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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 Canterbury Tales form the best and most durable monument of Chaucer's genius. Boccaccio, in his Decameron, supposes ten persons to have retired from Florence during the plague of 1348, and there, in a sequestered villa, amused themselves by relating tales after dinner. Ten days formed the
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
A wanton friar is also of the party-full of sly and ral objects and scenery, in Chaucer's clear and simple solemn mirth, and well beloved for his accommodat- style. The tales of the miller and reve are coarse, ing disposition
but richly humorous. Dryden and Pope have hoFull sweetly heard he confession,
noured the Father of British verse by paraphrasing And pleasant was his absolution.
some of these popular productions, and stripping
them equally of their antiquated style and the more We have a Pardoner from Rome, with some sacred gross of their expressions, but with the sacrifice of relics (as part of the Virgin Mary's veil, and part of most that is characteristic in the elder bard. In a the sail of St Peter's ship), and who is also brim- volume edited by Mr R. H. Horne, under tlie title ful of pardons come from Rome all hot.' In satirical of Chaucer Modernised, there are specimens of the contrast to these merry and interested churchmen, poems altered with a much more tender regard to we have a poor parson of a town, rich in holy the original, and in some instances with considerable thought and work,' and a clerk of Oxford, who was success; but the book by which ordinary readers of skilled in logic
the present day, who are willing to take a little
trouble, may best become acquainted with this great Sounding in moral virtue was his speech,
light of the fourteenth century, is one entitled the And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.
Riches of Chaucer, by C. C. Clarke (two volumes, Yet, with all his learning, the clerk's coat was thread-1835), in which the best pieces are given, with only bare, and his horse was lean as is a rake. Among the spelling modernised. An edition of the Can. the other dramatis personu are, a doctor of physic, a terbury Tales was published, with a learned commengreat astronomer and student, whose study was tary, by Thomas Tyrwhitt, Esq. (5 vols. 1778). but little on the Bible;' a purse-proud merchant; a
The verse of Chaucer is, almost without excepsergeant of law, who was always busy, yet seemed tion, in ten-syllabled couplets, the verse in which busier than he was ; and a jolly Franklin, or free- by far the largest portion of our poetry since that holder, who had been a lord of sessions, and was time has been written, and which, as Mr Southey fond of good eating
has remarked, may be judged from that circumWithouten baked meat never was his house,
stance to be best adapted to the character of our Of fish and flesh, and that so plenteous ;
speech. The accentuation, by a license since abanIt snoued in his house of meat anul drink.
doned, is different in many instances from that of
common speech : the poet, wherever it suits his conThis character is a fine picture of the wealthy rural veniency, or his pleasure, makes accented syllables Englishman, and it shows how much of enjoyment short, and short syllables emphatic. This has been and hospitality was even then associated with this not only a difficulty with ordinary readers, but a station of life. The Wife of Bath is another lively subject of perplexity amongst commentators; but national portrait: she is shrewd and witty, has the principle has latterly been concluded upon as of abundant means, and is always first with her offer the simple kind here stated. Another peculiarity ing at church. Among the humbler characters are, is the making silent e's at the end of words tell in a stout carl' of a miller, a reve or bailiff, and a the metre, as in French lyrical poetry to this day : sompnour or church apparitor, who summoned of. for examplefenders before the archdeacon's court, but whose fire-red face and licentious habits contrast curiously
Full well she sangé the service divine. with the nature of his duties. A shipman, cook, Here 'sangé' is two syllables, while service furhaberdasher, &c., make up the goodly company-nishes an example of a transposed accent. In pursuthe whole forming such a genuine Hogarthian pic- ance of the same principle, a monosyllabic noun, as ture, that we may exclaim, in the eloquent language beam, becomes the dissyllable beamés in the plural. of Campbell, What an intimate scene of English When these peculiarities are carefully attended to, life in the fourteenth century do we enjoy in these much of the difficulty of reading Chaucer, even in tales, beyond what history displays by glimpses the original spelling, vanishes. through the stormy atmosphere of her scenes, or the
In the extracts which follow, we present, first, a antiquary can discover by the cold light of his re- specimen in the original spelling; then various spesearches ! Chaucer's contemporaries and their suc- cimens in the reduced spelling adopted by Mr Clarke, cessors were justly proud of this national work. but without his marks of accents and extra syllables, Many copies existed in manuscript, and when the except in a few instances; and, finally, one specimen art of printing came to England, one of the first (the Good Parson), in which, by a few slight changes, duties of Caxton's press was to issue an impression of the verse is accommodated to the present fashion. those tales which first gave literary permanence and
[Select characters from the Canterbury Pilgrimage.] consistency to the language and poetry of England.
All the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales do not A Knight ther was, and that a worthy man, relate stories. Chaucer had not, like Boccaccio, That fro the time that he first began finished his design ; for he evidently intended to To riden out, he loved chevalrie, have given a second series on the return of the com
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curtesie. pany from Canterbury, as well as an account of the Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre ; transactions in the city when they reached the sacred And, therto, hadde he ridden, none more ferre, shrine. The concluding supper at the Tabard, As wel in Cristendom as in Hethenesse, when the successful competitor was to be declared, And ever honoured for his worthinesse. would have afforded a rich display for the poet's
Though that he was worthy he was wise ; peculiar humour. The parties who do not relate And of his port, as meke as is a mayde : tales (as the poem has reached us) are the yeoman, He never yet no vilainie ne sayde, the ploughman, and the five city mechanics. The in all his lif, unto no manere wight, equire's tale is the most chivalrous and romantic, He was a veray parfit gentil knight. and that of the clerk, containing the popular legend His hors was good, but he ne was not gaie.
But, for to tellen you of his araie, of Patient Grisilde, is deeply affecting for its pathos Of fustian he wered a gipon! and simplicity. The Cock and the Fox,' related by the nun's
priest, and January and May," the Alle besmatrcd with his habergeon, merchant's tale, have some minute painting of natu
I A short cascock.
With rosted flesh, and milk, and wastel brede.
Ful semely hire wimple ypinched was ;
For he was late ycome fro his viage,
With him, ther was his sone, a yonge Squier,
Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
A Yeman hadde he; and servantes no mo
A not-hed3 hadde he with a broun visage,
Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,
But for to speken of hire conscience,
But sikerly she hadde a fayre forehed.
Ful fetisez was hire cloke, as I was ware.
A Monk ther was, a fayre for the maistrie,
The reule of Seint Maure and of Seint Benoit, Because that it was olde and somdele streit, This ilke monk lette olde thinges pace, And held after the newe world the trace. He yave not of the text a pulled hen, That saith that hunters ben not holy men ; Ne that a monk, whan he is rekkeles, Is like to a fish that is waterles ; (This is to say, a monk out of his cloistre); This ilke text he held not worth an oistre. Therfore he was a prickasoure7 a right : Greihoundes he hadde as swift as foul of flight: Of pricking, and of hunting for the hare Was all his lust ; for no cost wolde he spare.
I saw his sleves purfiled at the hond With gris, and that the finest of the lond, And, for to fasten his hood, under his chinne He hadde, of gold ywrought, a curious pinne,A love-knotte in the greter ende ther was. Ilis hed was balled, and shone as any glas, And eke his face, as it hadde ben anoint. He was a lord ful fat and in good point. His eyen stepe, and rolling in his hed, That steined as a furneis of a led; His bootes souple, his hors in gret estat ; Now certainly he was a fayre prelat. He was not pale as a forpined gost. A fat swan loved he best of any rost. His palfrey was as broun as is a bery.
A Marchant was ther with a forked berd, In mottelee, and highe on hors he sat, And on his hed a Flaundrish bever hat, His bootes clapsed fayre and fetisly, His resons spake he ful solempnely, Souning alway the encrese of his winning. He wold the see were kept, for any thing, Betwixen Middleburgh and Orewell. Wel coud he in eschanges sheldes 9 selle. This worthy man ful wel his wit besette ; Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette, So stedfastly didde he in his governance, With his bargeines, and with his chevisance.10 Forsothe he was a worthy man withalle. But soth to sayn, I no't how men him calle.
1 On an expedition.
2 In the night-time.
4 Armour for the arm. 3 A head like a bullock's. 6 Called. 6 Neatly.
7 Her pleasure. 8 Smallest spot.
10 Took pains. 11 To imitate.
• Smartly, adv. 5 Neat. 6 Hunting.
9 French crowns. money.
4 Of low statura 7 A hard rider.
8 Fur. 10 An agreement for borrowing
A Clerk ther was of Oxenforde also, That unto logike hadde long ygo. As lene was his hors as is a rake, And he was not right fat I undertake; But looked holwe, and thereto soberly. Ful thredbare was his overest courtepy, For he hadde geten him yet no benefice, He was nought worldly to have an office. For him was lever han, at his beddes hed, Twenty bokes clothed in black or red, Of Aristotle and his philosophie, Than robes riche, or fidel, or sautrie : But all be that he was a philosophre, Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre; But all that he might of his frendes hente, On bokes and on lerning he it spente ; And besily gan for the soules praie Of hem that yave him wherwith to scolaie. Of studie toke he most cure and hede. Not a word spake he more than was nede; And that was said in forme and reverence, And short and quike, and full of high sentence: Souning in inoral vertue was his speche; And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche. *
A Frankelein was in this compagnie ; White was his berd as is the dayesie. Of his complexion he was sanguin. Wel loved he by the morwoa sop in win. To liven in delit was ever his wone.3 For he was Epicures owen sone, That held opinion, that plein delit Was veraily felicite partite. An housholder, and that a grete was he; Seint Julian he was in his contree. His brede, his ale, was alway after on; A better envyned man was no wher non. Withouten bake mete never was his hous, Of fish and flesh, and that so plenteous, It snewed in his hous of mete and drinke, Of alle deintees that men coud of thinke. After the sondry sesons of the yere, So changed he his mete and his soupere. Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in mewe ; And many a breme, and many a luce, in stewe. Wo was his coke but if his sauce were Poinant and sharpe, and redy all his gere. His table, dormanti in his halle, alway Stode redy covered alle the longe day.
At sessions ther was he lord and sire; Ful often time he was knight of the shire. An anelace and a gipciereb all of silk Heng at his girdel, white as morwe milk. A shereve hadde he ben and a countour. Was no wher swiche a worthy vavasour.7
An Haberdasher, and a Carpenter, A Webbe, a Deyer, and a Tapiser, Were alle yclothed in o8 livere Of a solempne and grete fraternite. Ful freshe and newe hir gere ypiked was ; Hir knives were ychaped not with bras, But all with silver wrought full clene and wel, Hir girdeles and hir pouches, every del. Wel semed eche of hem a fayre burgeis, To sitten in a gild halle, on the deis. Everich, for the wisdom that he can, Was shapelich for to ben an alderman. For catel hadden they ynough, and rent. And, eke, hir wives wolde it wel assent, And elles certainly they were to blame, It is full fayre to ben ycleped MadameAnd for to gon to vigiles all before, And have a mantel reallich ybore.
A good Wif was ther of beside Bathe;
Ther was also a Reve and a Millere,
The Miller was a stout carl for the nones,
The Reve was a slendre colerike man ;
? A man of jollity.
1 A knot in a tree. 4 Dairy.
Ther n'as bailif, ne herde, ne other hine,
A Sompnour was ther with us in that place,
He was a gentil harlot, and a kind; A better felaw shulde a man not find. And if he found o where a good felawe, He wolde techen him, to have non awe, In swiche a cas, of the archedekenes curse : But if a mannes soule were in his purse, For in his purse he shulde ypunished be. Purse is the archedekenes hell, said he. But, wel I wote, he lied right in dede: Of cursing ought eche gilty man him drede ; For curse wol ole, right as assoiling saveth, And also ware him of a significavit. In danger hadde he, at his owen gise, The yonge girles of the diocise ; And knew hir conseil and was of hir rede. A girlond hadde he sette upon his hede, As gret as it were for an alestake ;3 A bokeler hadde he made him of a cake.
With him there rode a gentil Pardonere Of Rouncevall, his frend and his compere, That streit was comen from the court of Romc, Ful loude he sang Come hither, lored to me : This Sompnour bare to him a stiff burdoun, Was never trompe of half so gret a soun. This Pardoner had here as yelwe as wax, Ful smothe it heng, as doth a strike of flax : By unces heng his lokkes that he hadde, And therwith he his shulders overspradde : Ful thinne it lay, by culpons on and on. But hode, for jolite, ne wered he non, For it was trussed up in his wallet. Him thought he rode al of the newe get ;* 1 Secret contrivances.
Dishevele, sauf his cappe, he rode all bare.
But of his craft, fro Berwike unto l'are,
But trewely to tellen atte last,
[Description of a Poor Country Widowo.]
[The Death of Arcite.]
I A copy of the miraculous handkerchief.
9 Give and lend * The sign of an alehouse.
3 Best of all. 4 Thrift, economy.
5 Called. 6 Not a bit. 7 Cot, cottage 8 Temperate.
9 Prevented. 10 Injured. 12 Mr Tyrwhitt supposes the word 'dey' to refer to the management of a dairy; and that it originally signified a hind. • Manner dey may therefore be interpreted a species of hired, or day.labourer.' 13 Medical skill. 14 Body. 15 Ventousing (Fr.)-cupping; hence the term breathing a vein.'