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PREFACE. j<^03 


These few pages have been written not only 
to show our countrymen the influence Boccaccio 
had on the earliest period of English literature and 
that the English began very early to come to Italy 
to assimilate her treasures in literature and fine 
arts, but also to endeavour to encourage here the 
study of the English language. Jf England has learned 
and taken much from us, Italy could now in her 
turn learn and take very much from England. 

We are willing to admit that we are going to 
say very little which is new^ : we have only gathered 
from what has been written here and there, and 
we have enlarged upon a subject which is w^orthy 
of more consideration in Italy than it has hitherto 


The subject we have chosen, Boccaccio and 
Chaucer, namely the influence which the former 
exercised over the writings of the latter, is not an 
easy one, and we do not pretend to treat it here 
in full, as a large volume or more could be written 
thereon. We shall only endeavour to enumerate 
some of the principal thoughts and statements that 
have been expressed on this matter, leaving to a 
future time, or to others better acquainted with the 
subject, the task of completing our observations. 
The matter is one well worthy of fuller treatment, 
because if we can not only make it generally known, 
but also prove that Boccaccio had a great influence 
on the English literature of the XIV century, that 
would be of great advanta^ both to us and to the 
English: the two literatures 'would tend to approach 
more closely the one to the other : we should study 
English more than we have done in the past, the 
English peoj^le would be induced to take more 

interest in the study of Italian, and from this 
study, from this intercourse of thought, from this 
communion of ideas a great result could not fail 
to be brought about. It is not by concentrating his 
work within himself that a man succeeds in doing 
something useful: it is chiefly by assimilating it 
with what others have done that such an object is 

Political events. 

Before speaking on our leading subject, it is 
necessary to cast a rapid glance over the English 
political situation of the time, as political and 
literary events are generally so connected with one 
another, that it is impossible to trace the history 
of the latter without giving at least some idea of 
the former. Let us therefore say a few words about 

The political conditions of England during the 
XIV century were by no means the most prosperous. 
After Edward I, who died in 1307, came the 
despicable Edward II who was compelled to abandon 
the Scottish war, who gave the regency of the 
kingdom to Piers Gaveston, a Gascon, perhaps 
a man even worse than he himself was. He brought 
about the war with Robert Bruce which terminated 
so shamefully for the English, and at last he 
chose new favourites in Hugh le Despenser and 
his son. Inasmuch as the King always chose 
French favourites, so the Barons were in a 
continual struggle against him, and they seem to 
have been helped by Queen Isabella, Philip the 

— 6 — 

Fair's daughter, who had formed an illicit connection 
with the infamous Roger Mortimer. The King was 
deposed bj Parliament, fled to M'ales, was captured, 
imprisoned and murdered in 1327. 

Edward III, Mho reigned from 1327 to 1377, 
proved a better King than his father, and prosecuted 
the Scottish war with vigour. 

In 1327 the hundred years' war began, and 
Edward claimed the French throne through his 
mother, in opposition to the reigning monarch, Philip 
VI of Valois. After fruitless campaigns from the side 
of Flanders in 1339 and 1340, Edward landed at La 
Hogue, in Normandy, in 1346, with a large army ; 
he passed the walls of Rouen and Paris, he won a 
battle at Crecy, and, after a year's siege, he reduced 
Calais. The French war was renewed in 1355 and 
in 1357, and the Black Prince, after several victories 
over the French, entered London in triumph, with 
John, King of France, his prisoner. This war 
however was not at an end, it continued, but when 
in 1359 Edward sailed again to France with a large 
army, the war proved unsuccessful, and it ended in 
1360, when, by the treaty of Bretigny, Edward 
renounced his claim to the French crown. 

Of Richard II, who reigned from 1377 to 1399, 
we have but little of interest to say. It will suffice 
only to point out that he continued the French war, 
which ended in failure, that in 1386 the French 
were threatening his kingdom, that in 1387 there 
w^as civil war in England, and that his reign was 
by no means a prosperous one. 

From this very short and imperfect sketch of 
the political events in England during the XIV 

centuiy, it clearlj appears, that neither tlie Court 
(except perhaps at the beginning of the century), 
nor the Barons, nor the people had any sympathy 
with France. Even if the union between Isabella 
and Edward III had proved a happy one, even if 
the French favourites had been open and honourable 
men, even if the war for the French throne had 
not taken place, the English could not sympathize 
with the French, who were the true and faithful 
allies of Scotland. 

General remarks on the English 
literature of the XI Y century. 

From the English political events of the XIV 
century we can infer, that England was not very 
prosperous. The English Court was one of the 
most splendid in Europe, Edward III and Richard II 
protected learning, but, in spite of this, literature 
was not in a very flourishing condition. The French 
language, which had been introduced into the Court 
of England and thence among the nobility even 
before 1066, spread very widely, after the conquest, 
among every class of people, so that during the XII 
and XIII centuries French poetry was not looked 
upon as a foreign literature, and until about the 
time of Edward III, children who studied Latin 
were also compelled to study French. Little by 
little however, in the course of time, it ceased 
not only to be spoken, but also to be written; 
Edward III abolished it from the Courts of Justice, 
and from the time of Edward III and Richard II 
not a single poem or song was written in French (1). 

(1) Ward. 

This is a decisive point in our favour, because 
it proves that French literature had had its day in 
England and that at this period, though the French 
school still existed there, its condition was precarious 
and uncertain. There was no national school nor 
could one be created. French having been for 
about two centuries the official language of England, 
the English tongue was still too young to acquire 
a very rapid development. Great periods in literature 
are like men of genius, who must usually imitate 
others before showing their own characteristics. 

There had been in England a powerful Saxon 
literature, but after the conquest, the English spirit 
had weakened, and since that time English authors 
had written either in French or translated from 
French. But in the XIV century the two languages 
as well as the two nations became completely 
separated and the French tongue began to be 
considered as a foreign one (1). Besides there is 
another thing to note: the days of chivalry and the 
great ideals of the Middle-ages w^ere dying out, and 
so the poetry of troubadours and trouveres was 
doomed to end. 

But if a pure national school was not possible, 
and if the French influence was no longer felt, if 
the French school of the preceding centuries was 
dying out even in France, how could English 
literature improve uj^on the situation ? Two men 
of genius were necessary: Boccaccio and Chaucer. 

It is impossible to speak of the English literature 
of the XIV century without speaking of them. 

(1) Craik. 

— 10 - 

Thej are the only two writers who dominate that 
century in England : Boccaccio is the master, 
Chaucer the disciple, the one is the mind that 
dictates, the other the Land that writes with 
intelligence, the former had a great power of 
invention, the latter of imitation. They are two 
geniuses, the latter born from the former, and 
although to a certain extent Chaucer is still to be 
classed among the best writers of the Middle-ages, 
he is, perhaps, more modern than his principal 
master, Boccaccio (1). 

(1) Chiarini. 


The Roman de la Rose, 

We do not think that the old sentence which 
sa^'s that « a poet is born and not made » is quite 
True. Very few men awake to find themselves famous 
and the poet also is the result of great struggles 
and hard work. If he were only a lucky man, a 
man who owed everything to chance and nothing 
to himself, we think he could never have been 
surrounded by that halo which makes him so great 
and venerable. No! a poet is not a mere creature 
of chance. If we study his life and works, at the 
beginning of his career we see his taste unsettled, 
his style unformed and we see that he does not 
produce original matter, but that he eagerly tries 
his hand in imitations. 

Chaucer could not escape the common fate, and 
his works continue to improve more and more 
till 1386 which marks the highest step in his 
literary life. He did not begin as an imitator, he 
began as a translator. 

It is certain that the French literature of the 
XII and XIII centuries is great and fascinating, 
and Chaucer chose to translate the famous Roman 

— 12 — 

de la Hose which our Petrarch despised; but in 
France it had a great renown until the advent of 
Ronsard, and in England up to the time of Surrey 
and Wvatt. 

It is hard to say why Chaucer chose to translate 
this book in spite of the political hatred that 
existed between the two nations. Perhaps because, ] 
with a good sense of justice, he thought that our j 
judgment on art must always be calm and not 
misled even by the most important political or 
social events. Perhaps again because he did not find 
anything that could please his countrymen so much 
in the Latin language which he knew almost as 
well as French. 
"( The advent of Italian literature had not yet 
supplanted the old lays and romances ; furthermore 
it was not yet known abroad, and French was still 
everywhere considered the best poetical literature of 
the modern world. The fact is, that Chaucer did 
not find anything better than the Roman de la Rose \ 
aiid he began to translate it, perhaps not only to 
train himself in his vocation as a poet (1), but also 
to present his countrymen with the best production 
of the French poets. 

As is known, the Roman de la Rose was ; 
commenced by William of Lorris who wrote j 
4,149 verses, and finished by John of Meung who 
wrote the other 18,588 verses. Modern criticism is 
inclined to think, that the translation of this w^ork, 
which was, until a few years ago, attributed to 
Chaucer, is not his. We cannot discuss this point. 

(1) Morley. 

- 13 — 

We wish only to note that in this translation the 
4,149 verses bj Lorris are increased to 4,432 Kiiglish 
lines, that afterwards 8,956 French verses are cut 
down to 3,269, and that the work was never carried 
to completion. 

It may be that this translation is not Chaucer's 
but it would appear to have been his, as he never 
afterwards translated a complete work, but he 
told the story translating here and there the most 
prominent passages he found in his originals. 
However this may be, the fact remains that he 
did once translate the Eoman cle la Rose. 

Was this translation useful to Chaucer ? ^^'as it 
useful to the English literature ? Some ansAver that 
Chaucer corrupted and distorted English by an 
immoderate mixture of French words ; others on the 
contrary say, that Chaucer is the « well of English 
undefiled ». He is also called « the first poet and 
the true father of the English literature, the writer 
to w^iom his country's tongue owes all its beauties, 
the poet of the dawn, the father of English poetry, 
the Homer or the Ennius of his country » and 
that only Spencer, Shakespeare and Milton can be 
compared to him. 

We are of the latter opinion which gained 
ground after Chaucer's time with men like Gower, 
Langland, Occleve and Lydgate, and it is still most 
generally accepted. If Chaucer used French words 
it was not his fault, but the fault of preceding 
generations, and in his day English was still imbued 
with much that was French. At the commencement 
of his literary career he imitated the French school 
because he could not do otherwise. In his time the 

— 14 — 

English tongue was lacking in both poetic material 
and poetic form, and ICnglish literature dates from 
Chaucer. Note also that he was not singularly 
original, but he could easily and masterly imitate, 
and he had neither writers nor writings in his ow^n 
tongue worthy of imitation, so that, previons to his 
becoming acquainted with Latin and Italian, he could 
only imitate French writers, in whom he found the 
germs' of many good phrases and words. 

This was of advantage to English literature which 
threw olf its primitive roughness and crudeness, 
and acquired, to a certain degree, that polish and 
flexibility which is part and parcel of the French 

But whilst the influence of French on Chaucer 
has perhaps been over estimated, the influence on 
him of the Italian literature has been underrated. 


Chaucer abroad. 

For his day Chaucer was a man who had travelled 
very much. In 1359 he was a soldier and followed 
the King, Edward III, who bore arms against 
France. He was made prisoner, but was ransomed 
soon afterwards either before or on the. peace of 

It has also been stated that he was in Italy in 
the year 1368 at the wedding of Violante, Galeazzo 
Visconti's daughter, with Lionel, I)uk«e of Clarence, 
and that it was on this occasion he made the 
acquaintance of both Petrarch and Boccaccio. 

Is there any truth in this assertion ? Certainly 
in 1368 Chaucer was in the King's household and 
not in Prince Lionel's, where he had formerly 
been, but it may be possible that the King had 
allowed Chaucer to go with his son on such a joyful 

During the Spring and Summer of 1370 Chaucer 
was abroad in the King's service, but the journey 
in which we are more concerned is that of 1372 
wiien he was sent by the King to negotiate with 
Genoa with reference to the settlement of a Genoese 

— If) — 

mercantile factoi\y in one of the English ports, as 
from that time Genoa and England had commercial 

He left his country either in November or early 
in December 1372, and his business involved a 
residence at Genoa and Florence, which, until a few 
years ago, was believed to have been of about 
eleven months' duration, but which more recent 
discoveries have shown to have been of only about 
six months. 

He remained five years^in London, and in 1378 
he was once more sent to Italy and this time to 
Milan to confer with Bernardo Visconti perhaps 
about the King's war when « the shores of England 
lay at the mercy of the French and Spaniards (1) », 
but he must have remained in Milan for a very 
short time only. 

He vas also sent to France and the Netherlands, 
and we can imagine his satisfaction at being sent 
on these missions, he who was so fond of books 
and new scenery, and so pleased when he could 
make new friends and visit fresli landscapes. 

His travels indeed extended his acquaintance 
with foreign literatures and gave a general character 
to his education. Chiefly in Italy did he find food 
for his mind; it was there that he felt at home, 
and when he went back to England his literary 
tastes had been so influenced that they had quite 

(1) Morley. 


Italian influence. 

Did Chaucer during his stay in Italj, chiefly 
in 1372 and 1373, become known to Petrarch and 
Boccaccio who were still alive? It is very likely 
that such a genius as 'Chaucer would have sought 
the acquaintance of these two masters who ^^ere 
already very famous; it is possible that he went 
to Padua to see Petrarch, as he states in his Clerk's 
Tale, but if we take it for granted that Chaucer 
did not stop in Italy so long as it was at first 
thought, the suggestion of his meeting in Padua 
Avith Petrarch is, as a matter of fact, rendered 
more difficult of credence, although even in six 
months he may have found plenty of time to make 
the journey. 

He was also well supplied with money. He had 
ninety pounds from his government, about 2,250 
francs ; but inasmuch as the value of money has 
diminished tenfold since those days, it being possible 
to buy with one franc in the XIV century Mhat 
would to-day cost ten francs, the amount at his 
command during those six months would be equivalent 
to about 22,500 francs at the present time. It was 


— 18 — 

not a small sum then, and Cliaucer could certainly 
have afforded to go to Padua. 

It is probable that he made the acquaintance of 
Boccaccio, and that Boccaccio introduced him to 
Petrarch, as has been said, but we have no docu- 
mentary proof of this. It does not concern us very 
much to know whether or not Chaucer was personally 
acquainted with Petrarch and Boccaccio: it is sufficient 
to prove that he knew their language and works, 
chiefly those of the latter, without saying that he 
knew also Dante's. 

It has been stated by several English critics 
and historians that he did not know Boccaccio's 
works, and therefore that he took very little or 
nothing directly from them. Is it possible that a 
man of genius like Chaucer should come to Italy and 
remain here at least six months without acquiring 
some knowledge of our language, he who was so 
fond of learning and books? 

The renoun and influence of Danta, Petrarcil, and 
Bociiaccio was already widespread almost throughout 
Europe; and was it likely that Chaucer should, come 
to Italy without studying Italian, and trying to find 
out all he could about these three famous writers? 
No, it was not possible, and Chaucer made himself 
acquainted with Italian, and studied this language, 
and read and studied these three authors, chiefly 
the latter, as the one who pleased him most, who 
approached nearest to his own character. During 
his stay in Italy he saturated his mind with Italian 
poetry: there can be no disputing the fact, and it 
does not want any proof on our part. Yet if anyone 
still has any doubt on the matter, it will quite 

— 19 — 

disappear when we prove that Chaucer translated 
from Italian not only words and sentences, but many 
stanzas and made so much use of Italian as to 
place beyond all doubt his knowledge of the 

And why can no work of his be ascribed with 
certainty to the period betw^een 1370 and 1373? 
Firstly because he was occupied with his missions, 
secondly because he was reading and studying 
Italian and Italian authors. In fact he w^as passing 
« not through a period of production, but through 
a period of preparation and transformation (^) » ; he 
was about to abandon the French school for a 
iiigher one, the Italian. To Italy only was he 
indebted I'or his liigher artistic culture, and only 
Italian poets enabled him to avoid imitating the 
French poets of the Middle-ages. We can say so 
without any reticence, because from the time of his 
first visit to Italy he saw the superiority of the 
younger Italian school over the older French one, 
and we may consider that the year 1373 marks 
« the turning point of his literary life (^) ». It is 
true that the Italian literature of that time is to a 
large degree an offshoot of the French, but who 
does not know the great testhetical difference which 
separates the two literatures? Who does not see 
that the Italian literature of the XIV century is 
much more modern in thoughts and feelings than 
the French fabliaux ? Who does not admit that the 
Roman de la Rose, which is a psychological 

(') Ward, 

— 20 — 

romance in which personified abstractions supph' 
chamcters, marks a high step above the hestiaires 
and lapidaires, and that Boccaccio's works and 
cbaracters are far superior? 

Chaucer did not fail to note this superiority-, 
and althougli the fashionable taste for French Court 
poetry flattered his early manhood, vet it is only 
when he approaches the Italian literature that his 
genius attains full strength. Indeed the precision, 
the vividness with which he describes scenes and 
events are not the result of his own imagination, 
but that of his study of our own tongue. In connection 
with literature Chaucer belongs to two nations: 
above all he is English, and after that he is Italian. 
Certainly the French literature left indelible traces 
on him, but after 1372 he never looked to France, 
and, when he borrowed, he went to Italy, as his 
genius was more akin to that • of our own great 
poets. Only after 1372, after having read and studied 
our best authors, did he discover that poetry was 
his calling, he grew more assiduous in the development 
of his poetic power, more hopeful and assured of his 
own capabilities ; he felt, although he never expressed 
it, that he could become a poet. 

After 1372 Chaucer did not produce anything 
without clear signs of Italian influence. Even in the 
House of Fame., which is generally thought to have 
been written in 1374, soon after his return to 
England, and which is considered as the earliest of 
his greater works, we find proofs of how much 
Chaucer loved our literature and how eager he was 
to assimilate our beauties ; we see that he is going 
to forget the small minstrels of France, and to 

— 21 — 

imitate our best writers ; we see that he begins to get 
rid of the poetrj of the Middle-ages. So he begins 
the description of the house of fame with « a remi- 
niscence of the invocation of the opening of Dante's 
Paradise Q) », and there are other reminiscences 
from the nintli canto of the Purgatory, and still 
others from Petrarch. 

No work of foreign origin has yet been found 
as the source of this poem, but there is no doubt 
about the existence of Italian influence: it marks 
the second stage of Chaucer's poetical life. Already 
in the Book of the Duchess, which he wrote in 1369 
or afterwards, as it was written on the occasion of 
the death of the Duchess Blanche, we find that he 
had commenced to prove himself an original poet, 
but in the House of Fame the poet appears more 
and more original and in the full possession of the 
art of writing. 

{}) Morley, 

Rhyme royal. 

Not only did Caue|ier chiefly imitate Boccaccio 
in the spirit of the art of writing, but he borrowed 
from him also, we think, the outward garb of poetry: 
verse and stanza. 

Before speaking of Chaucer's verse in the stanza 
called Rhyme royal and which he preferred above any 
other, it would be necessary for us to fix the date of 
The Complaint to Pity; but it is very difficult, in fact 
almost impossible, to find out the real date and the 
chronological order of Chaucer's works: we can only 
express our opinion on the question. Several critics 
state that it was written in 1367, namely before the 
Italian influence; others, among whom Ten Brink, 
state that it was written between 1370 and 1372, still 
before the Italian influence, but approaching much 
nearer to it, and finally others date it after 1372. 
The exact date at which Chaucer wrote it does not 
matter to us ; it will be sufiicient to know whether 
it was written before or after the Italian influence, 
and for our part we .think that it was written 
after that date as we shall endeavour to prove in 
speaking of the verse and stanza he makes use of 
in this poem. 

— 23 — 

The heroic verse was never used in England 
before Chaucer (^), and he used it for the first time 
in The Cotnplaint to Pity. It is a ten syllabled 
measure generally formed with five iambuses, and 
it corresponds to our hendecasyllable except in the 
accents. It is true that this verse was used long 
before in France, and that he may have borrowed 
it from French writers, but it cannot be proved 
that he did not borrow it from Italy, and most 
probably it was from the latter country that he 
took it. In fact, although thoroughly acquainted 
with French literature since his early youth, why 
did he not use it in what he wrote before The 
Complaint to Pity? And if he wrote this poem 
before his journey to Italy, could he not have already 
studied Italian? If he did not accompany Prince 
Lionel to Milan, could he not have hoped and 
prepared himself to accompany him? For our part 
Ave feel quite sure that Chaucer knew Italian 
before 1372, and that our literature may have 
had some influence on Chaucer even before that date. 

Besides, if we consider that the English heroic 
or decasyllabled verse may be extended to an 
eleventh and even to a twelfth unaccented syllable, 
if we consider, as Tyrwhitt afiirms, that the 
greater number of Chaucer's verses would be found 
to consist of eleven syllables, if every word were 
pronounced according to the pronunciation of the 
XIV century, if we consider that, when the verse 
is an eleven-syllabled one, the last syllable is always 
unaccented, we need not hesitate much in saying 

(') Tyrwhitt. 

— 24 — 

that most probably he borrowed this splendid and 
harmonious verse from Italy. Our hesitation will 
always become less and less if we remember that 
everjthing is not created in a moment, but little 
by little. So if Chaucer's heroic yerse in The 
Complaint to Pity seems more allied to the French 
decasy liable, in his later works such as Troihts 
and Creseyde and The Canterbury Tales we see 
it more allied to the Italian hendecasjllable. 

Still less doubt hangs oyer the source of the 
stanza called rhyme royal because it w^as afterwards 
used by James I of Scotland, and which Morley 
would call Chaucer's stanza, as he was the first 
to use it in England. Tyrwhitt and sevei'al others 
are inclined to think that he borrowed it from 
Folquet of Marseilles, who used a seyen- verse 
stanza very similar to Chaucer's and therefore he 
would conclude that this stanza is of Provencal 
origin. But w^e doubt very much whether Chaucer 
could be led to imitate such an author when he had 
before him Boccaccio's octave rhyme. 

Indeed Folquet has not a grekt name; he could 
not be classed among the troubadours, as many 
others excelled him, and he is more famous as a 
bishop or a warrior than a poet. Dante puts him 
in his Paradise, Petrarch and others praise him, 
but, as a man of letters, he always remained rather 
obscure. His twenty-five pieces of poetry now extant 
count but little, very little for a renown ; his stanzas 
rhymed in the style of the rhyme royal are but 
few, and it is ver}^ diflicult to believe that Chaucer 
knew them. 

Besides, we must consider that during the XII, 

— 25 — 

XIII and XIV centuries the poets were looking for 
a fixed form of stanza, but did not succeed in 
discovering one. In France, the most prominent 
nation as regards literature before the appearance 
of Dante, there are stanzas of many descriptions. 
Let us for a moment substitute letters for rhymes 
and we find in Bernard de Ventadour stanzas so 
rhymed : 

and another so : 


In Pierre Vidal we have found these two stanzas: 


Pierre d' Auvergne has stanzas rhymed in many 
ways and we have noted the following: 








Also Folquet of Marseilles, the creator of Chau- 
cer's stanza, has a form of stanza for almost every 
composition, and we note these two : 


ababbcc. A\- 

— 20 — 

The last one is the beautiful Chaucer's stanza, 
the stanza which pleased him so much that when 
he once began to use it, he hardlj ever departed 
from it. The greater and better part of Chaucer's 
poetical work is written in this stanza, but he used 
several others, and some of them are: 


We see that Chaucer was not the first to use 
the Rhjme Rojal, and that the first poet to use 
such a stanza was Folquet of Marseilles: nevertheless 
we consider it highlv probable that Chaucer invented 
this stanza because it is very unlikely he could have 
been familiar with that used bv Folquet. 

How then did Chaucer manage to form his stanza 
from the octave rhyme? He had only to drop the 
fifth verse and he had ahahbcc. So the first verse 
rhymes with the third, the second with the fourth 
and fifth which form a couplet and the last two 
rhyme together and form another couplet. So the 
most important verse is the fourth as it is the 
centre of the stanza : the last of a quatrain of 
alternate rhymes and the first of a quatrain of 
couplets ('). 

As there is not much difi'erence between Boc- 
caccio's stanza and Chaucer's, it seems to us that 
the latter may most probably have been created 

(^) Morley. 

from the former. If to this we add that Chaucer, 
in his translation of Boccaccio's Filostrato, used 
this seven-verse stanza and that in many cases a 
stanza by Chaucer corresponds to a stanza by Boc- 
caccio, we may conclude, with many excellent and 
impartial English critics, that Chaucer formed his 
stanza out of the octave rhyme. 

If the rhyme royal is but an imitation of the 
octave rhyme, why did not Chaucer choose this 
stanza? Every Italian stanza has a complete meaning, 
it is the translation of a thought, and Chaucer 
wanted to do just the same; but as English words 
are generally shorter than ours, and many thoughts 
are expressed in less words than we should use, so 
it w^as necessary for him either to shorten the verse 
or the stanza- He chose to shorten the stanza: he 
dropped the fifth verse of the octave rhyme, and 
he found a stanza not less complete, artistic and 
harmonious than the Italian one; a stanza which 
had a great success in England and which was 
most generally used till towards the end of the 
XVI century when Spenser's nine-verse stanza 
dethroned it. 

One may object to this assertion and say that 
Chaucer very rarely gave an English stanza for an 
Italian one, and this is true if we consider only 
Chaucer's extant works. But we suppose and feel 
almost sure that Chaucer did not invent his stanza 
when he wrote the works we possess, but did so 
when, to exercise himself in the practise of writing, 
he tried to translate literally Boccaccio' s Teseide. 
In these first attempts to get possession of the Italian 
style of literature every one of Chaucer's stanza 

— 28 — 

perhaps corresponded to the meaning of an octave 
rhyme. Lastly we cannot conclude this paragraph 
without remarking that if Chaucer did not invent 
the famous Rhyme royal, he was certainly the first 
true poet w^ho made use of it, and made it known 
and popular throughout England, and who placed 
it in the high position it held until the time of 

The Teseide. 

It has been recorded bj several critics and 
Nicolas Harris is one of these, that Chaucer did notj 
know Italian. We think that nothing can be more 
absurd. The only reason they give worth considering 
is that he never intermingled a single Italian word 
in his works, whilst he used so many French and 
Latin words. 

Before all we must observe that this in not 
correct, and those who assert it seem to disregard 
the fact that in Chaucer's works Greek names are 
Italianised and show that they have not seen the 
list of words Speght considers that Chaucer took 
from Italian. Even if this list were not exact, which 
we can partly admit, we consider that such an 
assertion is a very strange one, as every author 
does not write for himself, but for others, for those 
who speak or understand the language in which he 
writes. Chaucer wrote in English for the English. 
He introduced French and Latin words into his works 
because French and Latin were generally known 
in England. But can we say the same for Italian V 
Certainly not, because Italian was not then known 

— 30 — 

in England. What should we say if our poets 
introduced into their works Chinese or Japanese 
words which no one could understand? Chaucer was 
a genius of \ery great common sense : he would not 
write anything that could not be understood. As to 
his knowledge of the Italian language we shall give, 
further on, most palpable proofs as a great many 
passages are translated from Italian and we shall 
also demonstrate that Boccaccio's Teseide was the 
principal source of Chaucer's Knight's Tale. Therefore 
let us briefly discuss this poem. 

Not only was Chaucer able to distinguish the 
superiority of the Italian literature over the French, 
but he could also choose the very best Italian books. 
As regards style the Teseide is one of Boccaccio's 
best works Q). In spite of its classical imitations, 
the narrative is always simple and bright, the verse 
and the octave rhyme are generally good and this 
work was the forerunner of Ariosto and Tasso. 

Chaucer knew at once that it was a masterpiece^ 
although the plot in itself is not very interesting; 
he saw that the characters were not cold, as 
some are inclined to think, but passionate and 
full of life; he knew that it was « the first long 
narrative heroic poem written by a man of genius (") ». 
What a difference between the allegory of the Ro- 
yyian de la Rose and the human characters of the 
Teseide ! It was a great step towards a better form 
of literature. Chaucer read this poem, he understood 
all its superiority, and he began to translate it. But 

0) Casini. 
C) Morley. 

— Sl- 
it is most probable that he did not translate it in 
the form which we now possess in the Canterbury 
Tales under the title of the Knight's Tale. This 
tale is most probably a recasting of an earlier 
translation, now lost, which he made before and 
which he mentions in his Legend of good loomen. 

Here the usual great question arises, the question 
of source, as Chaucer only says that he took his 
work from « old stories » and from « old books », 
which would not be true, if, as we believe, Boc- 
caccio's Teseide was his original. But was it 
really so? 

Many eminent critics answer that it was, but a 
few are not of this opinion. The latter say that 
Boccaccio's Teseide and Chaucer's Knight's Talc 
have a common source. Craik is one of these and 
he claims to prove his assertion by saying that the 
Teseide « extends to about 12,000 octosyllabic 
verses » whilst Chaucer's poem extends « to not 
many more than 2,000 decasyllabic ones ». He 
adds that the English work is much less detailed 
than the Italian and that « the two versions differ 
in some of th. . »■' circumstances ». In another 
passage he sa s - ■■ ■■■ vhat is thought to be translated 
or imitated f <>!i' ^<i ccaccio in very little and in- 
significant ar jeads one to suppose that they 
were drawn i common source. All this is 
absolutely d( Furnivall who says that the 
original of t ht's Tale is only the Italian 
Teseide^ anc s that it is impossible to think 
of a French of the fable of the Teseide and 
therefore of , ight's Tale. 

Happily ■ . - not obliged to give much weight, 

— 32 — 

to Craik's remarks. In the first place we must say 
that he had but very little acquaintance with the 
Italian language. Everybody knows that Boccaccio's 
Teseide is not written in octosyllabic verses, and 
that it has not 12,000 verses, but only 9,896, to 
which we must add fifteen sonnets, and we must 
also add that there are 2,350 in the Knight's Tale. 

It is also necessary to state here, that we do not 
say that Chaucer translated Boccaccio'S' Teseide for 
his Knight's Tale, we saj^ that Boccaccio's Teseide 
is Chaucer's original, that therefore he knew this 
poem : we say that much is translated and imitated 
from it, and we add also that Chaucer follows the 
Italian poem in its general features in such a way 
as to show his original very clearly. 

In the second place, as to the shortness of the 
English poem as compared with the Italian one it 
is necessary to know that the Knight's Tale is at 
the beginning of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which 
?s a collection of tales told, in order to pass the 
time cheerfully, by at least 29 persons travelling 
from London to Canterbury. Now Chaucer's /i;?/r/f A '.v 
Tale is shorter than Boccaccio's Teseide for two 
reasons : first because a long tale would not amuse, 
I secondly because the time was very limited and it 
was polite and necessary to leave to every member 
of the company sufiicient time to tell two tales in 
going and two in returning as had been agreed 
upon. Therefore many secondary and even main 
circumstances must diff*er in the two versions, but 
it is beyond all doubt that Chaucer knew Italian, 
and his Knight's Tale has its source in the 
Teseide, as he literallv translated from it about 

— 33 — 

270 verses, and either imitated or parapflrased 
about 500 ('). 

To prove this assertion we could give here a 
long list of many, or all the passages in the Teseide 
with Chaucer's English translations or paraphrases, 
but this work has already been done by Tyrwhitt, 
Rossetti, Skeat and others, and therefore it is 
unnecessary for us to do so. 

After the proofs that the most learned students 
of Chaucer have given us, after the comparisons 
which have been made between the Italian and the 
English poems, it is impossible not to admit that 
Chaucer knew Italian and that the Tesoide is the 
true source of the Knight's Tale. 

If many beautiful passages in the Teseide are 
not to be found in the KnighVs Tale, it is, as we 
have already pointed out, because he wanted to 
shorten it very much, as he often says at the 
beginning of his tale, and also because many passages 
had already been inserted in other works of his. 
For example, from the description of the temple of 
Venus Chaucer took ve)'y little for his Knight's 
Tale, as he had already inserted a very close 
imitation of it in his Assembly of Foiols (^), namely 
from verse 183 to verse 287, and these lines « are 
translated in a way that places beyond question 
Chaucer's knowledge of Italian. The turn of the 
phrase makes it quite evident that Chaucer wrote 
with the Italian original before him (^) ». So in 

(1) Chiarini. 
(-) Tyrwhitt. 
(3) Morley. 


- 34 — 

the same poem a list of birds and a shorter list 
of trees are taken or closely imitated from the 
Teseide, and many passages from this poem are to 
he found here and there in Chaucer's works. In 
the same way some of the reminiscences of the 
Teseide are also to be found in Chaucer's Troylus 
and Cryseide. The 260.*^, 261.^* and 262.''^ stanzas 
of this poem are taken from the first three stanzas 
of the eleventh canto of the Teseide. 

The poem of Qu 'en Anelida and False ArcHe 
bears a striking resemblance to the Knight's Tale 
and therefore to the Teseide « chiefly in the opening 
lines (^) » so that the 1.^*, 2.''*^ and 3/*^ stanzas of 
Queen Anelida correspond to the 3/^, 2."'^ and 1.^* 
of tlie Teseide. 

All this explains the gaps that are found here 
and there in the Knighfs Tale and it explains 
also that even if Chaucer had had a mind to 
translate the Teseide literally for his Canterbury 
Tal's, he could not have done so. 

From all this we may infer also that Boccaccio's 
Teseide is the poem which most pleased Chaucer 
and from which he borrowed as much as he could. 

Here another question arises: when Chaucer 
altered, did he alter for the worse or for the better? 
The answer is a very difficult one, but something 
also may be said on this point. There is no doubt 
that Boccaccio's Teseide has one great defect; this 
defect lies in the effort to remove, to keep at a 
distance the conclusion of the action, which is 
already foreseen from the middle of the poem (^). 

(1) Koch. 

(2) Casini. 

— 35 — 

Generally speaking, to curtail the story was to 
improve it, therefore many critics have praised him 
inasmuch as he avoided many tiresome descriptions, 
which, if useful or tolerable in a long poem, are 
not so in a short one. But in several cases, in his 
curtailing and in his alterations he Avas not guided 
by very good taste, as he does not avoid several of 
the above mentioned descriptions, he seems to delight 
in rhetorical tirades full of mythology and biblical 
quotations and expressions (^), defects which were 
however very common during the Middle-ages. 
Perhaps it was in considering these defects that 
Sandras was induced to say that Chaucer did not 
improve the Teseide, in fact he says that the 
English poet diminished its poetic merit, omitted 
the finest features of the fable and spoiled the truth 
of the story. 

But, in spite of its defects, the Knight's Tale, 
which leads the series of the Canterhuri/ Tales, 
and which in spirit as well as in language is the 
translation of Boccaccio's Teseide had a great 
success in England and a great influence on English 
literature, as it was the basis of Fletcher's drama, 
of Dryden's poem, and of many other compositions. 

(') Chiarini. 

The Filostrato. 

If Chaucer took very much from the Teseide 
for his Knight's Tale^ he certainly did not take 
less from the Filostrato for his Troyhis and 
Cryseide, He did not literallj translate it as he was 
an inventor though a disciple, an original writer 
though a translator Q). 

Chaucer's work could not be called a translation, 
but it is rather a recasting of Boccaccio's FilosU^ato. 

Also here we have before us the vexed question 
of source. It may be, as Ward thinks, that Benoit 
de St. Maure was the first to write a poem on this 
subject, which, he says, he derived from Latin, that 
on i't Guide de Colonna founded his Latin prose 
romance, which was reproduced in several languages 
and bj many writers, that Boccaccio took his 
subject from Guide de Colonna, and that Chaucer's 
original was Boccaccio. Others on the contrary say 
that Boccaccio took his Filostrato from Benoit de 
St. Maure and that Chaucer's work has the same 

This last opinion is sustained by Craik who sees 

{') Taine. 

— 37 — 

in the two poems only « that general resemblance 
which would result from their subject being the 
same, and their having been founded upon a common 
original ». Notwithstanding this the best authorities, 
chiefly Tyrwhitt, Warton, Ward and Morley, aflirm 
that Boccaccio's Filostt^ato is Chaucer's original. 

It must be so, because he did not write his 
work before 1377, namely five years after his visit 
to Italy, and also because not only is the story the 
same in both poems, but even a large number of 
Chaucer's passages are literally translated from 
Italian. Indeed, although Sandras states that Chaucer, 
besides having under his eyes the Italian Filosii'atQy 
had also, if not Benoit de St. Maure, certainly 
Quido d e Colon na, from wliom iie borrowed some 
particularsjieglected by Boccaccio, yet Skeat says 
that Troylus and Cryseide is a free version of 
Boccaccio's Filostrato, although the two poems 
differ in many points; and Furnivall, who published 
an excellent edition of three different manuscripts 
of Chaucer's Troylus and Cryseide in order to 
show the great difference which exists between 
them, as all « the manuscripts of Chaucer's works 
offer great and bewildering variety Q) », says that 
Chaucer used only the Italian original. We think 
that Furnivall is right. 

Moreover, Rossetti has found that in many 
instances Chaucer is a very accurate translator of 
the Filostrato, whilst « in others he has paraphrased 
without translating ». He compared Boccaccio's 
Filostrato with Chaucer's Troyhts and Cryseide 

(') Ten Brink. 

- 38 — 

and he gives us the following data which go 

, straight to the point. 

' Boccaccio's Fdostralo contains 5,704 lines and 

Chaucer's Troylus ami Cryseide 8,246. Chaucer 

adapted from the Filostrato 2,730 lines which he 

condensed into 2,583 so that only 5,663 lines belong 

almost exclusively to Chaucer. Therefore one third 

of Troylus and Cryseide is taken from Boccaccio 

and two thirds are either Chaucer's own, or take 

from Boethius, Dante and Petrarch, besides man\| 

imitations from Ovid. 

I It is true that many passages and episodes of 

j Boccaccio's Filostrato are not to be found in the 

1 English poem, biit we must always bear in mind 

I that Chaucer was not a mere translator, and it will 

/ be easy for us to understand all the difference 

; which exists between the two poems. We must 

! consider that if between the two poems there are 

i differences there are also many resemblances: so 

the leading incidents are the same, there are minute 

coincidences of expression which could not exist 

if Chaucer had not translated from Boccaccio, and 

we must not forget that Chaucer could not translate 

literally as he wrote poetry. 

In many instances Chaucer lias helped scholars 
to find out the sources of his works, but in the 
case of Troylus and Cryseide he rather puts them 
at a loss. He does not claim any merit of invention 
in this poem as in one passage he says that he 
translated it « out of Latin », but by the word 
Latin he might also have meant the Latino volgare 
or Italian. In other passages he incidentally refers 
to Homer, Dares Phrygius, Dictus Cretensis, but he 


~ 3d — 

certainty did not take anything from tlieni4 He 
states also that the author of his original was 
LoUius, but no one appears to recognise this as the 
name of a writer from whom Chaucer maj have 
taken anything, and no one can presume to say, as 
Tyrwhitt does, that JLoUius may be another name 
for Boccaccio as our great prose-writer was never 
so called. 

Every student of Chaucer has • tried to discover 
the origin of this name and how the English poet 
came to make use of it. Some assert that he may 
have been a Latin writer whose renown and works 
did not reach us, but it is very difficult to believe 
that such was the case. Another version is given 
by Prof. Lathan who thinks that, as the Filostrato 
and therefore Troylus and Cryseide belong to the 
Trojan cycle, Chaucer misunderstood the following 
verse of Horace: 

Troianl belli scripiorem., maxime LolU, etc. 
but we feel confident that he was mistaken in this 
idea. As this English poet w^as a very gay and 
jovial man, some are inclined to believe that he 
concealed the name of the author of his original in 
order to mislead his future critics, but we agree, 
with Lounsbury, that this is most improbable as he 
was a very modest man and perhaps never thought 
of being read or studied by any future generation. 

Many other similar suggestic^ns have been made, 
but they can only be looked upQn as individual 
opinions because we cannot find proofs as to the 
truthfulness of any of them. So perhaps Chaucer may 
have thought, with Pierre Seigneur de Beauveau, 
that the Filostrato was written by Petrarch. Indeed 

— 40 - 

in several places he mentions Petrarch instead of 
Boccaccio, but as instead of the latter only he also 
mentions Statins and Corinne, so we maj only 
come to the conclusion that he mentioned these 
names at random, from memory, without caring 
very much for precision in what he was writing. 

These suppositions might be carried further. As 
Petrarch had two friends whom he distinguished by 
the names of Loelius and Socrates, Chaucer perhaps 
believed that by the former Petrarch meant Boccaccio, 
or he may have wished to imitate Petrarch by 
calling Lollius his Italian acquaintance and master. 
But, as we have already said, we can only give 
what are suppositions and personal opinions. 

Now, why does not Chaucer mention Boccaccio 
in any place though he owes so much to him?_ 

It was not only Chaucer's wish to be a Court 
poet, but he also looked to this for his means of 
livelihood: he was not a man of action, not a man 
of great courage: he was not inclined to write 
anything that might displease the Court. We see 
this in the translation of the Roman de la Rose, 
if the translation now extant is his, where he omits 
all passages casting reflections on Kings or other 
authorities. For a certain time Boccaccio was not 
in favour with those in authority, with the clergy 
and religious men in general, and this was chiefly 
before he expressed regret at having written the 
Decameron. Although in ISTS, either just before or 
soon after the departure of Chaucer from Florence, 
Boccaccio was appointed to explain Dante to the 
public and his renown was reestablished, yet some 
rumours of his being a man of corrupt and loose 

— 41 — 

habits must have reached Chaucer, who thought 
that these reports might get to England : he feared 
the King's reproaches had he mentioned that 
man as his master, therefore he never mentioned 
Boccaccio, and perhaps translated from him less 
than he would otherwise have done. Besides this, 
although it is quite certain that Chaucer knew 
Boccaccio's works, yet it cannot be actually proved 
that he knew his name, or that he knew him 
personally, or indeed that he ever knew he was the 
author of his works, as many of the manuscripts 
of the Middle-ages were published anonymously. 

The supposition that Chaucer purposely avoided 
mentioning the name of Boccaccio gains strength 
when we remember that Chaucer's idea of decorum 
was.superior to Boccaccio's. T n Boccaccio's Filo strato 
Cryseide is a comparatively common place perso n. 
This rich, young, beautiful and gay widow did not 
wish to reject the advances of a young man of 
distinction: she could not live the life of a nun, 
and if other women amused themselves with intrigue, 
why should she not do the same? On being assured 
that her reputation would not suffer, she yields at 
once, and makes excuses for her reluctance. In ' 
Boccaccio's work Cryseide is bad, faithless, vicious | 
and lustful: in Chaucer's she is not « a nun toj 
whom earthly love is a sin », but she is rather! 
a « victim of fate ». After having read Boccaccio 
we despise or hate such wanton women, but 
Chaucer's Cryseide possesses every quality which 
entitles a woman to love and respect: she is won 
with difficulty and overcome only by surprise. The 

— 42 — 

English poet rather teaches us to pity her and he 
endears her to his readers. 

B )Ccaccio's Pandarus is the most despicable uf 
men, Cliaucer's is a good natured, loquacious, rather 
unscrupulous man, a man who knows the world 
and who means to enjoy life, he is quite a new 
creation, a good character for a good comedj, the 
right man in the right place. 

Baccaccio's Trojlus is an ordinary man, rather 
destitute of refined feeling, self-indulgeut and 
practised in the art of intrigue: Chaucer's on the 
contrary loyes with all the ardour and freshness 
of youth, he is the personification of what a loyer 
ought to be. 

Boccaccio does not waste words in the first 
part of his poem, but he loiters in the second, 
chiefly after the catastrophe, when all the interest 
of the poem has passed away. On the contrary 
Chaucer dwells at length on the most moral and 
charming part of the poem, ^^here Cryseide is 
falling in love, but he so curtails the sorrowful 
conclusion that the fifth or last book of his poem 
corresponds to four of Boccaccio's cantos. 

So, in justice to Chaucer, although a translation, 
we look upon his Troylus and Cryseide as a new- 
creation, and, although Scott thought it a rather 
tedious work, we think it is a very good one, and 
we think that Rossetti is right to judge it the 
finest of ancient English love poems. Certainly in 
this work there springs up a new life, and we 
should say a life more moral and purer than in 
the Italian poem. It could not be otherwise, as 
Chaucer dedicates it to « the moral Gower and 

— 43 — 

the philosophical Strode », and it shows also, 
to Chaucer's honour, that he did not require the 
aid of vulgarity or triviality to give expression to 
that vivacity and humour which are his chief 

We have pointed out that Chaucer's Troylus 
and Cryseide is more moral th anv_ Boccaccio's 
Filostrato^ but it was not moral enough for tFe" 
English of that time, and especially for many of 
the ladies of the Court. This justifies us in our 
supposition ' that Cliaucer neither„.dared__mention 
Boccaccio, nor admit that he was his principal 
master. Indeed, he knew that his poem was not 
well received at Court, and he wrote The Legend 
of Good Women, by the Queen's order, it is said, 
to remove the odium which Troylus and Cryseide 
had brought on him. 

And here another question arises: is Chaucer's 
Troylus and Cryseide superior to Boccaccio's 
Filostrato ? 

If we consider separately the several points of 
Chaucer's work, perhaps,- as we have already 
pointed out, in many passages in this poem Chaucer 
is superior to Boccaccio, and also, perhaps, if we 
consider the poem taken as a whole. In many 
instances Chaucer « has eminently shown his good 
sense and judgment in rejecting the superfluities 
and improving the general arrangement of the 
story. He frequently corrects and softens Boccaccio's 
manners and it is with singular address he has often 
abridged the Italian poet's ostentatious and pedantic 
parade of ancient history and mythology Q) ». 

(^) Warton. 


— 44 — 

PerhapvS this is saying too much; but at least it is 
partly tru3. On the other hand Chaucer is wanting 
in every respect in unity; unity of composition, 
unity of delineation, unity of character, unity of style; 
whereas unity constitutes the peculiar attraction of 
Boccaccio. Chaucer is more monotonous, more diffuse, 
but he is « superior in depth of feeling and delineation 
of the passions (') » and shows everywhere a closer 
knowledge of life. Boccaccio displays more « elegance 
of diction and ornament », and his w^ork is and 
always will remain, an unrivalled master-piece. 

0) Skeat. 

The Canterbury Tales. 

Before speaking of the pecamerqp we think 
it necessary to saj something about Chaucer's 
Canterbury Tales^ to which we have already referred. 

In Chaucer's time many persons, from all parts 
of England, went to Canterbury to visit the tomb 
of Thomas a Becket. On the sixth of May of a 
certain year Chaucer finds we do not know whether 
29 or 30 of these pilj^rims at the Tabard^ an inn 
that was near London Bridge, in the South East 
of London, on the right bank of the Thames where 
in the same place, in High Street, Borough, at 
present stands the Old Tabard, a public house, but 
this building is very modern and there are no 
remains of the old one. Chaucer and the host joined 
the pilgrims, so that they then became either 
thirty-one or thirty-two and they agreed tliat every 
member of the company should tell two tales in 
going and two in returning from the pilgrimage. 
On the bright and green moi'ning of the seventh 
day both journey and tales commenced. 

Who does not see at once how grand is the 
idea, and one such as only a genius can conceive? 
It is not an easv task to write about 128 tales of 

- 46 — 

such length and nature, chief! j because in them 
every character « is distinctly marked out in 
itself, while at the same time it is designed as the 
type of a class (^) ». So his work is not only 
estimable from an artistic point of view, but also 
because it is the best extant history of English life 
at that time. 

We do not know when the vast idea was 
conceived, but we feel quite sure that it was after 
the Italian influence had pervaded Chaucer's mind 
as it was only in 1374 he began to write tales for 
this great work which unhappily he abandoned in 
1390, ten years before his death, when he had 
written only 24, three of which are incomplete. 
Notwithstanding the work has not only an artistic, 
a literary and an historical importance, but its 
final object is also religious, national, and political. 

All this is certainly true, but we cannot agree 
with those who say that the Canterbury Tales is, 
in its aim, superior by far to Boccaccio's Dec,am.eron, 
nor with those who boast about Chaucer's superiority 
by Paying that it is very grotesque and inhuman 
to tell love-stories to forget a plague. We frankly 
avow that we do not see the superiority of Chaucer's 
aim, because we do not consider the Decameron to 
be very different from the Canterbury Tales. In 
fact, if the Canterbury Tales contains even only 
in outline some of the stories of the Decameron, 
the aim of the two works cannot be very different^ 
and certainly the Decameron was not written only 
to amuse a few persons or to forget a plague, as 

(1) Ward. 

— 47 — 

the result has shown, and we think that it is very 
safe to conclude that both Boccaccio and Chaucer 
wrote with a similar object in view. 

As for those who say that Boccaccio w^as 
grotesque and inhuman, they thereby show that 
they have not read the splendid description of the 
plague of 1348 w^hich precedes the Decameron, 
and which could not have been written if Boccaccio 
had not felt intense sorrow on the occasion of so 
great a calamity. And on this point is there any 
difference between Chaucer and Boccaccio ? If 
Boccaccio retires in good and merry company to a 
splendid villa to avoid death from plague, and to 
enjoy life, Chaucer, who saw four plagues, the first 
in 1348 and 1349, the second in 1361 and 13()2, 
the third in 1369 and the fourth in 1375 and 1376, 
only tv/ice refers to the plague in his works. Therefore 
we do not think there is much difference between 
the two authors and their works, and, if it is a 
merit at all lo have written about the plague, we 
clearh^ see that our judgment must be in Boccaccio's 

Tt _niipht he sairl^ that Chancer is more. mOIial 
th an B occacci o, and cert ainly Chaucer's works 
may be. read by a girl of fifteen; but we think 
that in discussing art w^e should not reason in this 
way. Can we say that the statue of Neptune is 
either ugly or immoral because it is nude? Can 
we condemn Dante, Shakespeare and many other 
geniuses because, from time to time, they introduced 
into their works phrases and passages which are 
not moral? We cannot speak against Boccaccio 
because he uses certain words which are rather 

— 48 — 

licentious, and puts before us scenes which many 
would not care to see. Shall we find fault only 
with him, if at that time the Italian sense of 
delicacy was rather blunted? Shall we condemn 
Boccaccio if he represented society to us under the 
conditions that then existed and if he spoke the 
truth? And if we do not condemn Boccaccio, so 
much the less shall we rank among those who 
condemn Chaucer, because if the two authors wrote 
much which very old men might regret to have 
written, certainly Boccaccio had much more to 
regret than Chaucer. But who has not read the 
history of many a great man who muses sorrowfully 
on his best works^ Chaucer's Canierhury Tales is 
his master-piece, because when he wrote it he had 
then become possessed of more knowledge of life, 
his style had improved and become firmer, clearer, 
more flexible, more expressive and was above all 
things most popular. He so excels in humour and 
imagination that only Shakespeare can be compared 
with him, only Shakespeare can pretend to rival 
him. He is subtle, various, sprightly; he gives 
gorgeous dgsmptions and passages with a profound 
and exquisite delicacy and pathos. He paints what 
he sees, and he knows so well how to mingle 
wisdom with humour that he amuses his readers, 
he endears them to him, and everj'one feels sorry 
that he was able to write only so few of such 
tales. But, though unfinished, the work « contains 
about 17,000 verses, besides more than a fourth 
of that quantity in prose (^) ». His verses are 

(1) Craik. 

— 49 — 

either decasyllabic or liendecasjllabic, and they are 
arranged either in couplets or in stanzas. Though 
unfinished it is the greatest of all his works and 
the most original, the one on which his fame stands 
as a rock against the ravages of time. 


The Decameron, 

It can be proved, as we have seen, that Chaucer 
knew the Teseide and the Filostraio, but it has 
not jet been ascertained that he knew the Decameron. 
In all probability he did, and this is also the general 
opinion, but till now we have not found any 
material proof of it. What is certain, however, is 
that he did not translate from the Decameron as 
he did from the Teseide and the Fllostrato, but 
this is no surprise to us: as Chaucer was a genius^ 
he could not remain a translator all his life, and 
also because the conception of translating prose inta 
poetry seems rather strange or awkward. What 
we say, what we believe, what we should like to 
demonstrate clearly and beyond doubt is, that 
Chaucer knew the Decameron and that from this 
work he took at least the idea of his Canterbury 

Certainly the task is not an easy one, chiefly 
because Chaucer disowns his obligations to Boccaccio^ 
for not only never does he mention his name, but 
he often seems, in this particular, to try to lead 
his students and critics astray. And in this he 

— 51 — 

succeeds, because as both the English and the Italian 
poetry of that time was, generally speaking, either 
a translation or an imitation of that of France, so 
many critics were led to believe that Boccaccio and 
Chaucer were not much connected with each other. 

It is certain that not a single one of the 
Canterhiiry Tales can be ascribed to Chaucer's 
own imagination, and although Craik says, that 
the fame of Italian song could hardly have reached 
Chaucer's ears and although Sir Harris Nicolas is 
almost of the same opinion, yet Ward, who is one 
of the best authorities on Chaucer, admits that 
Chaucer's indebtedness towards Italian literature 
and « Boccaccio in particular is considerable » 
and that it seems « hardly to admit of denial ». 
Even Craik in a passage of his history of English 
literature says that « it must be considered very 
doubtful » if any one of Chaucer's tales was really 
derived from Italian, and in another place he 
says that « this may have been the case ». Therefore 
we see that even those who do not admit of an 
Italian influence on Chaucer are nevertheless in 
considerable doubt in making such an assertion. 

Boccaccio's Decameron was finished and published 
in 1353 and soon had a great success although many 
opposed it. Now, can it be possible that Chaucer 
who lived in Florence, if not from December of 1372 
to November of 1373, as it was at first believed, 
at least for several months soon after the former 
date, can it be possible, we repeat, that he did not 
hear anything about the Decameron and did not 
read it? 

Here it is worth noting that just at that time 

— 52 — 

Boccaccio was very much esteemed, honoured 
and renowned, that just in 1373 he was chosen 
to explain Dante in St. Stephen's Church and that 
Florence and its literary people especially must 
have, spoken very much about this fact. Now% is it 
possible that Chaucer who was so fond of learning, 
whose love for books is so clear and manifest in 
all his Avorks, is it possible that he did not hear 
anything about this fact,* the principal one which 
happened in that town in that year, he who read 
and studied Dante and translated passages from 
him? he who was one of Boccaccio's greatest 
admirers ? 

Again, new books were not published then by 
hundreds as they are now; it was very difficult 
then for a good new book to get lost among the 
crowd of its worthless companions, so also for this 
reason we may say that most likely Chaucer knew 
the Decameron. 

It may be that several of Chaucer's Florentine 
acquaintances neither liked the Decameron nor 
cared to hear it mentioned. Certainly the clergy 
strongly opposed it, but Chaucer Avas then in the 
very prime of life, of good character, religious but 
not a bigot, cheerful, merry and gay, and he must 
certainly have spoken about Boccaccio from whom 
he has taken so much. 

Therefore if Chaucer knew the Teseide and 
translated it, if he knew the Filostrato and 
translated a great portion of it, if he knew Boccaccio's 
Latin works, as we shall presently see he did, is 
it likely that he did not know the Decameron y 
Boccaccio's principal work? And if he did know 

— 53 — 

it, is it possible that it did not influence him? Is 
it possible that he did not take the idea of his 
Canterbury Talcs from it? For our part, it is very 
difficult to believe the contrary. Although Ave may 
allow that Chaucer knew other works from which 
he may have taken the idea of the frame\A'ork of 
his book, and although it is difficult to believe 
that these works, such as the Discijplina Clericalist, 
the Romance of the seven icise men, the Vision of 
Piers Plowman had no influence on him, it is still 
more difficult to believe the contrary as regards 
the Decameron. 

Let us look a little closer into the two works, and ^„^ 
we shall find that the Canterbury Tales is a work 
of much the same kind as the Decameron. The 
Decameron is a species of comedy not intended 
for the stage and so is the Canterbury Tales. 
The subjects of the Decameron are of about the 
same kind as those of the Canterbury Tales, and 
although the framework is somewhat diff'erent, yet 
it has many striking resemblances. 

And this resemblance in not only in the general 
idea, but moreover several of Chaucer's tales have 
some resemblance to those in the Decameron. In 
fact, the pardoner in the Canterbury Tales is an 
itinerant ecclesiastic of much the same stamp as 
Frate CipoUa in the Decameron, although Chaucer 
may have taken the outline of the very beautiful 
Pardoner's Tale from the Cento novelle antiche. 

The Reeve's Tale forms the basis of the sixth 
novel of the ninth day in Boccaccio's Decameron. 
The only difi'erence is that Boccaccio's story is 
much more licentious than Chaucer's. ^ 

- - 54 — 

As to the Shijyman's Tale Speght supposes 
that its original is the first novel of the eighth 
day of the Decameron. Although Morley frankly 
avows that it was taken from the Decameron, yet 
at the same time we must also record the fact that 
Tyrwhitt and Warton think it more probable that 
both Chaucer and Boccaccio derived the outline 
from a French fabliau. But, as we have said, if 
we believe that Chaucer had abandoned the idea 
of taking anything from France, it will not be 
difficult for us to take the side of Morley. 

Chaucer asserts that he derived the Franklin's 
Tale from a Breton lay, but this lay is not known. 
Skeat says that « the subject seems to have survived 
in a popular fabliau, which Boccaccio has drawn 
upon in the Decameron and also introduced into 
the Philocopo », therefore also in this tale, if 
Chaucer did not take it from the Decameron, 
there is at least some connection with this work, 
namely with the fifth novel of the tenth day. 

Several resemblances are also found between 
the Merchant's Tale and that of Lidia and 
Nicostrato, the seventh fto^el of the ninth day^and 
between the Miller's Tale and that of Frate Puccio, 
the third novel of the fourth day. 

Although these resemblances are very striking, 
yet nothing definite can be proved, and if, for 
example, both Boccaccio and Chaucer find fault 
with the monks in similar matters, it does not of 
necessity follow that Chaucer borrowed from 
Boccaccio, but it may rather tend to show that the 
defects of the monks were as notorious in Italy as 
in England, as may be inferred from a letter 

— 55 - 

written hy Boniface IX in 1390, and it may be 
that both Boccaccio and Chaucer felt it was necessary 
to satirise and condemn these defects in order to 
put an end to them. 

Furnivall says that, if Chaucer had known the 
Decameron, he would have translated and inserted 
some or at least one of its « racy novelle » in ^ 
his Canterbury Tales. It seems to us that Furnivall 
and several others are inclined to wish Chaucer 
had translated more than he did. To some extent 
we have already answered this assumption when 
we spoke of the evolution of every author, namely 
when we said that almost every genius begins as 
a translator or as an imitator, and that it is only 
little by little that his own personality springs 
forth, but we have now another observation to 
make on this point. The Canterbury Tales is 
an unfinished work: there ought to be at least 120 
tales, and we have only 24. Can we not suggest 
what Chaucer would have done if he had been 
allowed to finish his work? Could he not have 
thought of introducing some of the « racy novelle » 
into that portion of his book which he was not 
able to give us? 

In conclusion if we look for material proofs 
that Chaucer knew the Decameron, we fail to find 
any as in all Chaucer's works there is no allusion 
to this book or to its author; neither a phrase nor 
-a single word can be proved .to have been taken from 
it, and the coincidences which the Canterbury 
Tales has with it are common to other books 
which were previously published and which Chaucer 
may have known. But when we consider the above 

— 56 — 

coincidences, when we take into consideration: 
Chaucer's love and enthusiasm for the Italian 
literature, and when we remember, as we have- 
already pointed out, that he knew the Teseide^ the 
Filostrato and Boccaccio's Latin works from which 
he took so much, we may conclude with some 
certainty that he knew also the Decameron or at 
least some of its tales. We can only conjecture 
this, but we feel that there is some aground for 
supposing- that Morley, Mamroth and many others- 
are right when they conclude thad Chaucer owes to 
Boccaccio the framework of his Canterbury Tales. 
The question has also arisen as to whether 
Chaucer's work is superior to Boccaccio's, and 
several English men of Letters have given judgment 
in kvour of their own poet. We should like to 
say the contrary, but we cannot pass judgment on a 
question like this, because we do not feel called 
upon to pronounce too closely between the merits of 
these two geniuses, and also because it seems to us 
that it is very difficult to compare an unfinished 
work with a complete one. It has been said that 
in the Canterhury Tales there is more unity of 
idea, more unity of composition than in Boccaccio's 
Decameron, that the prologue is in strict accord with 
the following tales which are closely connected to- 
one another. We certainly accept the suggestion that 
the prologue in the Canterbury Tales is in strict 
accord with the subsequent tales, and that the preface 
in the Decameron is not; but we do not see in the 
other portion of Chaucer's work more unity of 
composition than in Boccaccio's. It is so true, that 
Chaucer's tales are not much connected to one 

another that their order even is not the same in 
several old manuscripts. Notwithstanding this, let 
us grant that Chaucer's tales are a little more 
connected to one another than those in the Decameron^ 
let us grant that Boccaccio's work is much less 
moral than Chaucer's, yet we do not think that this 
is enough to determine Chaucer's superiority. 

The eierk's tale. 

The Clerk's Tale, which is one of the best in 
the Canterbury Tales deserves special mention. It 
is the matchless storj of patient Griselda and Dioneo, 
the last tale in the Decameron about which Petrarch 
said that no one could read it without shedding 
tears. It pleased him so much that he translated 
it into Latin and it is from Petrarch's Latin prose 
that Chaucer took it. But how did Chaucer obtain 
this traslation? He himself sajs that he went to 
Padua to see Petrarch whom he calls his master, 
and he makes his Clerk saj: 

(( I w^oll you tell a tale which that I 
Learned at Padowe of a worthy clerk, 
As preved by his wordes and his werk: 
He is now dead and nailed in his chest; 
I pray to God so yeve his soule rest. 
Francis Petrarch, the laureat poet 
Highte this clerk, whose rhethoricke sweet 
Enlumined all Itaille of poetrie. » 

Perhaps this time Chaucer, whose statements 
are often doubtful or unauthorised has spoken the 

— 59 — 

truth, because if it is true that Petrarch latinised 
this tale in 1373, it is rather difficult for Chaucer to 
have got hold of the translation in Florence before 
his departure from the town. Perhaps he reallj 
got it in Padua from Petrarch himself. 

We have said that Chaucer's statement this time 
is true, but still it is not quite true, as his Clerk's 
Tale cannot be a version of onlj what he heard 
from Petrarch: he follows so closely Petrarch's 
Latin translation that he must have had it before 
him when he wrote. 

The fact of not having taken it from Boccaccio 
is considered a great argument in favour of those 
who affirm that Chaucer knew neither the Becameron 
nor Italian. Indeed there is not in it a single phrase 
which leads us to suppose that Chaucer had already 
read it in the Becameron (^); but, if it is true that 
Chaucer heard this tale from Petrarch himself, can 
it be that Petrarch did not speak to Chaucer of the 
original in the Beeayneron? It may be so, but we 
do not believe it. 

As we have already pointed out, it may be 
possibile that although Chaucer knew several of 
Boccaccio's tales he may not have know^n this 
particular one. It may be that when he wrote his 
Clerk's Tah\ he had not yet finished reading the 
Becameron, but it is itiost likely that Chaucer was 
more familiar with Latin than with Italian, and 
that therefore he preferred to take this tale from 
Petrarch. To this add that at that time the 
Becameron was not very much esteemed by many 

(') Chiaiini. 

— 60 — 

people, that Boccaccio had already repented of 
having written it, and it will not be difficult to 
understand why he chose Petrarch's translation, 
and also why he never mentioned Boccaccio in his 

It does not matter to us whether Boccaccio was 
the true originator of the story, or whether the 
story is very old, as Petrarch himself states, or 
whether it was taken from life and that Griselda 
really existed. For us it is enough to state -with 
certainty, that Boccaccio originated this masterpiece 
which gave birth to many imitations and different 
compositions throughout Europe, chiefly in Italy, 
France, Germany and England, and that, after all, 
Chaucer's Clerk's Tale^ in spite of being a translation 
from Petrarch, is nothing else than Boccaccio's 
Decameron which he translated. It is therefore 
the art of Boccaccio that he brought to England, 
and besides the fact of having certainly heard the 
Decarneron and its author spoken about is another 
argument in our favour to prove that Chaucer 
knew this work. 

Yet Chaucer did not translate this splendid tale 
without curtailing much of what was of no use 
for his purpore and without adding something of 
his own. This was uspal in Chaucer who never 
was a « mere slavish translator (/) ». Sometimes 
he altered for the worse and sometimes for the- 
better. In this tale the changes he introduces really 
improve it: he omits a proem in which are many 
valuable, but, in this case, useless geograpiiical 

(') Ward. 

— 61 — , 

notions, and he adds a passage on the fidelity of 
women, which gives so much pathos to the tale 
that many a critic has very much praised the 
English poet, and judged that the English version 
is perhaps superior to the Italian original. 

Boccaccio's Latin works. 

Several times we have had the opportunity of 
saying that Chaucer knew Boccaccio's Latin works, 
and we wish now to show that they must have 
exercised a great influence on him. 

Boccaccio's De Claris Mulierihus suggested 
iiim his Legend of good icomen which we have 
already mentioned. But did Chaucer write this book 
voluntarily? It would not appear so. On the contrary 
it seems that some ladies of the Court had taken 
offence at his Troylus and Crgseide and perhaps 
at some other poems of his where he speaks against 
the infidelity of wives, and that in consequence 
the Queen enjoined him to write a book in praise 
of those waves who had proved faithful to faithless 

However that may be, the fact remains that he 
wrote this book, which does him credit, because, 
after Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, he was the 
first, and in England the very first, to appreciate 
the many good qualities of woman, and to raise 
her from the state of servitude and servility in 
which she was kept during the old and middle 

— 63 — 

ages. According to him woman is a daisy in her 
irjodestj and has in her beautiful candour and 
sincerity the magic power of curing the wounds 
of the heart. If in many instances Chaucer has 
exposed w^omen to derision, perhaps to correct their 
ridiculous habits, in this book he gives a solid 
proof of knowing how much a virtuous woman is 
deserving of praise and how superior she is to 
every eulogy. 

As we have said, Chaucer owes this invaluable 
book to Boccaccio. To prove the truth of this\ 
assertion it is sufficient to mention, that almont all 
the women described by Boccaccio have been given 
a place in Chaucer's work, and to give another 
proof that the English poet knew Boccaccio's Latin 
w orks we shall mention here that his Monk's Tale 
is taken from Boccaccio's De Casihus Viroriim 

Dramatic power. 

Our Carducci has stated that the Decameron 
is the human comedy just as Dante's work is the 
Divine Comedy. Even in this Chaucer resembles 
Boccaccio : if Chaucer had been born three centuries 
later, he would have been the English Moliere just 
as Boccaccio would have been another Goldoni if he 
had lived in the XVI or XVII century. 

Unhappily for us, and for the English, at that 
time the modern drama was not yet born, and the 
miracle-plays of the XIV century could not be 
attractive either to Boccaccio or to Chaucer. Nay, 
there was not yet even the embryo of the modern 
drama, but the vividness of the imagination of 
these two writers, their humour, their scorn of 
hypocrisy, their cleverness in seeing deeply into 
the heart of man, caused them to be considered 
as true dramatists before drama existed. 

It is so true that there is dramatic power in 
their compositions that afterwards some subjects 
which are common to both Boccaccio and Chaucer 
were successfully brought on the stage. 

Chaucer's influence. 

Studying, working and under the heavy weight 
of misfortunes which generally accompany this 
worldly life Chaucer approached gradually towards 

(c The undiscovered country from whose bourn 
No traveller returns. » 

In his last years he was very unhappy and 
poor. Had he been happier and better provided for, 
perhaps he might have completed his Canterburi/ 
Tales; but dejected and without any hope he 
abandoned it ten years before his death which tooJv 
place on the 25.^^ of October 1400, twenty-five 
years after his great master, Boccaccio. He was 
buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Poets' Corner, 
and perhaps he is the greatest poet whose bones 
have their resting place there. 

He died, but his works did not. Not only is it 
not the place here, but it is also beyond our purpose 
to describe the influence which they had and are still 
having on English literature. Up to the beginning 
of the Elizabethan era nothing could compare with 

BoRGHE;;!. 5 . 

the Cantarbury Tales which has till now borne fruit 
in a long succession of prose Avriters, and poets and 
painters. In this respect we may sa}' that Cliaucer's 
influence in England was superior to Boccaccio's 
in Italy: Chaucer had no rival in his country, 
whilst in Italy Dante and Petrarch were at least 
as famous as Boccaccio. 

J\ Comparison. 

We do not know of any two other writers 
more simular. or more equal in their general 
characteristics than Boccaccio and Chaucer: they 
approach to one another closer than friends, than 
master and disciple, than father and son, than two 
brothers. Nature had given them both qualities 
which no one can acquire by one's self: healthy, 
gay, sincere and high-minded, they seem to belong 
to a time in which mankind had fewer cares than 
at present. What can we say of Boccaccio that 
we cannot say also of Chaucer? Either little or 
nothing. They are two of the most learned men 
of their time. /As to Boccaccio, his commentary on 
the first sixteen cantos of the Divine Comech/ would 
suffice to prove this assertion. As to Chaucer his 
Astrolabe sliows that he was something of an 
astronomer, his Tale of the Chanons Yeoman 
shows that he was a philosopher, his Parson's Tale 
shows his knowledge of Divinity. There wa^ no 
gloom in them,- 4bere£oiie they could, easily penetrate 
to the heart of every man, and judge with certainty, 
and, as we have already pointed out, they are the 

— 68 — 

true historians of their time. In their works there 
are pictures of public and domestic life : the 
clergyman is there represented in his good and his 
bad qualities, and so is the landlord and the poor 
workman, the great lady, the poor servant maid 
and the country-woman. On the scene of the world 
painted by these two authors we see in turn men 
and women of every social rank; now shameless 
vice and now modest virtue, now wickedness and 
deceit, now goodness, truthfulness, sincerity : all the 
different characters of mankind pass before our 
eyes as in life. And all this is brighth^ narrated 
with a freedom and vividness of imagination which 
our present novelists would be very proud to possess. 

They were religious, but their religion, except 
perhaps in their later years, never approached 
bigotrj' or superstition. In any case they were 
always more moral than many other famous writers : 
indeed the only reproach which has been made 
to them is that in their youth! they were rather 
unscrupulous in their love attairs. Severe critics 
and fearless accusers of the vices of the clergy, 
they were in their turn accused of having brought 
rdigion into contempt. It was not so: they 
reproached the vicious clergyman, but never religion 
itself, and if Chaucer ever espoused the cause of 
Wicklifte, it was certainly not for want of religion. 

They both loved learning and books, but their 
love of nature was stronger and more absorbing, 
so that their works remain fresh and green, and 
can still be not only read, but studied with 

They are botli the pioneers of a new language, 

— 69 — 

of a new literature, we could saj also of a new 
civilisation, and therefore tliej are full of natural 
inspirations. They copied directly from nature and 
put themselves between nature and the literary 
geniuses following them. 

They Avere both good writers in prose and 
poetry, but Boccaccio wrote better prose and Chaucer 
better poetry. They both had great power of satire 
and great influence not only on literature, but also 
on morality and they deserve fully the monument 
of immortality erected to them by the generations 
that followed them. 


Since the time of Chaucer tlie English have 
always come to Italy to study and admire our 
antiquities, our literature, architecture, music, 
sculpture and painting: they have always had great 
admiration for us. Also a few months ago an 
English paper, a supplement of The Times^ said 
that to be an artist it is necessary also iQ be a little 
Italian, and Lord Kitchener in Rome only last 
year said that an Englishman has always two 
countries: « Old England and Young Italy ». But 
while the English have introduced something Italian 
into their artistic works, they have also their 
peculiar qualities which we ourselves should know. 
Therefore we think we could reverse the sentence 
in The Times and say, that we cannot be true 
artists without being also a little English. Progress 
results from such intercourse of ideas, and we feel 
sure that in studying English literature we shall 
improve our own. 

^ OF THE \ 




Preface Pag. 1 

Introduction » 3 

Political events » 5 

General remarks on the English literature 

of the XIV century » 8 

The Roman de la Rose » 11 

Chaucer abroad » 15 

Italian intluetice » 17 

Rhyme royal » 22 

The Teseule » 29 

The Filostrato * . . . . » 36 

The Canterbury Tales » 45 

The Decameron » 50 

The Clerk's Tale » 58 

Boccaccio's Latin works » 62 

Dramatic power » 64 

Chaucer's influence » 65 

A Comparison » 67 

Conclusion » 70 


Mnniie Mn^^ 



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