the first line, and on burn, proceed with Edward's French the first in the second line (somevictories and his vengeance on Scot. times on the second). As these land at Neville's Cross (1346). The peculiarities can only be understood last lay, the taking of Guisnes by an example, we give the opening (1352), gives an approximate date of the poem, which also shows us for the author, who may, of course, the scene of the vision, among the have written the other poems soon Malvern Hills—not far, it is interestafter the events commemorated. ing to note, from the village where Equal in spirit to the best of our Layamon had lived and written. heroic ballads, they have more sus- The orthography is taken from the tained power and their composition "B" text of the poem in the Early is more finished. Their language English Text Society's edition (ed. is a border dialect, nearly akin to Dr. Skeat, 1869) :the Scotch ; it is quite intelligible

nouncing syllables which are now By the middle of the fourteenth mute, by allowing for the retention century the spirit of patriotism of some inflectional forms, especially evoked by Edward III combined in the pronouns and the verbs, and with the influence of the continental by taking the trouble to learn the Renaissance to produce a flourishing meaning of a few words now obsonational literature. Its chief pro- lete ; the subjects are, at the same duct, as in most similar cases, was time, no longer borrowed entirely poetry; but the earliest works in from the monastic chroniclers or the prose that can be properly called Norman minstrels; and those so English belong to the same date. borrowed are treated with the inIn 1356 Mandeville dedicated his dependence of native genius. These Travels to Edward III; in 1362 characteristics are first fully seen in Parliament was first opened by a Chaucer, and, in a less degree, in speech in English; Chaucer had Gower, whose genius was, of course, begun to write, and Gower had ex. far less commanding than Chaucer's; changed the French and Latin of but these two had several precursors his earlier works for his mother in England, while a vigorous native tongue. The meeting of different literature grew up in the Angloinfluences which has been referred Saxon parts of Scotland. ADAM to in the text may be illustrated by DAVIE (A. circ, 1308) and RICHARD the fact that the last great hero ROLLE, the hermit of Hampole, of chivalry, the Black Prince, and near Doncaster (1290 ?-1349), both Ockham (see p. 29), the last and writers of metrical paraphrases of greatest of the English Schoolmen, Scripture, and of other religious lived in the sanie century with Chau. | pieces, belong properly to the Old cer, the father of English poetry, English period. Davie is the only and Wycliffe, the herald of the Re- English poet named in the reign of formation. The new literature may | Edward II ; but his real date and be distinguished from the literature identity are disputed. Rolle also of the two preceding centuries of wrote, in the Northumbrian dialect, transition (although it is difficult to a homiletic poem called The Prick draw any precise line of demarcation) of Conscience, in seven books, and by its substance as well as its form. / nearly ten thousand lines. The first While the language has become so poet of any merit known to us by

“ In a somer seson when a few obsolete words and

Whan soft was the sonne, constructions have been mastered. I shope me in shroudes * Among their varied measures we

As I a shepe were, t. meet with the animated double

In habite as an heremite triplet, familiar in the poems of

Unholy of workes, I Scott. In Minot's poems rhyme is

Went wyde in this world

Wondres to here. regularly employed, while the fre

Acg on a May mornynge quent alliterations not only remind us

On Maluerne hulles Il of the principle of Anglo-Saxon com

Me byfel a ferly 9 position, but prove how much the

of fairy me thoughte." popular ear still required that artifice. • Put on rough clothes.

There is another famous poem of † As if I were a shepherd. the same age, constructed of a mix- Dressed like a wandering hermit ture of alliteration and rhythmical doing no good.

ý But. | Hills.

Wonder. accent, without rhyme, the alliteration being stricter than that of the This opening probably marks the Anglo-Saxons themselves. This is early residence of the poet. The The Vision of Piers the Plowman, third couplet, with other internal evior, rather, The Vision of William dence, points to his having been a concerning Piers (i.e. Peter) the priest. The date of the first cast of Plowman, an allegory of the diffi- this poem is fixed by his allusions to culties in the course of human life, the treaty of Bretigny (1360) and to kindred in conception to Bunyan's the great tempest of January 15, great work, and in its day scarcely 1362, of which he speaks as a recent less popular. Its prevalent spirit event. Tradition ascribes the work is satirical and is directed against to a certain ROBERT LANGLAND ; abuses and vices in general, but, in but the writer says that he was called particular, against the corruptions of “Longe Wille," and it may be the Church. From a moral (not, reasonably concluded from this that of course, doctrinal) point of view his Christian name was William. He it approximates to the standpoint often alludes to his poverty: he seems of the later Puritans, with whom to have lived in London and in it was a great favourite. Its final | Bristol. His acquaintance with eccle

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