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BOOKS ON CHAUCER 

CHAUCER'S POETICAL WORKS. With Poems for- 
merly printed with his or attributed to him. Edited, 
with a Memoir, Introduction, Notes, and a Glossary, 
by Robert Bell. Revised and improved edition, with a 
Preliminary Essay by Rev. Prof. Skeat, M.A. Wiih 
Portrait of Chaucer. 4 vols. 35-. 6d. each. 

Bonn's Standard Library, 

CHAUCER'S POETICAL WORKS. Edited with 
Memoir and Introductions by Dr. R. Morris. With 
Portrait. 6 vols. 2s. 6d. net each. A Mine Poets, 

THE AGE OF CHAUCER {1346- 1400). By F. J. Snell, 
M.A. With an Introduction by Professor Hales. Crown 
8vo, 35-. dd. Ha7idbooks of English Literature. 

"An eflfective, critical, and descriptive sketch that cannot but 
allure the intelhgent reader to make a more extensive acquaint- 
ance with the works of our earliest great literary artist. " — Literary 
World. 

SELECTIONS FROM CHAUCER. Edited by J. B. 
Bilderbeck, M.A., Professor of English Literature, 
Presidency College, Madras. Second edition, 2s. 6d. ; 
sewed, is. ^d. 

Contents : Seys and Alcyone — Parlement of Foules 
— Anelida and Arcite — Fortune — Former Age — Truth 
— Gentilesse — Lack of Stedfastness — Complaynt to his 
Purse. 

EARLY ENGLISH LITERATURE. By Bernard ten 
Brink. Vol. II. (Wyclif, Chaucer, Earliest Drama, 
Renaissance.) Translated by W. Clarke Robinson, 
Ph.D., formerly Lecturer in Durham University, &c. 
3j. 6c/. Bohn's Standard Library, 



LONDON; GEORGE BELL AND SONS, 
York House, Portugal Street, W.C. 



CHAUCER 



Miniature Series of Great Writers 

Edited by G. C. Williamson, Litt.D. 

Pott SvOf Illustrated^ to be had in cloth 
or limp leather, 

COLERI UGE. By Richard Garnett, C. B., LL.D. 

SHAKESPEARE. By Alfred Ewen. 

CHAUCER. By Rev. W. Tuckwell, M.A. 

DE quince Y. By Henry S. Salt. 

[/;? the Press. 
In Preparation. 

JOHNSON. By John Dennis. 

BROWNING. By Sir F. T. Marzials, C.B. 

MILTON. By G. C. Williamson, Litt.D. 

SIR WALTER SCOTT. By J. H. W. Laing, M.D. 

GOLDSMITH. By Ernest Laing Buckland, 
M.A. 

MACAULAY. By Richard Garnett, C.B.jLL.D. 



LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS. 




Walker &=> Cockerell photo.] 



\_Natio7ial Portrait Gallery. 



CHAUCER. 
From the Sloane Portrait. 



Short Monographs on Great Writers 



CHAUCER 

BY 

REV. W. TUCKWELL, M.A. 




LONDON 

G. BELL & SONS, LTD. 

1910 



T'ii 



If 10 

TABLE OF CONTENTS 

CHAP. PAGE 

I. Life of Chaucer 9 

II. Chaucer's Earlier Works ... 19 

Works of Period I, before 1373 . . 19 c 

Works of Period II, 1373 to 1384 . 26 ) 

Works of Period III, from 1385 . 37 

III. The Canterbury Tales .... 43 

IV. Guide to the Reading of Chaucer 78 

Bibliography 91 

Index 93 



261012 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



PAGE 



Portrait of Chaucer. From the Sloane 
Portrait. National Portrait Gallery 

Frontispiece 

Chaucer's Tomb in Westminster Abbey i6 

Portrait of Chaucer. From the miniature 

in Occleve's MS. in the British Museum 32 

The Scene of the Martyrdom, Canter- 
bury Cathedral 44 

The Tabard Inn. From an old water- 
colour 48 

The Canterbury Pilgrims. After Stot- 

hard. National Gallery 52 

Chaucer on Pilgrimage. From the Elles- 

mere MSS. Bridgewater House . . 58 

The Canterbury Pilgrims. After Blake. 

National Gallery 68 



GEOFFREY CHAUCER 

CHAPTER I 

LIFE OF CHAUCER 

THE second quarter of the fourteenth century 
was an epoch of notable men and a seed- 
time of great events. In Italy, Dante had not 
long been dead, Petrarch and Boccaccio were still 
singing, Giotto was painting still ; while at Rome 
the brief ascendency of Rienzi seemed for a 
moment to have revived the patriotic loftiness 
of its old Republic. In France, Froissart was 
training himself to chronicle the splendid page- 
ants of a Chivalry whose knell, though he knew 
it not, had already been sounded on the fields of 
Courtrai, Morgarten, and Cregy. The League of 
the Cantons was vindicating Swiss freedom by its 
repulse of the Austrian power, in the Flemish 
cities democratic supremacy had been established 
by the elder Artaveldt. In England, so long as 
good Queen Philippa lived, the rule of Edward III 
was well administered, his Court virtuous, the 
country prosperous and peaceful; while the growth 
of Trade-gilds in the town, and the rise of Free 
9 



, lo CHAUCER 

Labourers in the villages, not checked as yet by 
the ravages of the Black Death, proclaimed the 
golden age of English artisan and peasant. 

Meanwhile there were living in the City of 
London a certain John Chaucer and Agnes his 
wife. The name is old French Chaucter, a hosier 
or shoemaker; but the family seems to have come 
originally from East Anglia. Of this John Chaucer 
not much is known; he was born 131 2, married 
about 1329, died about 1366: his widow, a woman 
of substance, soon married again. He was by 
trade a vintner or wine merchant : his house and 
shop were in Upper Thames Street, just on the 
spot, we are told, where that still existing street 
is crossed by the South-Eastern Railway in its 
southward course from Cannon Street Station: 
and here, about 1340, was born his famous son, 
Geoffrey Chaucer. Of the boy's early years 
nothing has come down to us. We may, if we 
please, fancy him playing on the banks ofThames, 
at that time in many parts, up to the '^bricky 
towers " of the Temple, a meadow-bordered and 
unpolluted stream. 

Whose rutty banks, the which his river hems, 
Was painted all with variable flowers, 
And all the meads adorned with dainty gems, 
Fit to deck maidens' bowers. 

Nor do we know by what teachers was laid in 
those early years the foundation of his later mar- 
vellous erudition: from his laughing betrayal of 
trade secrets in the " Pardoneres Tale," the adul- 
teration, that is, by the vintners of light Gascon 



HIS LIFE II 

with strong Spanish wines, and from his know- 
ledge of 

The whyte wyn of Lepe, 
That is to selle in Fish-strete or in Chepe, 

and his warning against its consequences, we 
gather that he must have served sometimes in 
the paternal shop or cellar, and noted the Sot's 
Progress with outspoken yet humorous disgust. 
But the elder Chaucer had also some connec- 
tion with the Court, for we find him in attendance 
on the King and Queen when visiting Flanders 
in 1338; and this perhaps enabled him subse- 
quently to place his young son as page in the 
household of a royal prince. The King's third 
son, Lionel, had married Elizabeth, heiress to 
the two great families of de Clare and de Burgh ; 
and had been created in his wife's right Duke of 
Clarence, a title which on four subsequent occa- 
sions has decorated members of our royal family. 
A fragment of this great dame's household account 
book, luckily preserved on two parchment leaves, 
notes an outlay of seven shillings, about ;^5 of 
our money, on a paltock or doublet, red and 
black breeches, and a pair of shoes, for Geoffrey 
Chaucer, together with a donation of 2s. 6d. for 
necessaries. The sheet bears the date of 1357, 
when the page would have been about seventeen 
years old. Two years later he was present as a 
soldier in the English army which invaded France, 
and was taken prisoner; but liberated at the 
Peace of Bretigny, 1360, the King paying ;^i6 
towards his ransom. 



12 CHAUCER 

During the next six years we lose sight of him ; 
but he probably continued in the royal service, 
for in 1367 the King grants him a life pension of 
twenty marks (;^i3 6^. Sd.) "for present and 
former service," under the title of valet tus noster^ 
our valet, or perhaps yeoman of the palace. In 
1368, the Duke of Clarence died; but Chaucer 
found a patron and lasting friend in the prince's 
next brother, John of Gaunt ; the death of whose 
wife, Blanche of Lancaster, in 1369, he celebrated 
in his poem called the " Book of the Duchesse " : 

And gode faire whyte she hete [was named], 
That was my lady name right ; 
She was bothe fair and bright, 
She hadde not her name wrong. 

Between the years 1370 and 1380 he was em- 
ployed on various diplomatic missions; to Italy, 
to Flanders, to France; and we note his bearing 
now the higher rank of scutifer^ Esquire. His 
French embassy brought him into touch with 
Froissart, who records him as present with other 
Englishmen at Calais, to discuss with French 
ambassadors the terms of a treaty of peace. His 
visit to Italy, which lasted nearly twelve months, 
had a marked effect upon his genius, and is re- 
flected in his subsequent poems. It is probable 
that during this stay he visited Petrarch at Padua, 
and heard from his lips the Latin translation of 
Boccaccio's " Patient Griselda," which becomes 
in his great poem the " Clerkes Tale ": 

I wol you telle a tale which that I 
Lerned at Padowe of a worthy clerk, 
Fraunceys Petrark, the laureat poete. 



HIS LIFE 13 

He must have acquitted himself in these em- 
bassies to his master's satisfaction; for besides 
handsome money payments, he received succes- 
sively a daily pitcher of wine — predictive possibly 
of " the butt of sherry to make him merry " which 
formed a perquisite of later Laureates — a Con- 
troUership of Customs, a valuable Wardship, and 
a fine of j[^i i which had been escheated from 
some delinquent to the Crown. From John of 
Gaunt had also come in 1374 a life pension of 
;^io, for good services rendered to the duke by 
Geoffrey Chaucer "and his wife Philippa." The 
date of this marriage seems uncertain. We know 
that he had been at one time passionately in love 
with a lady who rejected him. The story is told 
in his earliest original poem, the "Compleynt 
unto Pite," 1367, and is reflected in the pathetic 
pictures of forlorn amorous wretchedness which 
animate his " Troilus and Criseyde." He aban- 
doned his suit as hopeless; "But that is doon," 
he says in his lines on Duchess Blanche; and even- 
tually consoled himself. It is conjectured that 
his wife may have been Philippa Roet, sister to 
Katharine Swynford, the mistress and afterwards 
the wife of John of Gaunt. This, if true, explains 
the constant favour shown to him by the Lan- 
castrian family. 

In 1377 Edward III died; but Chaucer was 
retained in the favour and employ of his suc- 
cessor, Richard II. He was sent again on an 
Italian mission to the Duke of Milan, whom he 
mentions in his " Monkes Tale " as 

Of Melan gieate Barnabe Viscounte, 



14 CHAUCER 

and received on his return yet further appoint- 
ments, which he was permitted to discharge by 
deputy; gaining thereby, as is supposed, leisure 
for the compilation of his "Canterbury Tales." 
This valuable boon is believed to have been 
due to the intercession on his behalf of Richard's ' 
first wife, good Queen Anne. In his Prologue to 
the "Legend of Good Women" the God of Love 
bids him dedicate to her his poem : 

And when this book is maad, give hit the Quene 
On my behalfe, at Eltham or at Shene. 

In 1386 he was elected a Knight of the Shire 
for Kent, and appears to have been living at a 
house in Greenwich, in whose garden was the 

Litel erber that I have, 
Y-beached newe vi^ith turves fresh y-grave, 

described in the same Prologue. 

But evil days were at hand. During the tem- 
porary ascendency of Humphry, Duke of Glou- 
cester, Chaucer was dismissed from his offices 
and reduced to comparative poverty, and in 1387 
he lost his wife. Two years later Gloucester's 
brief domination ceased, and the poet, with re- 
turning favour, was appointed Clerk of the Works 
at Windsor, where St. George's Chapel was rising. 
Soon afterwards we find him employed to put 
up scaffolding for a tournament in Smithfield, 
and further endowed with a money grant, a 
forestership, and a yearly tun of wine. Even so 
he seems not to have recovered from his former 
impoverishment, for in 1398 he is sued for a 



HIS LIFE 15 

debt, and on the accession of Henry IV in the 
following year he addresses to his old patron's 
son a short poem called a "Compleynt to his 
Empty Purs," bewailing his poverty : " I am shave 
as nye as any frere." The petition brought im- 
mediate relief; he was enabled to lease a house 
in Westminster; and there, in the year 1400, he 
died. He was buried in the Abbey, earliest of 
the great brotherhood who have given a name to 
Poet's Corner. Near him lie Francis Beaumont, 
Sir John Denham, John Dryden, Matthew Prior. 
No monument appears to have been erected to 
him at the time. 

Memory o'er his tomb no trophies raised. 

Caxton, his devout admirer and first printer of 
his works, set up a pillar near the spot, on which 
was graven an epitaph of thirty-four Latin lines. 
This has disappeared, as have some verses on a 
ledge of brass supposed to have been attached 
to the tomb. In 1556 another pious devotee, 
one Nicholas Brigham, constructed a monument 
of gray marble, still to be seen, on which, along 
with Chaucer's coat of arms and portrait, was 
the following inscription, now obliterated.- 

M. S. 

Qui fuit Anglorum vates ter maximus olim, 
Galfridus Chaucer, conditur hoc tumulo. 

Annum si quaeras domini, si tempora vitae, 
Ecce notse subsunt, quae tibi cuncta notant. 

25 Octobris 1400 
iErumnarum Requies Mors. 

N. Brigham hos fecit Musarum nomine sumptus. 
1556 



i6 CHAUCER <^ 

One son, Lewis, we know he had, " litel Lowis..^^^ 
my sone," for whom in 1391 he composed ay^ 
prose treatise on the Astrolabe, to be notice/a / 
later on. This boy probably died young. H^^is *S^ 
credited by some with the paternity of a certain ^ ^ 
Thomas Chaucer, who afterwards attained con- 
siderable note and wealth; but this is looked 
upon as unproven. His portrait by Occleve 
(reproduced in this volume) is very probably 
authentic. It agrees fairly with his supposed 
self-portraiture in the Host's introduction to the 
"Tale of Sir Thopas"; the face small, fair, 
smooth, but sly and elvish; eyes meditative and 
downcast, broad forehead, sensuous mouth, cor- 
pulent body. Some have thought, however, that 
he describes himself more faithfully as the 
Squire, in the Prologue to the "Canterbury 
Tales." The Clerke, they observe, is lean, and 
has only "twenty bokes," while in the Prologue to 
the " Legend of Good Women " we learn that 
Chaucer's library held "sixty bokes olde and 
newe." The Squire was twenty years of age, 
about Chaucer's time of life when he went to 
fight in France: he must have passed through 
"Flaundres, Artoys, Picardye," where he tells 
us that the Squire had served; the Squire's 
" hope to stonden in his lady grace " tallies with 
Chaucer's love affair; his readiness to " sing and 
fioyt " (flute), to " songes make and wel endyte," 
accords with Chaucer's early talent for poetical 
composition; while " wonderly deliver and greete 
of strengthe " suits a lively vigorous young man, 
not as yet grown quiet, thoughtful, and " a popet 




Bolas photo. ^ 

Chaucer's tomb in Westminster abbey. 



HIS LIFE 17 

in the waast." That both may be portraits of 
the outward man, say at twenty and at forty- 
seven years old, adds to the charm of both. Of 
his inward habit and temperament at about 
forty-three he tells us in the " Hous of Fame ": 

Thou goost hoom to thy hous anoon 
And also, domb as any stoon, 
Thou sittest at another boke 
Till fully daswed is thy loke, 
And livest thus as an hermyte, 
Although thyn abstinence is lyte [little]. 

That last Hne saves the situation. He is absorbed 
in books, but not sullenly recluse ; studious and 
ruminant in his chamber, yet festive and sociable 
in company; " one of those happy temperaments 
that could equally enjoy both halves of culture, 
the world of books and the world of men." 

In dealing with the stages of his recorded 
life, it has been the task of his accomplished 
chroniclers, from Tyrwhitt to Skeat, to disen- 
tangle veracious history from legend. That he 
was born in Oxfordshire, and studied at both 
Universities; that he was in his youth fined 
two shillings for beating a Franciscan friar in 
Fleet Street; held service in the household of 
Margaret, Countess of Pembroke; was a follower 
and disciple of Alan Chartier; that his domestic 
life was unhappy; that in his disgrace under 
Duke Humphry's displeasure he saved himself 
by betraying certain of his friends; that he 
became proprietor of Donnington Castle, near 
Newbury; wrote his "Canterbury Tales" at 
Woodstock; died in his seventy-second year; — 

B 



i8 CHAUCER 

are myths of the kind which spring up around 
and entwine all Memoirs since Biography began, 
and which historical criticism sets itself to expose 
and disallow. It may well be looked upon as 
fortunate that after a lapse of five centuries, and 
from an age unsystematic in recording facts no 
less than undiscerning in acceptance of testi- 
mony, students should have been now enabled to 
extricate, and to establish on the sure ground 
of history, so much of sequent and trustworthy 
in the life of our earliest and well-nigh our 
greatest poet, 

Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath 
Preluded those melodious bursts, that fill 

The spacious times of great Elizabeth 
With sounds that echo still. 



CHAPTER II 

Chaucer's earlier works 

THE accepted Works of Chaucer are divided 
into three periods : 

I. Before 1373: the poems either direct trans- 
lations from the French, or imitated from French 
models, Eustache Deschamps, Guillaume de 
Machault, and others. 

II. From 1373 to 1384. These, following on 
his visit to Italy, show the influence on his genius 
of Italian poetry. 

III. From 1385 to 1399. These are marked by 
greater originality and power than their prede- 
cessors. They include the " Legend of Good 
Women " and the " Canterbury Tales." 

WORKS OF PERIOD I, BEFORE 1373 

The first poem of this period is the Romaunt 
OF THE Rose, translated from the " Roman de 
la Rose," a piece highly esteemed by the French 
as their most valuable relic of ancient poetry. 
It was begun by Guillaume de Lorris, who died 
in 1260, and completed by Jean de Meun, who 
lived into the succeeding century. A magnificent 
19 



20 CHAUCER 

copy of the poem, exquisitely illustrated, is 
among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum j 
transcribed about the year 1480, says Dibdin, 
who has reproduced several of the illuminations. 
It is a love romance, the lady of the lover's quest 
being portrayed under the allegory of a Rose. 
Lorris treats it purely as a love poem, de Meun 
makes it a vehicle for powerful satires on the 
Church and on society. Only the first part of 
the translation is now ascribed to Chaucer : the 
work of de Meun, divided into two portions by 
a considerable gap, is rendered probably by two 
different hands. Professor Skeat ingeniously con- 
jectures that one of these portions may be by 
King James I of Scotland, whose " King's 
Quhair" shows him to have been acquainted with 
Chaucer's version. As to the other translator no 
guess, I believe, has been hazarded. 

The story is briefly as follows. The poet 
dreams that it is May morning, — it is always May 
with Chaucer; — the flowers are gleaming in the 
grass, the '* smalle briddes " warbling in the trees; 
he arises joyously to go forth. He finds a garden, 
on whose outer walls are painted evil QuaUties, 
as Hate, Vilanye, Pope-holy or Hypocrisy: he 
describes them with a force of allegory as new 
to English as to French literature. Admitted into 
the garden by Ydelnesse, he meets with Mirth, 
accompanied by Lady Gladnesse and Cupid, and 
pursues his way to a " Roser," in which an extra- 
ordinarily beautiful Knoppe, or half-opened Rose, 
becomes the object of his desires. As he gazes 
upon it, Cupid accosts him, and instructs him 



EARLIER WORKS 21 

in the arts of prosperous wooing; namely, to 
be virtuous in life, pure of speech, deferential, 
well-dressed, cleanly in person, accomplished in 
song and poetry, a dexterous horseman, open- 
handed; yet goes on to warn him of the pangs 
which must needs be the portion of a lover. 
There comes to him a kindly guide, named Bial- 
acoil, or Fair Reception, and admits him within 
the rosary, where he reverently kisses the Rose. 
But Daunger, its guardian, drives him out, and, 
at the instigation of Jelousy, shuts up Bialacoil in 
prison. Here de Lorris breaks off, and de Meun 
pursues the tale, submitting the lover to the 
counsels of Reason, which he rejects. A long 
gap in the translation follows, and on its resump- 
tion we have little more than a spirited descrip- 
tion of one Fals-semblaunt, leaving us uncertain 
both as to the fate of poor Bialacoil and the final 
issue of the lover's quest. That he did gather the 
Rose at last we know from the original. 

The whole poem, following the French, is 
written in the octosyllabic metre with four ac- 
cents, familiar to English readers in *' L' Allegro " 
and *^ II Penseroso " of Milton. I transcribe one 
or two short passages, both in French and English, 
from the part accepted as Chaucer's handiwork : 

Qu'on joli moys de May son- That it was May, thus dremed 

geoye, me, 

Ou temps amoureux plein de In tyme of love and jolitee, 

joye, 

Que toute chose si s'esgaye, That al thing ginneth waxen gay, 

Si qu'il n'y a buissons ne haye For ther is neither busk nor hay 

Qui en May parer ne se vueille, In May, that it nil shrouded been 

Et couvrir de nouvelle fueille : And it with newe leves wreen. 

Les boys recouvrent leur ver- These wodes eek recoveren 

dure, grene, 



22 



CHAUCER 



Qui sont sees tant qui I'hiver 

dure; 
La terre mesmes s'cn orgouille 

Pour la roug^e qui la mouille, 
En oublian la povrete 
Ou elle a tout I'hiver este. 



That drye in winter been to sene, 

And the erthe wexeth proud 

withalle 
For swote dewes that on it falle 
And al the pore estat forget 
In which that winter had it set. 



Here are some of the flowers in the garden: 



Violette y fut moult belle 
Et aussi parvenche nouvelle ; 

Fleurs y eut blanches et ver- 

meilles, 
On ne pourroit trouver pareilles, 

De toutes diverses couleurs, 

De haulx prix et de grans va- 

leurs, 
Si estoit soef flairans 

Et reflagrans et odorans. 



Ther sprang the violete al newe, 
And fresshe pervinke, riche of 

hewe, 
And flowres yelowe, whyte, and 

rede ; 
Swich plentee grew ther never in 

mede. 
Ful gay was al the ground, and 

queynt, 
And poudred, as men had it 

peynt, 
With many a fresshe and sondry 

flour 
That casten up ful good savour. 



Notice the ^ox^ pervinke^ periwinkle, from the 
Latin pcrvuicire^ to bind about the head as a 
coronet or garland. 

One more charming bit I must extract, the 
portrait of Beautee. 



Tendre eut la chair comnie 

rousde, 
Simple fut comma une espousee, 

Et blanch comme fleur de lis, 

Visage eut bel doulx et alis, 
Elle estoit gresle et align^e 
L'estoit fardie ne pignee 

Car elle n'avoit pas mestier 

De soy farder et affaictier. 

Les cheveulx ent blons et si long 

Qu'ils batoient aux talons. 



Her flesh was tendre as dewe of 

flour, 
Her chere was simple as byrde 

[bride] in hour, 
As vvhyt as lilie or rose in rys 

[on spray] 
Hlr face, gentil and trelys. 
Fetys she was, and small to see ; 
No windred [trimmed] browes 

hadde she, 
Ne popped [tricked out] hir, for 

It neded nought 
To windre hir, or to peynte hir 

ought. 
Hir tresses yelowe and longe 

straughten 
Unto hir heles doun they raugh- 

ten. 



EARLIER WORKS 



23 



/ 



The remaining fragments, both in French and 
English, are well worth reading. Such satire we 
shall not meet with again until Skelton, nor such 
allegory until the " Induction '' of Sackville; but 
the translation is not Chaucer's, and we pass it by. 

It will be well to mention next the short 
Minor Poems, which, though assigned to very 
different dates, we find printed together in the 
best modern editions. They are as follows. 

The Roman numerals appended show the 
periods to which they probably belong. 

The A. B. C. I. 

The Compleynt of Mars. II. 

A Compleynt to his Lady. I. 

Wordes unto Adam. II. 

The Former Age. 11. 

Fortune. II. 

Merciless Beautee. II. 

To Rosemounde. Uncertain. 

Truth. I. 

Gentilesse. Uncertain. 

Lak of Stedfastnesse. Uncertain. 

Lenvoy a Scogan. III. 

Lenvoy a Buxton. III. 

The Compleynt of Venus. III. 

The Compleynt to his Purs. III. 

Proverbs. Uncertain. 

Against Women Unconstant. Uncertain. 

An Amorous Compleynt. I. 

Balade of Compleynt. Uncertain. 

A few of these we may notice. The " A. B. C." 
is an acrostic prayer to the Virgin Mary trans- 



24 CHAUCER 

lated in the eight-line stanza from Guillaume de 
Deguilleville, a Cistercian monk. The " Com- 
pleynt unto Pite," the lament of one crossed in 
love to Pity, who being dead cannot hear him, is 
in Chaucer's favourite seven-Hne stanza, now for 
the first time found in English. The " Compleynt 
of Mars," when driven from the arms of Venus, 

^....^icontains a noticeable simile from the gentle art 
of angling, acquired, one likes to think, on the 

^""^anks of silver Thames, in the poet's boyhood; 
and is curiously filled with astronomical allusions. 
The " Wordes unto Adam " is a remonstrance 
with his scrivener or amanuensis for carelessness 
in copying his manuscripts : 



So ofte a daye I mot thy werk renewe 

Hit to correcte and eek to rubbe and scrape, 

And al is through thy negligence and rape [haste]. < 



The " Scogan " to whom a short poem is ad-^ * 
dressed was one Henry Scogan, tutor to the sons 
of Henry IV, and author of a ballad in which 
Chaucer is affectionately mentioned. We are 
entreated to observe that he was no^ the Scogan 
whose head Sir John Falstaff broke ("2 Henry 
IV,"iii. 2, 23); that he was the Skogan of whom 
in his " Masque of the P'ortunate Isles " Ben 
Jonson says that he was ^'a fine gentleman and 
a Master of Arts, of Henry the Fourth's time, 
that made disguises for the King's sons, and 
writ in Ballad royal daintily well." 

Of the rest no mention need here be made. 
We pass on to the Book of the Duchesse; an 
epitaphium, as he tells us in the " Legend of 
Good Women," on the Duchess Blanche Plan- 



EARLIER WORKS 25 

tagenet of Lancaster, wife to John of Gaunt, who 
died in the pestilence of 1369. Crossed in love, 
the poet cannot sleep : he take^ a book, and reads 
the tale of " Seys and Alcyoun," imitated here 
from his favourite Ovid. At last he drops off 
into a dream. It is a May morning: wakened, 
like Milton's joyous student, by singing birds 
and by the hunter's horn without, he rises to join 
the chase. Under a tree he finds a young gentle- 
man ** clothed al in blake," weeping bitterly for 
his lady dead. The poet tries to comfort the 
widower, who sadly tells the tale of his woo- 
ing, of the lady's refusal, her later relenting, his 
supreme wedded happiness^ his inconsolable be- 
reavement. Fortune, he says, challenged him to 
play at chess, 

Atte ches with me she gan to pleye: 

With her false draughtes divers 

She stal on me, and took my fers [queen] ; 

And when I saw my fers aweye, 

Alasl I couthe no lenger pleye, 

But seyde — farwel, swete, y-wis, 

And farwel al that ever ther is! 

Therwith Fortune seyde "Chek here! " 

And " Mate!" in mid pointe of the chekkere [board] 

With a poune [pawn] erraunt, alas ! 

Ful craftier to pleye she was 

Than Athalus, that made the game 

First of the ches: so was his name. 

There is much grace and deep feeling in the 
poem, and it exhibits the high pure estimate of 
" ladyhed " which his verse almost habitually 
maintains; but the lines are sometimes feeble 
and prosaic, the illustrations from Scripture and 



26 CHAUCER 

mythology tediously redundant : the poet's wings 
were not yet fully grown. I am sorry to add that 
the inconsolable widower married again in the 
following year. 

Referable to about the same date is the poem 
called Anelida and Arcite, taken, in part only 
he tells us, from the Latin poet Statius. The 
Arcite of this poem must not be confounded 
with Arcite of the '' Knightes Tale." It is brief 
and unfinished, the pathetic and moving record 
of a lady deserted by her husband. The mascu- 
line vice of inconstancy is quaintly put : 

Hit is kinde of [natural to] man 
Sith Lamek was, that is so longe agoon, 
To bee in love as fals as ever he can. 
He was the firste fader that began 
To loven two, and was in bigamye, 
And he found tentes first, but if men lye. 

WORKS OF PERIOD II, I373 TO I384 

The second period shows the influence upon 
Chaucer of Italian literature, as perceptible in 
the improved flow and more sustained sweetness 
of the verse. The Parlement of Foules is in 
his seven-line stanza; its opening fancy borrowed 
from Cicero's " Dream of Scipio," his description 
of Venus' Temple from " Teseide " of Boccaccio; 
the last part, as he tells us, from " Aleyn," Alanus 
de Insulis, or Alein Delille. The birds meet on 
Valentine Day to choose their mates; Dame Na- 
ture presides. She arranges them in four ranks: 

That is to sey, the foules of ravyne 

Were higest set ; and then the foules smalle 



EARLIER WORKS 27 

That eten as hem Nature wolde enclyne, 

As worms, or thing of which I telle no tale : 

But water foul sat lowest in the dale, 

And foul that liveth by seed sat on the grene, 

And that so fele [numerous] that wonder was to sene. 

In his enumeration of the birds, each with 
significant epithet; in the humorous parlance of 
"goos, cokkow, and doke/' we have Chaucer 
under a new aspect, emancipated at once from 
French influence, and from the bondage of trans- 
lation. Let me quote his list of forest trees : 

The bilder 00k, and eek the hardy asshe. 

The piler elm, the cofre unto careyne [coffin for a corpse]; 

The box tree piper, holm to whippes lasshe, 

The sayling fir, the cipres deth to pleyne. 

The olyve of pees, and eek the drunken vyne, 

The victor palm, the laurer to devyne; 

and compare with it Spenser's catalogue in the 
opening of the *^ Faery Queene ": 

The laurell, meed of mightie conquerours. 

And poets sage, the firre that weepeih still, 

The willow, worne of forlorn paramours. 

The eugh, obedient to the bender's will, 

The birch for shaites, the sallow for the mill. 

The mirrhe sweet bleeding in the bitter wound, 

The warlike beech, the ash for nothing ill. 

The fruitfuU olive, and the platane round, 

The carver holme, the maple seeldom inward sound. 

Not SO very much, as we shall observe later, 
had our English changed in the two centuries. 

In BoETHius, claimed as his own work by 
Chaucer in the " Legend of Good Women," — 
" He hath in prose translated Boece," — we have 
his first prose composition. Boethius, known as 



28 CHAUCER 

the last of the classic writers, was Senator and 
Consul under the reign of Theodoric, about a.d. 
500. Imprisoned and afterwards cruelly mur- 
dered by his jealous master, who expressed on his 
own deathbed deep repentance for the crime, he 
composed while expecting death his great work, 
" The Consolations of Philosophy," *' speaking 
from his prison," says Hallam, *' in the swan-like 
tones of dying eloquence." The treatise became, 
as it deserved to be, extraordinarily popular; re- 
appeared in French, Italian, Spanish, German, 
was amongst the books edited for his country- 
men by our King Alfred, was the one Latin 
piece which Chaucer cared to translate, and was 
versified a few years later by one John Walton, 
Canon of Oseney, with a high compliment to 
Chaucer's rendering: 

To Chaucer, that is floure of rethoryk 
In Englisshe tong, and excellent poete, 
This wot I wel, nothing may I do lyk 
Thogh so that I of makynge entyrmete. 

Its influence on Chaucer's later compositions 
is evident to every attentive reader, and is pointed 
out by Professor Skeat in an elaborate and in- 
teresting note. Its substance maybe shortly given. 
To the captive bew^ailing himself in his bonds 
comes Philosophy as a comforter. She reminds 
him of the blessings which still are his, and ex- 
horts to the tranquillity of soul which no tyrant 
can invade, "forthy no-thing is wreched but whan 
thou wenest it," — a sentiment to reappear some 
day in Montaigne and in " Hamlet." She bids him 
discern between the " fals welefulness" of riches, 



EARLIER WORKS 29 

birth, dignity, sensual pleasure, and the "true 
welefuhiess" which hes in resignation to the will 
of God. To the righteousness of God's will the 
sufferer demurs, pleading the prosperity of 
shrewes (bad men), the adversity which befalls 
the good; and so they gUde into the irrecon- 
cilableness of Predestination and Free Will, which 
even Dante failed to make illuminating; and, 
like the earliest recorded disputants on that in- 
soluble theme, find no end, in wandering mazes 
lost. Formidable in first appearance, the long 
treatise delightfully repays a careful reading. If 
the arguments are sometimes obsolete, the spi- 
rited prose sustains them. By its terse antithe- 
sis and quaint proverbial citations I am reminded 
frequently as I read of Lyly's "Euphues"; and 
I am sure that much of the matter might be in- 
tercalated without detection into the witty pious 
reasonings of Jeremy Taylor's " Holy Dying." 
It was a maxim with Macaulay that one should 
never praise an author without offering a speci- 
men of his wares; I extract a random but not 
untypical specimen: 

"For sum man hath grete richesses, but he is 
ashamed of his ungentel linage; and sum is re- 
nowned of noblesse of kinrede, but he is en- 
closed in so grete anguisshe of nede of thinges, 
that him were lever that he were unknowe. And 
sum man haboundeth both in richesse and no- 
blesse, but yit he bewaileth his chaste lyf, for he 
hath no wyf. And sum man is well and selily 
y-married, but he hath no children, and norissheth 
his richesses to the eyres [heirs] of strange folke. 



30 CHAUCER 

And sum man is gladed with children, but he 
wepeth ful sory for the trespas of his sone or of 
his doughter. And for this ther ne accordeth no 
wight Hghtly to the condicioun of his fortune; 
for alwey to every man ther is in somwhat that, 
unassayed, he ne wot nat; or elles he dredeth 
that he hath assayed." 

In the supremely beautiful poem called Troi- 
LUS AND Criseyde Chauccr is in part indebted 
to the "Filostrato" of Boccaccio: in part only, 
his English containing five thousand lines more 
than the Italian poem. 

That Chaucer should on two occasions call 
the original author ** LoUius " was long an in- 
soluble puzzle ; but is by Professor Skeat daringly 
supposed to arise from the poet's almost in- 
credible misconception of a well-known line in 
Horace, which led him to believe that Lollius 
was a historian of the Trojan war. The story is 
mediaeval, not borrowed at all from Homer, who 
just mentions Troilus and Pandarus, and knows 
nothing of the lady. Her name was probably 
taken by Boccaccio from a very different person, 
the "Chryseis" of "Iliad," i. 82. But Chaucer 
has changed the incidents and transposed the 
characters of Boccaccio, the Pandarus of the 
poem being his own creation. 

Troilus, son to King Priam, a proved soldier 
and a gallant gentleman, falls passionately in 
love with Criseyde, a beautiful young Trojan 
widow, and entreats the good offices of her uncle 
Pandarus. He, by practising on his niece's curi- 
osity, her pity, her hero-worship, induces her to 



EARLIER WORKS 31 

see and subsequently to listen to her lover, until 
in her own heart love springs up, and she 
avows it. 

And as the new abaysshed nightingale, 
That stinteth first whan she biginneth singe, 
Whan that she hereth any herde tale [talk], 
Or in the hegges any wight steringe [stirring], 
And after siker dooth her voys cut-ringe, 
Right so Criseyde, whan hir drede stente, 
Opned hir herte, and tolde him hir entente. 

She gives herself to her lover, and the en- 
amoured pair reap a brief harvest of rapturous 
mutual bliss. 

Noght nedeth it to yow, sin they ben met. 

To aske at me if that they blythe were ; 

For if it erst was wel, tho [then] was it bet 

A thousandfold, this nedeth not enquere ; 

A-gon was every sorwe and every fere, 

And bothe, y-wis, they hadde, and so they wende, 

As muche joye as herte may comprende. 

But she is compelled to leave Troy and join 
her father the prophet Calchas, who is sojourn- 
ing in the Grecian camp. With tears and oaths 
of fidelity the lovers part, she promising to re- 
turn, at any rate for a season, in ten days' time. 
Even before the appointed tryst, and then for 
many following days, Troilus expects her from 
the palace roof, visiting daily with sadly tender 
recollection each spot where they had met; her 
house now closed and empty, the temple in 
which he had watched her at her prayers, the 
hall in which unobserved he had seen her dance, 
the city gate which witnessed their farewell. 



32 CHAUCER 

Fro thennesforth he rydeth up and doun, 
And everything com him to remembraunce, 
As he rood forth by places of the toun, 
In whiche he whylom hadde al his plesaunce. 
** Lo, yond saugh I myn owene lady daunce; 
And in that temple, with hir eyen clere 
Me caughte first my righte lady dere. 

** And yonder have I herd ful lustily 

My dere herte laughe, and yonder pleye 

Saugh I hir ones eek ful blisfully. 

And yonder ones to me gan she seye 

* Now goode swete, love me wel, I preye.* 

And yon so goodly gan she me biholde 

That to the deeth myn herte is to hir holde. 

" And at that corner, in the yonder hous, 
Herde I myn alderlevest lady dere 
So wommanly, with voys melodious, 
Singen so wel, so goodly, and so clere, 
That in my soule yet me thinketh I here 
The blisful soun ; and, in that yonder place 
My lady first took me unto hir grace. " 

But days and weeks passed by, for she was 
faithless; had broken her vows to Troilus, and 
surrendered to an importunate Grecian suitor, 
Diomede. Troilus long struggles to disbelieve 
her treachery, until a piece of coat armour torn 
from Diomede in a skirmish is brought into 
Troy, and attached to it is a brooch which 
Troilus had given to his lady. Despairingly he 
seeks relief in the fury of the battlefield, and 
there after heroic deeds is slain. 

To English readers the story is known from 
Shakespeare. His view of it, in one of the less 
powerful of his plays, is comic : he creates, says 
Gervinus, an irony of the Trojan war. His 



Cf 8tn\ l)«y til itt« ^ |rc|l^ Rf<^tttf|c 
Y^ to ^ntte ^tt* nmi m wttanfcmuifc 

(0« tn^ ta ins «ti9c til v^f^lfti^ 

<I^^vi»v ^ ntt4^^ ^>et ^ (k>IWi 5 fen 

O; «tmuC4? 'if mm uk «f xt B«^ ' " 

OS/avi< ^«l^ |wc ^i^t^: I f^^i fp«fe{i t^***^^ 
'^ y^tfiW^ <^^ ^^^' *^«^^ ^t^ ^^ 




\H arleian Collectiott, British Museittn, 
CHAUCER. i 

From the Miniature in Occleve's " De Regimine Principis." ] 

(By permission of the Royal Society of Literature.) 



EARLIER WORKS 33 

Troilus is foolish, blind, credulous; his Cressid 
a transparent wanton; Pandarus what his name 
has come to imply, an adroit, worthless, lying 
go-between. Chaucer, animated by pungent per- 
sonal reminiscence, conceives the episode in 
passionate earnest: in Troilus is portrayed all 
that can illuminate constancy in love and heighten 
misery in betrayal: Pandarus, a sincere and de- 
voted friend to both, yet views the enamoured 
youth's ardour with a humorous cynical penetra- 
tion bordering on contempt, accepts the lady's 
treason as the badge of all her tribe. Even for 
false Criseyde Chaucer ventures some excuse, 
in the lonely helplessness which drove her to 
accept a powerful Greek protector. Her guilt, 
he admits, is too notorious, yet he will not cast 
a stone. 

Dull elf must he be, to quote Sir Walter Scott's 
anathema, whose heart is not deep stricken, his 
literary sense not thrilled, by this beautiful ro- 
mance. It brings out, for the first time, the 
strong dramatic element in Chaucer's genius; 
a fullness of characterization lightened by the 
delicate banter with which from time to time he 
"buttonholds" his readers, and claims the owner- 
ship of creation in the puppets which he has 
made to live and breathe and act before them. 
In felicitous elegance of phrase, in structural 
brightness, in laconic narrative, in perfected 
poetical form, he soars above predecessors and 
contemporaries, sparkles where Gower would be 
tedious, stands apart from Langland, as the re- 
fined adept in worldcraft differs from the un- 
c 



34 CHAUCER 

polished, harsh-spoken, caustic countryman. And 
yet observe how, like all the veritable Makers 
who have sublimed narrative into drama; like 
Shakespeare in " Lear," like Scott in "Lamnier- 
moor," he shows how, with all his genial appre- 
ciation of life's sunshine, he can sound at will 
its lowest depths of tragic possibilities, can weave 
the sorrow's crown of sorrow which Boethius 
and Dante discerned, and Tennyson was one day 
to commemorate: 

For of Fortunes sharp adversitee 
The worst kinde of infortune is this, 
A man to have been in prosperitee, 
And it remember when it passed is. 

The Hous of Fame, 1383, is a sweven or 
dream. Tired as a weary pilgrim, he tells us 
that he fell asleep, and fancied himself in a 
Temple of Glass, on whose walls was graven the 
story of Aeneas and Dido, which he paraphrases 
pretty closely from Virgil. Suddenly a huge 
eagle swooping down bears him up aloft as if 
he were a lark, telling him that Jove loves him 
for his poetry, and will reward him with a vision 
of the House of Fame. The Palace stood upon 
a steep rock of ice, on which were inscribed, 
though partly melted by the sun, all famous 
names in history. It was formed of beryl — a 
reminiscence of Ezekiel's vision — and within it 
sate Lady Fame upon a throne of carbuncle, 
while beside her were ranked the great writers of 
all time. The list is curious : there are Homer, 
Virgil, Ovid, Statius, Lucan, Claudian, Guido de 
Colonna, Dares, Dictys, Josephus, Geoffrey of 



EARLIER WORKS 35 

Monmouth, and the apocryphal LoUius. Crowds 
kneel before the goddess in prayer that their 
names may fly abroad: she sends for Aeolus, 
who brings a golden and a brazen trumpet, em- 
powered like Milton's massy keys to open and 
to shut; for the golden confers heaven-awarded 
praise, the brazen infamous obloquy. Thence 
the poet is borne to the House of Rumour, con- 
structed like a vast cage of twigs and ever turn- 
ing round : into it pours the Chatter of all human- 
ity in mingled truth and lies : — but here the tale 
breaks off unfinished. The poem was imitated 
by Lydgate, Gawain Douglas, Skelton; imitated, 
and it must be owned spoiled, by Pope, for he 
disguised in a medley of Egyptian, Grecian, 
Eastern architecture Chaucer's palace, whose 
babewinnes (baboons), pinnacles, and painted 
windows, kervinges, corbels, and imageries, re- 
flected the Gothic edifices then at their highest 
splendour in every cathedral town of England; 
and stiffened the fantastic inconsequence of a 
dream into the polite and literal correctness of 
eighteenth-century convention. Chaucer falls 
back in this poem on the rimed four-accent octo- 
syllable which he employed in the "Romaunt of 
the Rose" and the "Book of the Duchesse." 
Here too, in more than any of his poems, we 
trace the influence of the " Divina Commedia." 
Both are dreams, both dreamers are careful to 
fix the day on which they fell entranced; Dante 
on Good Friday, 1300, Chaucer on December 
loth, 1383: in both we have the story of Phae- 
thon: Chaucer's rock of ice recalls the steep 



36 CHAUCER 

rock in Canto III of the "Purgatorio": the des- 
cent of his eagle is closely imitated from the same 
poem: his short invocation opening Book II, his 
long address to Apollo in Book III, are almost 
word for word from the ItaHan poet. Let us 
sample the verse with the descent and rise of the 
eagle : 

This egle, of which I have yow told 

That shoon with fethres as of gold, 

Which that so hye gan to sore, 

I gan beholde more and more, 

To see hir beautee and the wonder. 

But never was ther dint of thondre, 

Ne that thing that men call foudre {fulgur, lightning] 

That smoot somtyme a tour to poudre, 

And in his swifte coming brende [burned up] 

That so swythe [quickly] gan descende, 

As this foul, whan hit behelde 

That I a-roume [roaming] was in the felde : 

And with his grimme pawes stronge 

Within his sharpe nayles longe 

Me, fleinge, at a swappe he hente, 

And with his sours [soaring] agayn up wente, 

Me caryinge in his clawes starke 

As lightly as I were a larke, 

How high, I cannot telle yow. 

For I cam up, I niste how, 

For so astonied and a-sweved [dazed] 

Was every vertu in my heved, 

What with his sours and with my drede, 

That al my feling gan to dede, 

For-why hit was to grete affray. 

We shall notice what is perhaps the earliest 
mention of the newly invented cannon, used first, 
it is said, at Crecy in 1346: 

As swift as pelet out of gonne, 
Whan fyr is in the poudre ronne 



EARLIER WORKS 37 

though a few lines later he falls back on the 
more ordinary balista: 

And the noyse which that I herde 

For al the world right so it ferde [behaved] 

As doth the routing of the stoon, 

That from th' engyn is leten goon. 



WORKS OF PERIOD III, FROM 1 385 

Poets for the most part attain their prime of 
power in early life, recovering in later years, 
momentarily or not at all, the careless rapture 
of their youth. Wordsworth's inspiration failed, 
though his fecundity increased, about ten years 
after publication of the " Lyrical Ballads"; Cole- 
ridge's wing drooped earlier still; Scott ceased to 
be " the English ballad-singer's joy" with "Roke- 
by," only eight years after his first great poem 
appeared ; FitzGerald disparaged all Tennyson's 
poetryfrom the "Princess" onwards; but Chaucer 
kept the good wine until his readers had well 
drunk, producing his best work after the age of 
forty-three or four: and this third period of his 
creativeness opens with the Legend of Good 
Women. From its dedication to Anne of Bo- 
hemia, wedded to Richard II in 1382, it is in or 
subsequent to that year, and there are reasons for 
assigning it to 1385. It is in some sort a re- 
hearsal of his greatest and latest poem, contain- 
ing like that a Prologue and a series of Tales, 
and written like that, but now for the first time, 
in the metre, new to English poetry, known ever 
since as the "heroic couplet." Of the Prologue 



38 CHAUCER 

there are two texts, instructive to Chaucerian 
scholars, perplexing to the general reader, who 
had better confine himself to one of them. Both 
open with his rhapsody on the Daisy, cited often 
by those to whom the rest of his pages are un- 
familiar, none the less citable here. At day- 
break in the month of May he goes out to watch 
his beloved flower open; 

And down on knees anon-right I me sette 
And, as I coude, this fresshe flour I grette, 
Kneling alwey til hit unclosed was, 
Upon the smale softe swote gras, 
That was with floures swote embrouded al. 

Night draws on, the flov/er closes up, he falls 
asleep and dreams. He sees the God of Love 
arrayed in royal robes and with face of dazzling 
beauty, who leads by the hand the Queen Alceste 
of Grecian tragedy, herself resembling a daisy 
in her costume of white and green and gold. A 
crowd of courtier ladies follow them; for the 
pair symbolize Richard and his Queen. They 
pause before the Daisy, which has transferred 
itself into the poet's dream. 

Now whether was that a wonder thing or noon, 
That, right anoon as that they gonne espye 
This flour, which that I clepe the dayesye, 
Full sodeinly they stinten alle at-ones. 
And kneled adoun, as it were for the nones. 
And after that they wenten in compas, 
Daunsinge about this flour an esy pas. 
And songen, as it were in carole-wyse, 
This balade, which that I shal yow devyse. 

They sing a dainty ballad in praise of Al- 
ceste, during which the god spies Chaucer, looks 



EARLIER WORKS 39 

sternly upon him, and arraigns him presently for 
his scandalous presentment of Criseyde's frailty, 
asking if the " sixty bokes olde and newe " in 
his Hbrary might not have furnished him with a 
hundred good women against one bad. But the 
Queen takes his part and wins his pardon, and 
the pacified deity bids him make amends by eu- 
logizing good women, and desires him to begin 
with Cleopatra. So we pass from the Prologue 
to the poem. He tells of Cleopatra's passion 
and her death ; his spirited description of Actium 
is supposed to reproduce the naval fight at Sluys 
in 1340: observe the use of " he " and *^ he " for 
*'one" and "another": 

With grisly soun out goth the grete gonne, 

And heterly [fiercely] they hurtlen al at ones, 

And fro the top doun cometh the grete stones. 

In goth the grapenel so ful of crokes 

Among the ropes and the shering-hokes. 

In with the polax presseth he and he ; 

Behind the mast beginneth he to flee 

And out agayn, and driveth him over-borde ; 

He stingeth him upon his speres orde [point] ; 

He rent the sail with hokes lyke a sythe ; 

He bringeth the cuppe, and biddeth hem be blythe ; 

He poureth pesen upon the hacches slider [slippery], 

With pottes ful of lym they goon togider ; 

And thus the longe day in fight they spende, 

Till, at the last, as everything hath ende, 

Antony is spent, and put him to the flighte, 

And al his folk to-go, that best go mighte. 

Then follow tales of Thisbe, Dido, Hypsipile 
and Medea, Lucretia, Ariadne, Philomela, Phyl- 
lis, Hypermnestra, taken chiefly from Ovid, and 
the last unfinished. It is observable that the 



40 CHAUCER 

Prologue to the " Man of Lawes Tale," quoting 
this poem as Chaucer's under the title of the 
*' Seintes Legende of Cupyde," omits two of the 
ladies, Cleopatra and Philomela, and enumerates 
eight others, not found in the Legend as we have 
it. It would seem that Chaucer's plan was to 
write of nineteen women who were martyrs to 
love, and to conclude with his ideal woman Al- 
ceste. Ten of these he executed; the others 
have either been lost or were more probably 
never written. The reader will notice the pretty 
little balled " Hyd Absolon," the happy saying 
borrowed from Dante, "Envye is lavender of 
the Court alwey " — general washer in public of 
dirty linen, — and modest Lucretia gathering her 
clothes around her as she fell : 

For in her falling yet she hadde care 
Lest that her feet or swiche thing lay bare, 
So wel she loved clennesse and eek trouthe. 

In this Poem Chaucer ascends to greater 
heights than he has hitherto attained. Read the 
lines in which Tennyson commemorates it, and 
understand from him the mood into which su- 
preme poetry should transport us. 

One unfinished prose composition belongs to 
these years, the Treatise on the Astrolabe, an 
instrument then in use, superseded later by the 
quadrant and the sextant, for determining the 
altitude of the sun or other heavenly body. We 
all remember the story told by the Tailor to the 
Sultan in the *' Arabian Nights," in which the 
Barber rushes out from his half-shaved customer 



EARLIER WORKS 41 

to prove by his astrolabe the conjunction of 
Mercury with Mars, a phenomenon apparently 
lending itself to tonsorial aptitudes. Chaucer 
presents the instrument, in the year 1391 he tells 
us, to "litel Lowis my sone," then a boy ten 
years old. In composing this manual for his use 
he has availed himself of a Latin treatise by an 
Arabian astronomer; but writes it in English, 
"for Latin ne canstow yit but smal, my lyte 
sone." His first chapter describes the instrument, 
his second gives instructions for using it. There 
should follow Tables of Astronomical Compu- 
tation, but these are lost. In a fragment which 
remains are rules for measuring the height of a 
tower. The instrument is still used in the East; 
specimens are preserved as curiosities in college 
libraries at Oxford and Cambridge: for those 
interested in its structure finely executed plates 
are given in Professor Skeat's third volume. 
Glancing through the pages of the treatise, we ' 
may envy the ^* litel sone " his tutor; for the rules 
are transparently clear, emphasized from time to 
time by " forget nat this," or " lo here the figure "; 
enlivened by aphorisms such as that "diverse 
paths leden diverse folk the righte wey to Rome"; 
or by a sententious reminder that in reforming the 
Calendar Julius Caesar did not reform the habits 
of the sun. Nor would the young learner fail to 
be diverted by his father's explanation of the 
" bestes " which form the zodiac signs, or by his 
belief, expressed later, we may remember, by Sir 
Andrew Aguecheek, that by each sign is governed 
and affected some part of the human body, " as 



42 CHAUCER 

Aries hath thy heved, Taurus thy nekke and thy 
throte, Gemini thyn armholes and thyn armes." 
The " Canterbury Tales," though still belong- 
ing to this Third Period, will form the subject of 
a special chapter. Let us recapitulate those which 
we have examined: 

(Romaunt of the Rose. 
Minor Poems (many of later date). 
Book of the Duchesse. 
Anelida and Arcite. 
(Parlement of Foules. 
Boethius. 
Troilus and Criseyde. 
Hous of Fame. 
PprmH TTT i Legend of Good Women, 
rerioa iii. ^ Treatise on the Astrolabe. 



CHAPTER III 

THE CANTERBURY TALES 

THE "Canterbury Tales " exhibit at once the 
high-water mark of Chaucer's genius and 
the b irth of our national po etry. Now for the 
first time the confusion of local dialects, and so 
of separate literatures, gave place to a gram- 
matical structure nnivprq^lly approv ed as typ ical 
E nglish, and to a poetic style determining a 
standard of literary excellence. Chaucer's mastery 
of language ^nHljpYfprify in ]- hvthrn and metre, 
the music of his rippling verse, h T^ijtresh^fiirn*- ^ 
^^^^^\^, "^ rjirfinn^ hj^raphir tonrh of pn^rait- 
ure7his identification with the spirit of his age, 
Eis^revelation of the marvels latent in common 
sights and sounds, his passionate love of Nature, 
the power which he shared with Homer in an 
earlier, with Wordsworth in a later age, of re- 
viving youthful sentiment in natures hardened, 
worn, benumbed ; of shedding 

On spirits dried up and closely furled 
The freshness of the early world, 

lifted him at once to the lofty pedestal on which 
the homage of successive ages has maintained 
him ever smce. It is this fresh, healthy, un- 

43 



44 CHAUCER 

conscio u^oy in things around h im, this receptive 
equanimity, this ycquiescing discernment of 
and dehght in thins^s a s they are, which mark 
him- Oft' Iroill hly Contemporaries; from the 
greatest amongst them, Langland, most of all. 
Our eyes borrow from our hearts the hues in 
which things around appear to them'; while 
Langland's sombre temperament impelled him 
to ignore all except the tragical aspects of human- 
ity, and so to play, as says John Bunyan, only 
on the bass string of poetry, Chaucer's ear was 
ever vibratory, his pen responsive ever, to the 
lighter tones of adventure and of character, which 
relieve the gloom of life. He saw it, with Dante, 
as a pilgrimage; but while the great Italian's 
eyes were fixed always on the triple avenue of 
its awful goal, Chaucer gave himself to enjoy and 
to commemorate the freaks of character or of 
costume shown to him by the pilgrims as they 
' passed. 

The device of "end-linking" together a series 
of tales by a framework of incident or dialogue 
is very ancient. It occurs, earliest perhaps of all, 
in the Indiaji fables of Bidpai orPilpay, quoted 
by Elia in liis ti^yuy 6n '' Ihe iVedding." Such 
again are the "Tales of the Seven Counsellors," 
such the "Arabian Nights"; such the- *^JD^ 
can ie ron " of Boccaccio, the " Heptameron " of 
MaTgaret of Navarre; such finally the " Canter- 
bury Tales." 

Chaucer's literary path was paved with unful- 
filled intentions; like many a later bard he early 
conceived the idea of composing a great and 




Photochrome Co. photo.] 



THE SCENE OF THE MARTYRDOM IN 
CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL. 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 45 

monumental poem. More than once he at- 
tempted it; but through weariness, or fastidious 
dissatisfaction, or the intrusion into his imagina- 
tic«> of '^ more tempting scheme, he left his 
efforts fragmentary. The "Romaunt of the 
Rose^^ in his youth, the! '*T.^( j; end of Good 
Wo men ^ ^jaJxis-a mturity, s ^f^m to sh<^w the s^m e 
co nceived hut abandoned s nhintpr)|;j on ; it to ok 
s hape finally, thoug:h still imperfectly, in 4h e 
^^C anterbury Ta les/' Incomplete they are as we 
possess them, but the Prologue reyeals their plan ; 
we can trace in the Tales themselves his partial 
carrying out, his limited revisals, his very exten- 
sive abandonment, of the original design, through 
native laziness, or distraction of other work, or 
the clutch of disqualifying old age. 

Religious pilgrimage to what Chaucer calls 
" feme halwes," distant spots made sacred by the 
lives or martyrdoms of holy men, have formed 
part of the Jewish, Hindu, Mohammedan, 
Christian systems. Even in the present century 
these migrations are not unknown; in the middle 
ages they were acts of faith to be performed, if 
possible, by every believer; and from the death 
of Becket in 1 1 70 until the spoliation of his tomb 
three hundred and fifty years later the scene of 
his murder in the cathedral at Canterbury was a 
loadstone which drew worshippers annually from 
all parts of England : 

And specially, from every shires ende 

Of Englelond, to Canterbury they wende, 

The holy blisful martir for to seke, 

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seke. 



46 



CHAUCER 



In the England of the fourteenth century, as in 
the Palestine of our Lord's childhood, devotees 
travelled mostly in caravans or companies, com- 
prising men and women gentle or simple, rich or 
poor, equalized for the time by a common religious 
purpose. In this custom Chaucer saw his chance : 
not otherwise could he have brought together 
and painted on a single canvas the many types 
of English society; knight, squire, and yeoman, 
priest and nun and friar, matron, scholar, mer- 
chant, labourer, wit h all of whom his many-sid ed 
life had br ought him in to frequent tou gji^ and 
w hornlT^lcnew himseit well able top ortrav* The 
party is supposed to assemble at the Tabard Inn 
in Southwark. Chaucer gives them as twenty- 
nine in number, 

Wei nyne and twen ty in a companye, 

himself apparently included. He enumerates 
them as follows : 



1. The Knight. 

2. The Squyer. 

3. Their Yeman. 

4. The Prioresse. 

5. The Second Nonne. 

6. 7, 8. The three Preestes. 
9. The Monke. 

10. The Frere. 

11. The Marchaunt. 

12. The Gierke. 

13. The Man of Lawe. 

14. The Frankeleyne. W 

15. The Haberdassher. 

16. The Carpenter. 

17. The Webbe (Weaver). 



18. The Dyer. 

19. The Tapiser. 

20. The Coke. 

21. The Shipman. 

22. The Doctour. 

23. The Wyf of Bathe. 

24. The Persoun. 

25. The Plowman. . 

26. The Miller. 

27. The Manciple. 

28. The Reve. 

29. The Somnour (Sum- 

moner). 

30. The Pardoner. 

31. Chaucer himself. 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 47 

This gives us thirty-one; but the three Preestes 
in line 163, of whom we hear nothing more, are 
beheved to be an interpolation. One Freest we 
know there was, for he relates a tale : by striking 
out the other two as spurious we revert to the 
twenty-nine. To these, on the journey (line 
16022, etc.), is added the Chanon's Yeman, who 
overtakes them. T he Host of the Tabard — his 
name is given as Harry^ailly in the "Coke's 
Prologue" — is accepted as'leader of the party: 
he proposes that each pilgrim should tell two 
tales as they ride to Canterbury, two more on 
the return journey, and to this they all agree. 
This would make one hundred and sixteen tales 
in all: in fact we have only twenty-four; Chaucer 
alone telling two, seven of the pilgrims telling 
none : and of the homeward journey we hear no- 
thing. We learn from the text that the Knightes 
Tale came first in order, the Persoun's last, re- 
lated just before the journey's end, 

Whan every man, save thow, has told his tale. 

And further, some of the Tales, as the Coke's, 
Squyer's, Monke 's, are unfinished; leaving itevI3- 
enTTtlat the w hole poem is fragmentarv. man y 
pa rts being unwritten or lo st It is evident, I say, 
now: but it was not perceived by any one till 
Henry Bradshaw pointed it out. He broke up 
the whole into twelve groups of Tales, divined 
their order, connected them where possible by 
"end-links," and brought them into harmony 
with the exigencies of a four days' travel, the 
period demanded at that time for a journey from 



48 CHAUCER 

London to Canterbury. His conclusions, slightly 
modified, stand as follows in the judgement of 
recent critics, of Professor Skeat and Mr. Furni- ' 
vail in England, of Professor ten Brink in Ger- 
many, Professor Child in America. The pilgrims 
start from the Tabard on April 1 7th: since in 
the second day's travel the Host 

Wiste it was the eightetethe day 
Of April, that is messager to May. 

By the lynx eyes of commentators the year is 

discovered to have been 158^, the day of the 

week a Tuesday. 

Then we have their itinerary thus : 

Tuesday, April i 7TH. They leave London, pass 
Deptford and Greenwich, and probably sleep 
at Dartford. The Tales told are classified as 
Group A; the Knightes, Miller's, Reve's, 
Coke's, this last being unfinished; and then 
ensues a gap in the narrative. 

Wednesday, iSth. They reach Rochester (line 
31 16), and probably halt there for the night. 
The Tales told fall into Group B; the Man 
of Lawe's, Shipman's, Prioresse's, Chaucer's 
own two Tales, the Monke's, Nonne's Preest's. 
Then comes another gap. 

Thursday, 19TH. They appear to reach and 
halt at Ospringe, near Sittingbourne. The 
Tales told are Group C, by the Doctour and 
Pardoner, with a gap. Then Group D, by the 
Wyf of Bathe, Frere, Sompnour, with another 
gap. Then Group E, by the Gierke and Mar- 
chaunt, these also followed by a gap. 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 49 

Friday, 2oth. On this fourth day they arrive at 
Canterbury; the Tales being Group F, the 
Squyer's and Frankeleyne's, with a gap; Group 
G, the Second Nonne's and Chanon's Yeman's, 
with a gap; Group H, the Manciple's, with a 
gap; Group I, the Persoun's, which he began 
at 4 p.m., and which closed the list. From 
this classification is excluded the Plowman's 
Tale, printed in many of the editions, but 
avowedly by the author of " Piers the Plow- 
man's Crede." 

T hus much for the p lan ; a great improvement, 
let us observe, upon iibccaccio's; since while the 
Italian characters were all of the same age and 
rank, with some consequent sameness in the 
Tales, rhnnrpr'.^ arp takpn niit of r^j Qry class i n 
English UTe, from the Plowman who swmked 
up0n the'tand to the verray parfit gentil knight 
who had fought in fifteen battles, earning in each 
sovereyn prys and great renown. S cope is thus 
gi ven for wide variety of han r HJ^gj w^ilf^ tbfr 

ppr^nnal pqi]f^]ity of fhp artnr^ ig mainfainP^^ by i 

J c ommon religious motive in the pilgrimage, their. 

4^ c amaraderie by the cheery despotism ot tne £ ver 

^^r ompt ana aommant, yet tacttujfand facile hosL. 

1 suppose tnat the attentive reader of this won- 

derful Prologue is made first of all to feel himself 

in presence of the most perfect story-teller in all 

literature. Tnfn Iprq than ,^pyf^n ^i^rirlr^r^ lines 

ar e^compressed the descriptions of twenty -one 

persons^ eac h wideiv cimerent trom tjie rest "e ach 

t5^11 time typ ical of a class, yet all so graphically 

antHtrdividually painted ; their persons, dress, 

J) 



50 CHAUCER 

equipage, way of life, tricks of manner, even 
moral characters, hit off by touches so slight yet 
so illuminating that, in the words of Dryden, we 
see every one of them as distinctly as if we had 
sat with them at supper. In a single line, some- 
times even by a single word, the versimilitude is 
ineffaceably fixed. W e are bidden to note th e 
I Kn ight's bismotered gipoun (armour-soiled cas- 
sock) ; tne y eman's pecok arwes, c ropped head , 
*^ br own fade ; the Sqmre^s curly locks, gay tlow^ - 
einbro iaered trappinp^s, short long:-sleeved gow n. 
^*Jntl3 the sketch of pretty, pious Madame Eglen- 
1 tyne, a whole biography is compressed; her mild 
/ oath by St. Eloy, her sweet voice in singing at 
< ' the service divyne, her French, pure and fetis but 
smacking of her Stratford convent, her delicate 
feeding at table, noticeable in an age when forks 
were not, the tenderness that wept over a trapped 
I mouse or a beaten hound, her modest pleated 
\ collar setting off the well-shaped nose, gray eyes, 
1 small rosy mouth, white broad forehead, even to 
j her rosary of green and coral beads, and the gold 
I brooch, bearing, though with a very different sig- 
Hiificance, poor Hester Prynne's fantastic letter. ^ A 
At once minute and bewitching, a pre-Raphaelite 
might limn from it a portrait, an anchorite own 
its charm. Aft er her rides the jolly? worldly, welL 
m ounted M oillcfthe bells on his bridle jmgling, 
witL costly^euves (Jf rich gray fur, and an elab- 
orate gold pin which confines his hood; hi^^bald 
head that shoon as any glas, bright^jparkling 
eyeg ^rm ai ' t b oo ts of soft ol o Se^ftTngleather. The 
bolQ licentious Friar, strong, white-necked, with . 



9 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 51 

cape of double wo rsted, fashionable l isp, tippet 
stuned ydth knives tor pretty women, as mission - 
arieF^rry beads to savages, beguiles the ride 
witlTstrtnged instrument and "mery note," skilled 
in both alike, as Melpomene in Horace's Ode to 
Virgil. T he Merchant is mark ed by forked beard, 
motley dress^ in landers Deaver h at;The_scholar by C^ 
le aTrlT^rse, threadbare cloak,'sententious brevit y 7 
in speech ; the Lawyer's homely robe is b ound ^^ 
wit h_a barred silk girdle, his tongue aboun ding ^ 
in legal pedantries, 

Nowher so bisy a man as he there nas, 
And yet he semed bisier than he was. 



1 



Note that rogui sh aside^ and Jook out for many 
more^Sfttfe-'g^rTTie s'ort. In TE?^icE^T^anl^T u>;^^r 
coifatrygennema nTthe St. Julian or pro xenus of 
his neigh bournoodj ^his doors al w ays oppn, h.J'^ 
hall lable klways spread, we recognize a Sir Roger 
de Coverley of the fourteenth century. T {ie five_ 
tradesmenkeep together, weari ng the livery of /^ 
the ir gild. tli^Tr-sUVc^r-handled daggers showing 
th em well-to-d o. Th e hardy, conscienceles s, /--, 
we ather-beaten skipper,' mounted upon a^ou ncv ^ 
(Rozinante or interior hack), rides badly, as a 
sailor would, his gown of falding oTfrieze flowing 
down over his knee; bu t no one wil_l_ _sjnik at a 
m an who in fig j^^ ^^p ^n t^^^%^ g^nsl >a4-Hnpid^ 
mai aY ^ beatenfbreigner to walk the plank. The 
Physician is a dandy, wears silken robe of red 
and blue, is learned in medical text-books, treats 
his patients by astral conjunctions and natural 



52 ' CHAUCER 

magic; "his studie was but litel on the Bible" 
is the sly parenthesis. 

With saucy appreciation he portrays the Wife 
of Bath. Bold- faced and frolicsome she sits heiL 
a mbling; nag; astride no d oubt, for good Queen 
Aiine's side-saddles were slow to gain plebeian 
approval; her comel y limbs encased jn ^ scarlet 
hose, *^ ful streite y-teyd,^' like those of Herodias' 
dscughter in the Lincoln Cathedral window; a 
pair of spurs upon her feet, t he teeth in her bo ld 
m outh set far apart, a sign in" those days Q t good 
fo rtune and perha ps ot something else ; the many- 
folded, tinely textured kerchiei on her head sur- 
mounted by a hat " as brood as is a bokeler or 
a targe"; he r masterful character hit off by the 
sta tement that in cnurcn at nome, whea tne 
wo men carried their otterings to the alt ar, she 
ever took priority of them all, as the squire's 
wife in a country church to-day precedes her 
fellow-sinners in the procession to the commun- 
ion table. The Park}] PHpst ic; Hrawn with a 
tender loving han d. Poor in purse, rich in holy 
thtTught s and works, iearnea, gni gent in Jiis 
parl^ Jbountiful out ot his penurv "a shenhfij-de 
an d"liormercer ian>, InnK-sufferinp^ towards evil- 
doers, yet knowing how to rebuke, ' 

Christes lore and his apostles twelve 

He taughte, and first he folwed it himselve. 

Do we not catch an echo of this in Goldsmith's 
Vicar? yet more distinct in his village preacher. 
He too shunned promotion, relieved the wretched 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 53 

out of his poor forty pounds a year, could pity, 
yet could chide: 

He tried each art, reproved each dull delay, 
Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way. 

T he slender, ch oleric, clean-shaven Reve rides 
las t of the company on lil^ dapple gray c ob,"the 
Millerjvvith his bagpipe ana coarse, repulsive, evil / ^ 
fa cepr ecfed es ' . Note t66, ^ilh all this unsp kr- ^~ 



d 




selfish, wicked monks and friars nave tneir human 
reconcilable side; the bl oated. hvDOcriticaL ma- 
lic ious Summoner is a cheery comrad e j " a beter 
felaw sholde men noght fynde"; even the yet 
more odious Pardoner, in whose portraiture 
breaks out the Teutonic disgust against the sale 
of indulgences which a century and a half later 
was to transform the pious monk of Wittenberg 
into an iconoclast, could read, sing, preach 
valiantly in church; the foul-mouthed Miller 
" hadde a thombe of gold "; t he crafty Merchant 
is a " worthy man withal ": the silent Uxtord 
sCTTolar'ssparing talk was ever sowning in (tend- 
ing towards) moral vertu. 

Nor can we fail, I think, to observe the large 
catholicity of his portraits; each a type c on- 
te mporary with time, not a transcript from^ a 
si ngle, century; their traits essential, not pro- 
vi ncial or temp orary^ or rflsnfl l. Hew ot thp great 
character painters in literature attain, as did 
Chaucer^ as did Shakespeare, this universality of 



54 CHAUCER 

presentment. Recall from later-born romance 
the figures by which our memories are peopled ; 
Lovelace, and Parson Adams, and Mrs. Primrose, 
and Uncle Toby, and the Baron of Bradwardine, 
and Mrs. Nickleby, and Foker, and Jane Eyre, 
and Mrs. Poyser— the Hst might lengthen to the 
crack of doom — some are avowedly eccentric, all 
individual and special, all dependent on their 
setting, not to be detached as broadly suitable 
to any circumstance, time, place. Jane Austen's 
creations indeed are typical; Anne Elliott and 
Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennett will 
belong to the close of the thirtieth as to the 
opening of the nineteenth century; but to each 
of them a volume was given, while the Prioress 
and the Franklin and the Wife of Bath were 
forged within the limits of less than forty lines 
apiece. 

-. An d then, ^f ^pr rprngniying ^i-^/j ^r|^-pjvir>gc-4^ 

' consummate art of his characterization, we re- , 
turn'^tO" marvel at the naturalness and simplicity 

w o rMlJ^ diClioiK i nave before compared him to^ 
Jeremy 1 aylo'r ; and with each successive reading 
I find the resemblance strengthened. His style 
shows humour in common with Fuller, discur- 
siveness in common with Burton; but in the 
birdlike warble, the np^jj^rf^nt- fphVi^y o f phrasing, 
thg ^uccession of co-ordin ate sente nces capturi ng 
b y\their cumulative enecc, rhey preluded the 
subtle linOtaiu which etlierealized the prose of 
Taylor. Neither the poet nor the preacher, as 
some one has said, can be sampled by detached 
sentences; the charm lies in the continuous flow. 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 55 

Each attempt to analyze Chaucer convinces only 
that he may not be analyzed; returning from 
each perusal as we come in from a walk on a 
fresh day in spring, we find ourselves following 
him still with conscious yet uncritical interest; 
"he prattles inadvertently away, and like the fairy 
princess in the tale, lets fall a pearl at every 
word." 

So the company is gathered, the actors are 
portrayed ; it remains only to quicken them into 
speech. The poet turns from them to us, takes 
us into his confidence, consults us almost as to 
the course his explication is to follow, with 
charmingly simulated modesty bespeaks our in- 
dulgence for his shortcomings : 

But first I pray yow of your curteisye 

That ye n'arrette [impute] it nat my vileinye 

Thogh that I pleynly speke in this matere. 

In this ye knowen also as wel as I, 

Who-so shal telle a tale after a man, 

He moot reherce, as ny as ever he can, 

Everich a word, if it be in his charge, 

Al speke he never so rudelicke and large; 

Or elles he moot telle his tale untrewe, 

Or feyne thing, or finde wordes newe. 

Crist spak him-self ful brode in holy writ, 

And, wel ye woot, no vileinye is it. 

Eek Plato seith, who-so that can him rede, 

The wordes mote be cosin to the dede. 

Also I preye you to foryeve it me, 

Al have I nat set folk in hir degree 

Here in this tale, as that they sholde stonde, 

My wit is short, ye may wel understonde. 

Supper over, the tale-telling scheme is pro- 
pounded by the Host, himself not the worst 



56 



CHAUCER 



drawn figure in the vast cartoon, and accepted 
by the guests. All pass to bedward, after pay- 
ment made, " whan that we hadde maad our rek- 
eninges." Gathering early next morning " alle in 
a flok," they ride as far as St. Thomas a Water- 
ings, at the second milestone on the Canterbury 
road. Here they halt and "draw cut": the 
shortest cut or lot falls to the Knight, who is to 
tell therefore the opening tale. 

It will aid us before proceeding to arrange 
narrators and tales in order: 



First 
day 



^{l 



. Knightes Tale. 

;. Milleres Tale . 
Reves Tale 
Cokes Tale 



Second 
day. 



Third 
day. 



Fourth, 
day. 



5. Man of Lawes Tale 

6. Shipmans Tale . 

7. Prioresses Tale . 

8. Chancers Tales . 

and 

9. Menkes Tale . . 

10. Nonnes Preestes Tale 



/ii. Doctours Tale 
2. Pardoners Tale . 



/ Wyf of Bathes Prologue , 
^3*1 „ .. Tale 



15. Somnours Tale . . 

16. Clerkes Tale . . . 
^17. Marchantes Tale . 

18. Squyers Tale . . . 

19. Frankeleynes Tale . 

' 20. Second Nonnes Tale 
I 21. Chanon Yemans Tale 

22. Maunciples Tale . . 
i.23. Persones Tale . . . 



Palamon and Arcite. 
Nicholas and Absolon. 
The Trumpington Miller. 
The Prentis (unfinished). 

Custance. 

Dan John and the Mer- 
chant's Wife. 

The Jews and the Child. 

Sir Thopas. 

Meliboeus. 

Viri Illustres. 

Chaunticlere and Perte- 
lote. 

Virginia. 

The Dangers of Drunken- 
ness. 

Her Husbands. 

Wife's Mastery. 

The Somnour and the 
Fiend. 

Thomas and the Friar. 

Grisildis. 

January and May. 

Cambuscan bold. 
Arviragus and Dorigene. 
Saint Cecilia. 
The Alchemist. 
The Crow. 
A Sermon. 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 57 

THE knigh5;es tale, of palamon and 

y^tK*^^ ARCITE 

Theseus, hero of many a mediaeval romance, 
has captured and holds in prison two Theban 
knights, Palamon and Arcite. From their window 
in the prison they see fair Emelye, the King^s 
sister-in-law, walking in the garden, just as, forty 
years later, the captive poet, afterwards King 
James I, Chaucer's admirer and imitator, saw, in 
fact, not fiction, the Lady Joan Beaufort walking 
in the Windsor pleasaunce. Both knights fall in 
love with Emelye, and, close friends before, be- 
come bitter rivals. Ardte is liberated and sent 
home to Thebes, pines in absence from his fair 
one, and returns to Athens in disguise. Here he 
encounters Palamon escaped from prison, and 
they agree to fight for the lady. Their duel is 
interrupted by Theseus, who ordains that at the 
end of a year they shall appear at his Court, each 
bringing with him a hundred knights, for a grand 
tournament, the victor to have the hand of Eme- 
lye. The day arrives, with it the two knights 
and their supporters, and the lists are set for the 
combat. At early dawn Emelye, Palamon, Arcite, 
go severally forth to pray to Diana, Venus, Mars. 
The answers are equivocal, for the gods are at 
issue as to the event, until Saturn decides that 
Arcite shall be the conqueror, yet Palamon have 
Emelye. So it turns out. Arcite is victor, and is 
accepted by the blushing Emelye; but riding be- 
side her is flung from his horse, is mortally 
bruised, and dies in the arms of his lady, who 
after a due period of mourning gives herself to 



58 CHAUCER 

Palamon. The poem, like the Prologue, had re- 
ceived its maker's finishing touch, and is in his 
finest style. Take as a specimen Arcite issuing 
forth on May morning to pluck green boughs 
and flowers; 

The bisy larke, messager of day, 

Salueth in her song the morwe gray; 

And fyry Phebus ryseth up so brighte 

That al the orient laugheth of the lighte, 

And with his stremes dryeth in the greves [groves] 

The silver dropes hanging on the leves. 

And Arcite, that is in the Court royal 

With Theseus, his squyer principal, 

Is risen, and loketh on the myrie day, 

And for to doon his observaunce to May, 

Remembring on the point of his desyr, 

He on a courser, sterting as the fyr. 

Is riden into the feeldes, him to pleye. 

Out of the court, were it a mile or tweye. 

And loud he song ageyn the sonne shene : 

" May, with alle thy floures and thy grene, 

Wel-come be thou, faire fresshe May, 

I hope that I som grene gete may." 

Only an eye-witness of such scenes could have 
so described the tournament: we know that in 
his youth Chaucer must have been present at 
those brilliant pageants of mimic war in France ; 
while of the lists and their arrangement he had 
practical experience, as we have seen (p. 14). 

The heraudes lefte hir priking up and doun, 

Now ringen trompes loud and clarioun ; 

Ther is namore to seyn, Ijut west and est 

In goon the speres ful sadly in arest ; 

In goth the sharpe spere into the syde, 

Ther seen men who can juste, and who can ryde. 

Ther shiveren shaftes upon sheeldes thikke. 

He feleth thurgh the herte-sporn the prikke. 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 59 

Up springen speres twenty foot on highte, 

Out goon the swerdes as the silver brighte ; 

The hehnes they to-hewen and to-shrede, 

Out breste the blood, with sterne stremes rede. 

With mighty maces the bones they to-breste, 

He throgh the thikkeste of the throng gan threste, 

Ther stomblen stedes stronge, and doun goth al. 

Notice the alliteration in these last lines, and see 
p. 84. Turning then characteristically from high 
knights and dames to the rough spectator 
populace, he repeats their chatter, which he gives 
us again in the " Squyer's Tale," and which his 
quick all-attentive ears must have often over- 
heard : 

Divyninge of thise Theban knightes two, 

Somme seyden thus, somme seyde, it shal be so, 

Somme helden with him with the blake berd, 

Somme with the balled [bald], somme with the thikke- 

herd [haired] ; 
Somme seyde, he loked grim and he wolde fighte, 
He hath a sparth [battle-axe] of twenty pound of wighte, — 
Thus was the halle ful of divyninge. 
Long after that the sonne gan to springe. 

The poem was rewritten for its place in the 
' Canterbury Tales," having been first composed 
as a separate work under the name of " Palamon 
and Arcyte " (" Legend of Good Women," line 
420). It was a somewhat close imitation of 
Boccaccio's " Teseide," but in its present form 
is so enlarged and altered as to have become a 
splendid original poem. It was modernized by 
Dryden, and forms the theme of Fletcher's "Two 
Noble Kinsmen." 
The company thank the Knight for his '* noble 



6o CHAUCER 

storie," and the Host calls upon the Monk. But 
R obin th e_Miller, fuddled with his mor ning 
draught"^ ale, bursts in impdrturiatelyjTeirs a " 
coarse drunkard's tale, and is followed by "Ose- 
wold the Reve with another of the same sort. 
In both are bits characteristic of the master's 
hand, as in the costume of the carpenter's wife, 
and the portrait of the parish clerk. Chaucer 
himself bids us, if we be fastidious, to 

Turne over the leef and chese another tale : 

and with every allowance for the freedom of the 
times, every readiness to dissociate moral deprav- 
ity from external licence, we may wish that they 
had not been the product of Chaucer's pen. We 
would recall in this connection an acute discovery 
by Professor Skeat, that the indecent Tales were 
all written after the death of the poet's wife. Next 
to these comes Roger the Coke, who announces 
a story of a hostileer or innkeeper, which ceases 
after fifty-eight lines. "Of this Coke's Tale maked 
Chaucer namore," say the Manuscripts, and the 
broken tale is followed by a long gap. 

The Second Day begins at lo o'clock in the 
morning, an earlier tale being probably lost; and 
the Host calls upon the Man of Lawe, who takes 
occasion to enumerate the Tales which Chaucer 
had intended to include in his " Legend of Good 
Women." He has by him, he goes on to say, a 
tale " taughte him " long ago, which he will now 
relate. This means, what we know from other 
sources, and what is shown by its stanza form, 
that his Tale of Custance was an early com- 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 6i 

position, its prologue, in the same metre, being 
added at the time of revision. It is found also, 
slightly altered, in Gower's " Confessio Am antis." 
both he and Chaucer being indebted to a French 
original in prose by one Nicholas Trivet, a 
Dominican friar, who died about 1334. Parts 
of the Tale have been traced to other sources, as 
the "Pecorone" of Ser Giovanni Fiorentinus; 
but much is added by Chaucer, and the whole 
is rewritten, not translated. The story is wildly 
impossible. Custance, a virgin beautiful and de-1 
vout, daughter to the Emperor of Rome, is wedded \ 
to the Sowdan of Surrye (Syria), who for her love 
becomes Christian with all his nobles. His mo- ( 
ther, a staunch Moslem, murders all the converts, 
and sends Custance adrift upon the sea. For 
three years she is tossed by winds and waves, 
which carry her at last to the Northumbrian coast. 
There she is received hospitably by a benevolent 
constable and his wife, whom she promptly con- 
verts ; and is shortly after married to ^lla. King 
of Northumbria. By the machinations of his 
mother she is once more sent to sea, with the 
little son whom she has borne to the King, and 
floats to Rome, her ancient birthplace, where she 
is entertained by her aunt, w^ho knows her not, 
until her Northumbrian husband, a pilgrim to 
Rome^ is reunited to her, and their child becomes 
Emperor, and lives " Christ enly." 

^* A thrifty tale for the nones ! '' cries the Host, 
and calls upon the Persoun ; but the rough Ship- 
man protests. The Persoun is a "Loller," he 
declares; will "sow cokkel [lolium] in our clene 



62 CHAUCER 

corn"; "my joly body shall a tale tell." It is 
told; rather too much in the style of the Miller 
and the Reve for modern taste, yet hitting, as we 
see by the Host's comment, the fancy of his 
liberal audience. He turns next to the Prioresse, 

As curteisly as it had been a mayde. 
My lady Prioresse, by your leve, 
So that I wiste I sholde yow nat greve, 
I wolde demen that ye tellen sholde 
A tale next, if so were that ye wolde. 
Now wol ye vouche-sauf, my lady dere? 
Gladly, quod she, and seyede as ye shall here. 

Her story, modernized by Wordsworth, is a 
variant of certain legends current in England at 
the time, the best known perhaps being " Hugh 
of Lincoln," the tale of a Christian child mur- 
dered by Jews. ""A^Tiftle sWei>y€Sr-tJW'Trhorister 
angers the Jews of his town by siiiging the "Alma 
Redemptoris Mater " daily on his way to school. 
They" waylay him, cut 'his throat, and cast^Jiim 
into^a^pit, but still the corpse sings onj^/or the 
Virgin has laid upon his tongue a miraculous 
grain of corn. It' is rernbved, the soiigjceases, 
and the child is buried. The tale hushes the 
company into silence, which is broken by the 
Host, who addresses himself to Chaucer : 

And seyde thus, what man artow? quod he; 
Thou lokest as thou woldest finde an hare, 
For ever up-on the ground I see thee stare. 
Approche neer, and loke up merily. 
Now war yow. Sirs, and lat this man have place. 
He in the waast is shape as wel as I ; 
This were a popet in an arm t'enbrace 
For any womman, smal and fair of face. 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 63 

He semeth elvish by his contenaunce, 
For unto no wight doth he daliaunce. 

The poet responds with the Tale of Sir » 
THQF AJ |iii an uiituucli beVeii- line stan za borrowed \ 
from the French of Guillaume de Machault. It | 
came to be known as " rime royal " from its use 
by King James in the *' King's Quhair." It re- 
appears in Gray's ^' Lines on the Drowned Cat," 
in Wordsworth's " Ruth," and in several poems 
of the " Christian Year." Chaucer is supposed to 
have intended the lines a^a5urresque,''"**TO'ridi- 
cure,^^sa ys_iyi'Mltt, '^hepalpab le gross fictions 
f>Cthp mmTTio n Rimers oi that ag e." So Miss 
Austen is supposed to nave burlesqued Mrs. 
Ratcliffe's romances in "Northanger Abbey"; 
but there, as here, the extravaganza is so in- 
trinsically good that we value it for its own sake. 
" Sir Thopas " seems to me quite equal to many 
admired ballads in "Percy's Reliques "; it s oaucy, 
lu dicrous t ouches are not obtrude d: we should 
much prefer its continuance to the virtuous and 
moral tale which takes it place. So did not think 
the Host, who after eight and twenty stanzas 
interrupts indignantly, 

Myn eres aken of thy drasty speche, 

Now swich a rym the devel I biteche. 

Lat see wher thou canst tellen aught in geste, 

Or telle in prose somwhat at the leste, 

In which ther be som mirthe or som doctryne. 

So then we have the long prose tale of 
Melibgeus, translated from a French original, "Le 
Livre de Melibee et de Dame Prudence," glorify- 
ing the wisdom of Meliboeus's wife Prudence, 



64 CHAUCER 

who dissuades him from the prosecution of an 
ugly quarrel, and by her lenient words brings his 
foes to an apology. Its profuse quotations and 
deferential adroitness render it readable, though 
rather dull; nor can we understand why the poet 
should ascribe to himself a tale with one excep- 
tion the least animated in the collection. The 
Host, however, greatly approves it; wishes his 
own wife could have been present; 

I hadde lever than a barel ale 

That goode lief my wyf hadde herd this tale : 

then, with compliments on his fair outside and 
**mery chere," calls upon the Monk to speak. 
He tells no jovial tale, but a series of tragedies, 
portions apparently of what Chaucer had at one 
time contemplated as an independent work, the 
careers of notable persons, Viri Illustres, who 
have fallen from high estate. They include 
Scriptural, classical, secular heroes; Nebuchad- 
nezzar and Sampson, Hercules, Alexander and 
Nero, Queen Zenobia, Don Pedro of Spain, Pierre 
de Lusignan of Cyprus, and Ugolino, whose 
ghastly tragedy he adapts from Dante. They 
are written in the eight-line stanza, learned from 
the French Eustache Deschamps, which he has 
used only once before, in his acrostic to the 
Virgin. The idea, here incomplete, was carried 
out by Lydgate in his *' Fall of Princes," and 
may have suggested the " Mirror for Magistrates," 
in the sixteenth century. In the story of Sampson, 
line 3215, "He slow [slew] and al to-rente the 
leoun," will explain an archaic use in Judges, ix, 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 65 

53, "and all to-brake his scull." The stories are 
told trippingly; that of Zenobia will be new to 
those who were not brought up on Miss Edge- 
worth's " Early Lessons." Of them, however, as 
of " Sir Thopas," the audience become tired; the 
Knight interposes with a protest against the de- 
pressing nature of the tragedies, and the Host 
vigorously supports him. But for the clinking of 
the bells on the monk's bridle, he says, they would 
all have fallen asleep : and he calls upon Sir John, 
the Nonnes Preeste or Chaplain, to tell some 
merry matter, " swich thing as may our hertes 
glade." Sir John responds with the lively tale of 
Chauntecleer and Pertelote, since modern- 
ized by Dryden; the Cock carried off by, but out- 
wittirigTlhe Fox. Chaunticleer wakes one morn- 
ing on his perch in terror, having dreamed of a 
terrible beast which threatened to assault him. 
His wife Pertelote laughs dreams to scorn ; 
assigns them to indigestion, and prescribes 
lauriol, centaure and fumeterye, ellebor and ivy, 
with a few worms as laxatives, throwing in learned 
citations from many authors ; for in all Chaucer's 
tales the interlocutors are nothing if not erudite. 
Her lord is unconvinced, argues that the dream 
betokens mischief, and so it proves. "Daun 
Russell," the fox, prowling near the yard, seizes 
Chauntecleer by the neck and bears him off: 
but in defiance of vulpine tradition is outwitted 
by the cleverness of the cock, who breaks from 
his mouth and flies up into a tree. We note as 
we read the menage of a poor widow, the cock's 
owner, which would sound luxurious to a 

E 



66 CHAUCER 

labourer's wife in recent and in present times; 
the belief that Adam was, created in the month 
of TVTarch, the ill-luck attached to Friday. Here 
is the chase after the fox: 

Ran Colle our dogge, and Talbot, and Gerland, 
And Malkin, with a distaf in hir hand ; 
Ran cow and calf, and eek the verray hogges, 
So were they fered for berking of the dogges, 
And shouting of the men and wimmen eek; 
They ronne so, hem thoughte hir herte breke. 
They yellenden, as feendes doon in helle; 
The dokes cryden as men wolde hem quelle; 
The gees for fere flowen over the trees ; 
Out of the hyve cam the swarm of bees; 
So hidous was the noyse, ah benedicite ! 
Certes, he Jakke Straw and his meynee, 
He made never shoutes half so shrille, 
Whan that they wolden any Fleming kille, 
As thilke day was maad upon the fox. 

The Host applauds the "mery" tale, and there 
follows a gap, closing the second day. 

As the Third Day opens we find the Doctour 
teUing the old Roman history of Virginia, 
nominally out of Livy, really from *' Le Roman 
de la Rose." She is one of the saints of universal 
story, and in painting her fairness of form and 
nature Chaucer rises to his full height, though 
the end is somewhat hurried, as if destined to 
later amplification. Th e Host is so moved by it 
that, like Dr. Johnson's hermit hoar, he calls Tor 
" a draught of moyste and corny ale " to recoyer 
him; and then appeals -to~the Pardoner for his 
tale. The pilgrims, knowing their man, cry^ut 
that they will have no ribaudrye : 

Tel us som moral thing, that we may lere 
Som wit, and thanne wol we gladly here. 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 67 

So the Pardoner begins. H e is a vicious m an, 
he owns, and to tell lies is his proiession; never- 

theles^Tie°■wiT^'preHChnteffi2'0 
intemp^efanceT and narrates a legencT^on the 
Dan'gersof Drunkenness j of three varlets^o 
conspTredTo slay Death, and of what befell them. 
The story is outlined in the collection oFTEalian 
tales called the "Cento Novelle Antiche," and 
is said to be of Asiatic origin. Three Riotous 
fel lows find a treasi jjg 9^ gp]^ f]opn<>:"^TTiTy m^gi- 
wait f of " night and darkness before remaviugat, 
and meanwhile send onQ„of their number to^the 
town for food and wine. Him they concert to 
kiiro^n'^his return, and do so j but he with similar 
intent has brought poisoned wine, of which they 
drink, and die. Having concluded, the Pardoner 
betakes himself to his professional rascality, 
pressing on the company pardons and relics out 
of his wallet, till the Host brealcs in with an 
objtlrgation so violent as to threaten a quarrel; 
but the Knight interposing restores peace. 

To the Wyfs Tale of Bathe there is a long 
Prologue, but no end-link or introduction by the 
Host. This Prologue appears to be entirely of 
Chaucer's own invention, and is known to English 
readers from Pope's modernized version. It is 
the cleverest and most amusing, but perhaps the 
most repugnant to modern reticence of all the 
episodes. The unblushing, lively, five-times- 
wedded dame, at once frankly sensual and richly 
humorous, naked but not ashamed, with exultant 
complacency details and justifies her past; re- 
counts her domestic management old and new, 



68 CHAUCER 

fortifying her fleshliness with historical parallels 
and Bible texts. They must pardon her plain- 
speaking; it is all in pure innocence, 

For myn entente nis but for to pleye. 

She is growing old now — worse the luck ! 

But, lord Crist ! whan that it remembreth me 
Up-on my yowthe, and on my jollitee, 
It tikleth me about myn herte rote. 
Unto this day it dooth myn herte bote 
That I have had my world as in my tyme. 

The whole belongs, as Mr. Elwin leniently 
points out — in excuse for Chaucer, not for Pope 
— to times more outspoken than our own; and 
the portrait finds a necessary place in Chaucer's 
gallery, because the gay, defiant, cloth-manu- 
facturing voluptuary whom it depicts held a 
prominent and essential place in the society of 
the Middle Ages. Her tale which follows, of the 
Loathly Lady, is decent, and is common to 
many literatures. A foul old hag saves a young 
knight from death on condition that he will wed 
her. His reluctant obedience to his obligation 
breaks a spell under which she lay, and she be- 
comes a beautiful young damsel in his arms. It 
is told also, and told tediously, by Gower in the 
story of "Florent," is retold by Dryden, and 
presented by Walter Scott in his ballad of " King 
Henrie." The lady's definition of gentility is 
peculiar to Chaucer, and is inculcated by him 
elsewhere; 

Loke who that is most vertuous alway, 
Privee and apert [secretly and openly], and most entendeth 
ay 



THE CANTERB 

From the engravi 




^ 




THE CANTERBURY TALES 69 

To do the gentil dedes that he can, 

And tak him for the grettest gentilman. 

. . . for God, of his goodnesse, 

Wol that of Him we clayme our gentihiesse, 

For of our eldres may we no-thing clayme 

But temporel thing, that man may hurte and mayme. 

During this narration the Friar and the Somp- 
nour have several times broken out in mutual 
gibes; and propose in their turn of tale-telling to 
indulge the hatred which the two classes har- 
boured against each other : the Friar, who claimed 
exemption from ecclesiastical jurisdiction, being 
naturally obnoxious to episcopal officials like the 
Summoner. So the Friar tells of a Sompnour 
carried away by the fiend, and the Sompnour re- 1 
torts with a revolting story of a grasping, greedy / 
friar's discomfiture by his intended victim. From 
the first we learn the knavery of churchmen and 
their functionaries in those days, and are helped 
to understand the rapid spread of Lollardism: 
the second is a merciless portrait of the begging 
friar as Chaucer knew him. The close of the last 
tale is to us disgusting; though not worse, per- 
haps, than several of Dean Swift's poems. From 
the fact that the great lady of the village listens 
to and joins in discussing its most unsavoury 
details, we learn once more how much of course 
it was, even amongst the most polished classes, 
to speak openly of subjects scouted as impossible 
to-day J how in passing judgement on the morality 
of any writer the manners of his time must be 
taken into account. 

On this tale no comment is offered by the 
Host, or the end-link more probably is lost. He 



70 CHAUCER 

turns to the Clerke of Oxenford, from whom he 
demands " no sermon or sophyme," but a " merie 
tale." The Clerke will tell them the Tale of 
Patient Grisildis, which he learned at Padua 
from Fraunceys Petrark, 

Whose rethoryke sweete 
Enlumined al Itaille of poetrye, 
As Linian did of philosophye, 
Or lawe, or other art particuler. 
But deeth, that wol nat suffre us dwellen here 
But as it were the twinkling of an ye, 
Hem both hath slain, and alle shul we dye. 

From these lines two interesting facts emerge. 
Chaucer learned the tale from Petrarch before 
1 3 74, in which year the Italian died. His embassy 
to Italy was in 137 2- 1373, when the two must 
have met at Padua. Petrarch, we know from him- 
self, was so fascinated by Boccaccio's " Tale of 
Griselda " that he committed it to memory, was 
wont to repeat it to his friends, and made from 
it a Latin version. This Chaucer must have ob- 
tained and translated in 1373. Now "Linian," 
the Canonist Giovanni de Lignano, here men- 
tioned as dead, died in 1383. The tale there- 
fore, written about 1373, was revised for the 
"Canterbury Tales," with addition of its pro- 
logue, its concluding stanzas, and its Envoy, later 
than 1383. The original source of the tale is 
uncertain; Petrarch in a letter to Boccaccio says 
that he had heard the story several years before : 
the heroine is even reported by some writers to 
have been a real personage. It became extra- 
ordinarily popular; more than twenty French 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 71 

translations are recorded ; in England it was acted 
in 1599 under the title of " Patient Grizzel," and 
it reappears in several of our later ballads. It is 
a sermon on the text of two words, still surviving 
in our Marriage Service, which, I suppose, all 
women and many men would like to see erased. 
Walter, a great nobleman, marries a beautiful 
girl of low birth. To test her obedience he sub- 
jects her to a succession of outrageous trials; she 
remains calmly patient and loyal under all. Not- 
withstanding the beauty of the poetry, the hus- 
band's insatiable, prolonged, and cruel curiosity 
is to present day readers not so much vexatious as 
torturing. Chaucer himself appends to it an 
apology, doubts if a Grisilde could be found to- 
day, exhorts all women, whether they be " arche 
wyves or sclendre," of temperaments, that is, 
dominant or submissive, to "stondeat defence," 
and suffer no such treatment: 

If thou be fair, ther folk ben in presence, 
Shew thou thy visage and thyn apparaille ; 
If thou be foul, be free of thy dispence, 
To gete thee freendes ay do thy travaille ; 
Be ay of chere as light as leef on linde, 
And lat him [the jealous husband] care, and wepe, and 
wringe, and waille. 

** Weeping and wayling, care, and other sorwe, 
I know y-nogh, on even and a-morwe," 

interrupts the Marchaunt, as, he adds, do all we 
married men. Come then, says the Host, for a 
change from Grisilde's patience, tell us something 
from your own experience of a wife's cursedness. 
So follows the Marchaunt's Tale of January 



72 CHAUCER 

AND May, the old husband and the young wife. 
Its source is unknown, perhaps Oriental; the 
incident of the pear-tree, says Tyrwhitt, from a 
Latin fable by one Adolphus in 1 3 1 5 . The theme 
afforded scope for grossness, and this seems to 
have recommended the poem to Pope for an 
imitation more free than the original. He con- 
verts Chaucer's artless frankness into the delib- 
erate polish of a later age; an age which would 
have resented w^hat in Chaucer's time was in- 
offensive, just as to-day, says Croker, "words 
uttered innocently by rustics in a cottage would 
be evidence of depravity if spoken by a man 
of education in a drawing-room." Yet into this 
loose tale of a deceiving wife Chaucer has in- 
jected his passionate eulogy on married life: 

A wyf! a! Seinte Marie, ben 'cite! 
How might a man have any adversitee 
That hath a wyf? certes, I can nat seye. 
The blisse which that is bitwixe hem tweye 
Ther may no tonge telle, or herte thinke. 
If he be povre, she helpeth him to swinke; 
She kepeth his good, and wasteth never a deel ; 
All that hir housbonde lust hir lyketh weel. 
O blisful ordre of wedlok precious. 
Thou art so mery, and eek so vertuous, 
That every man that halt him worth a leek, 
Upon his bare knees oghte al his lyf 
Thanken his god that him hath sent a wyf. 

In the Pluto and Proserpina of the tale some 
have seen the prototypes of Shakespeare's Oberon 
and Titania. Those who know their " Merchant 
of Venice " will remember in a speech by Jessica 
January's fear lest perfect felicity on earth should 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 73 

disqualify him for heaven; and in his "bet than 
old beefe is the tendre veel " lovers of Walter 
Scott will recall Hayraddin Maugrabbin's com- 
ment on Quentin Durward's love preference. A 
gap in the story follows, and the Third Day comes 
to an end. 

In the Fourth Day at prime, 9 a.m., the Host 
turns politely to the Squire, with the deferential 
" ye " and " you " instead of the familiar " thou " 
which had sufficed for meaner members of the 
party, and craves of him a tale of love. There 
follows the alas! unfinished Story of Cam- 
BUSCAN. Of its source no more can be said than 
that it is "Arabian fiction engrafted on Gothic 
chivalry." The description of Cambuscan's Court 
is traced by Professor Skeat to the " Travels " of 
Marco Polo. The fragment, what there is of it, 
is tantalizing, occupying us with the uninteresting 
love sorrows of the falcon instead of pursuing 
the virtues of steed, glass, ring, and sword. 

The Frankeleyne is loud in admiration of the 
tale and the narrator, wishes that his own grace- 
less son resembled the Squyer in gentil wit, elo- 
quence, and feeling. But he is cut short by the 
. Host, who bids him tell his own tale if talk he 
must. So we get from him the Romaunt of 
Arviragus and Dorigene, taken, he tells us, 
from an old Breton Laye. Dorigene is a loving 
and devoted wife. In the absence of her husband 
Arviragus, his squire Aurelius makes love to her. 
To silence him, she declares that she will never 
listen to his plea until the high rocks lining the 
Breton coast hard by their castle are removed 



74 CHAUCER 

and sunk into the sea. By the aid of a magician 
and under promise of a thousand pounds he pro- 
duces a glamour through which the rocks seem 
to have disappeared, and claims her promise. 
She proposes to slay herself, but first relates the 
distressing position to her husband, who decides 
that rather than break her plighted word she 
must give herself to Aurelius. She goes to him 
weeping; but he, learning from her the action of 
Arviragus, generously frees her from her promise; 
and the magician, not to be outdone in liberality, 
forgoes his promised fee. 

Lordinges, this question wolde I aske now, 

Which was the moste free [generous], as thinketh yow? 

Now telleth me, er that ye further wende, 

I can na-more, my tale is at an ende. 

A curious question : one wishes it could have 
been discussed by the auditors, as were the tales 
in the " Heptameron ": as it is, each reader may 
answer it for himself. The lady's perplexity is 
finely told, and the forbearance of Aurelius comes 
as a dexterous surprise. Her horror of the rocks 
and breakers which she fears may wreck her re- 
turning husband's ship is finely turned by Gay 
in his exquisite ballad "'Twas when the seas 
were roaring." Here, as in so many poems, 
Chaucer shows his familiarity with magical and 
astrological jargon. 

The end-link here is wanting, and we plunge 
without introduction into the Second Nonnes 
Tale of Seinte Cecile. It was written by 
Chaucer long before, Mr. Furnivall thinks in 
1373) as the " Lyf of Seint Cecile," under which 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 75 

title it is mentioned in the Prologue to the 
" Legend of Good Women." It is translated from 
the " Golden Legend," a popular collection of 
stories in Latin dating from the thirteenth century; 
a somewhat dull narrative, of a sort familiar to 
hagiographical students, depicting rapid conver- 
sion followed by martyrdom. It gives no scope 
for the humour or passion in which lies Chaucer's 
forte, and is unequal in merit to his later pieces. 
The memory of the saint is preserved by her 
legendary connection with music, and by the 
beautiful recumbent statue in her church at 
Rome. The legend is fully told and artistically 
illustrated by Mrs. Jameson in " Sacred and 
Legendary Art." 

The fourth midday is past, and the pilgrims 
have reached a place called Boughton under 
Blee, when two men, riding so hard that their 
horses are bathed in foam, overtake them. One 
is a Chanon, a kind of monk, and with him is his 
Yeman or servant. The Host inquires of the 
Yeman as to his master's condition and character; 
the answer is so contemptuous and bitter that the 
Chanon rides away in anger, and his man pro- 
ceeds with the " Chanon's Yeman's Tale." His 
master was an alchemist, and he describes the 
so-called science, Chaucer showing himself in- 
timately acquainted with its phraseology, practice, 
and alleged principles, showing too that he under- 
stood it to be a pretence and a delusion. Tech- 
nical as is the matter, we rejoice to get back to 
the lively ease which we missed in the last tale, 
and to the rimed couplet which marks Chaucer 



76 , CHAUCER 

at his best. The pretended science of alchemy, 
whose principal aim was the transmutation of 
base metals into gold, was commonly cultivated 
in that century, as we learn from an Act of 
Parliament prohibiting it in the reign of Henry 
IV. We know not what induced Chaucer to 
celebrate it here; both prologue and tale are 
intrusions into the original plan, and belong to 
the very latest period of the poet's work. His 
handling of it is repeated in a curious work called 
"Theatrum Chemicum," by Elias Ashmole, who 
seems to think that Chaucer was not only an 
adept but a believer. 

There is a gap at its close, when the Host 
rouses up the Coke, who sits half asleep on his 
horse, and demands of him a tale. He refuses, 

Seyd to our host, " So God my soule blesse, 
As ther is falle on me swich hevinesse, 
Noot I nat why, that me were lever slepe 
Than the beste galoun wyn in Chepe." 

So the Manciple takes his place with the story 
of Phebus and the Crowe, and how it came to 
pass that crows, once white, have ever since been 
black. The wife of Phebus is false; the white 
crow witnesses and betrays her treason, and the 
god-husband slays her; then in remorse and anger 
ordains that the crow and his posterity shall 
henceforth be black. It is recorded by many 
authors, notably by Ovid, from whom Chaucer 
probably enlarged it, and is briefly told by Gower. 
At its close the Host reminds them that the day 
draws on : it is four o'clock, and only one pilgrim 
remains — so ran the programme, original and 



THE CANTERBURY TALES 77 

unfulfilled — whose tribute has not been paid. 
That is the Persone, who tells them that he can- 
not "geste and glose," but offers to preach a 
sermon. They assent, thinking it seemly "to 
enden in som vertuous sentence,'* and we are 
launched into the Persones Tale. It takes the 
form of an exhortation to Penitence, mapped out 
under divisions and subdivisions according to 
the fashion of the times, longer but not less dull 
than an ordinary sermon of to-day. Chaucer has 
adapted it from a French treatise by one Lorens, 
called "La Somme des Vices et des Vertus," 
dating from 1279. At its close, which we are not 
sorry to reach, speaking in his own person, he 
makes his bow; " taketh the makere of this book 
his leve " : praying forgiveness of God for such 
wordly vanities, such songs and lecherous layes 
as have tended unto sin; while for his "Boece," 
"and other bokes of legendes of seintes, and 
omelies, and moralites, and devociouns, he gives 
thanks to Crist and all the Seints of hevene"; 
— and so, with the Qui cum Faire, which in its 
English form still ends pulpit oratory," sermon, 
tales, book, find their close. 



CHAPTER IV 

GUIDE TO THE READING OF CHAUCER 

TO readers opening Chaucer for the first 
time, and unacquainted with contemporary 
literature, certain difficulties present themselves. 
They are easily explained and removed; and this 
task I shall here endeavour briefly to perform. 
They are, I think, three in number: uncouth 
words are scattered here and there; the gram- 
matical forms are sometimes puzzling; the metre 
at first sight irregular and unrhythmical. Let us 
take them in order. 

I . The number of strange words used is not 
really large. By far the greater number represent 
altered spellings easily detected and remembered; 
such as deeih for death, hohve for hollow, delices 
for delights, subgit for subject, noon for none, 
moot for must, shullen for shall. Many more, 
though disused to-day, are familiar to us in 
Shakespeare and much later writing; such as eek 
for also, ilke for same, tene for sorrow, pilled for 
robbed, stinte for CQdiSQ,fotson for plenty. There 
remain from four hundred to five hundred words 
entirely obsolete. These are explained in the 
glossaries which accompany all the editions; to 



GUIDE TO READING CHAUCER 79 

note and alphabetize them for oneself in reading 
is interesting and useful practice. Take for in- 
stance the opening eighteen lines of the Prologue 
to the " Canterbury Tales ": 

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote 

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote, 

And bathed every veyne in swich licour, 

Of which vertu engendred is the flour; 

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth 

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth 

The tender croppes, and the yonge sonne 

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, 

And smalle fowles maken melodye 

That slepen al the night with open ye^ 

So priketh hem Nature in hir corages, 

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, 

And palmers for to seken strange strondes 

To fer7te halwes, cotithe in sondry londes. 

And, specially, from eveiy shire ende 

Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende, 

The holy blisful martir for to seke, 

That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke. 

You will see without being told that " rote " is 
root^ " swich " is such^ " than " is then^ " goon " 
is go^ "seke" is sick\ that "hem" and "hir" 
stand for them and their. There remain only the 
five words which I have italicised; and having 
learned that "sote" is another form of sweety 
"ye" of eyes\ that "feme" is distant (far), that 
" halwes" are hallowed ^\2iQ,Q'i> or persons, and that 
" couthe " means known, as from can to know, 
the German kennen, still found in our word un- 
couth (literally unknown, unfamiliar), you will re- 
cognize all the words again as often as you meet 
them. I have taken these as the opening lines, 



So CHAUCER 

but I could transcribe many passages of equal 
length containing no one word over which any 
reader need hesitate. 

2. The grammatical forms need attention, but 
nine-tenths of them will be covered by a very few 
rules. Of nouns the genitive mostly ends in es, 
as the Knightes Tale, the dative in e, as " rote," 
above; the plural in es^ as " croppes," or in en, as 
modern oxen. The adjective preceded by i^/ie, 
this, that ends in e, "the yonge sonne." Of pro- 
nouns, Mr stands for her and their, hem for them : 
of adverbs, wher and ther for where and there. 
The verb inflexions will usually be disclosed by 
the context. Thus, in the lines above, " y-vonne " 
is evidently a past participle, " to seken " an in- 
finitive or gerund, " priketh " a present singular, 
"maken," "slepen," "longen," present plurals. 
The reader should keep beside him a list of the 
anomalous and mostly auxiliary verbs, been, can^ 
dar (dare), may, moot (must), shal, witen (know), 
wil, and should note their tenses as they occur. 
He will also observe the contractions: nam, am 
not; nil, will not; noot, know not; wiltow, wilt 
thou; seistow, sayest thou. Of course the more 
serious student will be armed with one or more 
prefaces of Professor Skeat and Dr. Morris, and 
will let pass no grammatical form without research ; 
but for that great majority which shall read 
Chaucer, as Macaulay used to read Thucydides, 
" with his feet on the fender and like a man of 
the world," for literary enjoyment that is, undis- 
tracted by attention to minute idioms and struc- 
tures, I presume to think that the landmarks 
indicated will suffice. 



GUIDE TO READING CHAUCER 8i 

There remains the most important point of all, 
the metrical pronunciation. Let any one, pre- 
viously uninstructed, open at the " Knightes 
Tale," Hne 35, and read aloud these seven lines: 

This duk, of whom I make mencioun, 

Whan he was come almost unto the toun, 

In all his wele [greatness] and in his moste [chiefest] pryde, 

He was war [aware], as he caste his eye asyde, 

Wher that ther kneled in the hye weye 

A company of ladies, tweye and tweye, 

Ech after other, clad in clothes blake. 

Lines 2 and 6 and perhaps 4 are in the com- 
mon five-accent or heroic metre; the others are 
in no metre at all, and run on like prose. Now 
read them by the marks I shall affix, remember- 
ing only that the diaeresis " above a syllable shows 
that it must be not mute but sounded, as kneled; 
and that e in italics is to be elided or dropped. 
For observe — and this is the most important 
point of all in reading Chaucer — that in his time 
the final e in a word was sounded, sounded not 
like our e, but like the final a in Anna, ehded 
only before a vowel, or sometimes before h or 
th^ dropped altogether only in a few common 
words, such as hadde or wolde. So in line i 
" make " is pronounced mdkd^ in line 3 " moste " 
is 7ndstd, while in the same line the final e in 
" wele " is elided. Now read the lines thus : 

This duk, of whom I make mencioun, 
Whan he was com^ almost into the toun, 
In all his wek and in his moste pryde, 
He was war, as he cast^ his ey^ asyde, 
Wher that ther kneled in the hye weye 
F 



82 CHAUCER 

A company^ of ladies, twey^ and tweye, 
Ech after other, clad in clothes blake. 

You will find them all fall into the heroic metre. 
I do not say that you will read them quite as 
Chaucer himself read the " Tale of Custance " be- 
fore King Edward and his Court in Ford Madox 
Brown's famous picture, or even as Oldbuck read 
to Lovel in Chapter II of the "Antiquary," 
though I do not know what Scott meant by 
"giving each guttural the true Anglo-Saxon pro- 
nunciation." To "pronounce it faithfully," as 
Juliet says, you must study Professor Skeat's 
specimen on page xx of his Introduction to the 
" Man of Lawes Tale "; and I very much fear that 
when you have achieved the accuracy he imposes, 
you will find no one to understand a word you 
utter: but you may read as I have directed to 
your own enjoyment, and, if you read aloud, ex- 
perto crede, to the enjoyment of others as well. 
I have not marked the terminations; I think you 
may leave them mute where ending in e. 

For observe that Chaucer's ear was as fastidious 
as Tennysons'; he was our earliest great metrist, 
and his metres are so characteristic that they help 
us to pronounce for or against the authenticity 
of poems ascribed to him. Let us inquire how 
far he followed, how far he improved upon, the 
versification of his predecessors. 

The cradle of English Poetry was Whitby. 
There, about the year 670, Caedmon paraphrased, 
amplified, popularized, the Bible story. For a 
long time after him few remains are extant; 
chiefly religious songs by Cynewulf and Aldhelm, 



GUIDE TO READING CHAUCER S3 

or the great battle songs of Brunanburh and Mal- 
don. The Norman invasion checked our Htera- 
ture but left our speech; the Norman became an 
Englishman; and after a while our formal poetry 
recommenced with the "Brut of Layamon" about 
the year 1 200. It flowed in two streams, historical 
and religious; historical, in Layamon, in "Robert 
of Gloucester's Chronicle," or in " Havelok the 
Dane"; religious, in the "Ormulum," a series of 
metrical homilies from the New Testament, in 
the " Cursor Mundi," and in Hampole's " Prick 
of Conscience," These poems Chaucer found 
widely read; in his boyhood appeared the ringing 
battle narratives of Laurence Minot, in his early 
manhood probably the "Vision of Piers the 
Plowman," in his later age the " Confessio 
Amantis " of Gower. Two metres he chiefly 
found in use, the four-accented rimed lines in 
which he wrote the " Romaunt of the Rose," and 
the old ballad metre of " Sir Thopas." To these 
he added, and introduced for the first time into 
our literature, the eight-line stanza of the "Menkes 
Tale," and the seven-line stanza of " Troilus^' and 
the "Parlement of Foules." But his great met- 
rical gift to our poetry was the heroic couplet, 
borrowed probably from the Frenchman Mach- 
ault, which he used in the "Legend of Good 
Women" and the majority of the "Canterbury 
Tales." 

In rime again, as in metre, he began as an ex- 
perimenter and became an adept. The earlier 
form of English poetry was alliterative, a recur- 
rence of similar beginnings, as rime is what Milton 



84 CHAUCER 

superciliously calls *'the jingling sound of like 
endings." Down to the tenth century this seems 
to have been the only ornament of our verse; 
but when we open Layamon we find allitera- 
tion with occasional rime; in Minot we have 
rime sprinkled with alliteration, while the "Vision 
of Piers Plowman" is purely aUiterative. Chaucer 
shows us in the " Knightes Tale " (line 1 747 etc.) 
that he could alliterate if he chose; but he dis- 
parages the device in the Prologue to the " Per- 
sones Tale " — " I can nat geste — rum, ram, ruf — 
by lettre" — and he adopts rime exclusively. The 
skill, marvellous in a beginner, with which he over- 
comes its difficulties is pointed out by Professor 
Skeat. One poem, he says, has seventy-two lines 
with nine rimes, another has twenty-four Hnes on 
three rimes, another thirty-three lines on four 
rimes, while the Envoy to the "Clerkes Tale" 
shows thirty-six lines on only three rimes. And 
his precision in riming is not only curious; it is so 
unfailingly normal as to guide us in deciding on 
the authenticity or spuriousness of the poems 
attributed to him. Many of these are claimed by 
himself in the Man of Lawe's Prologue, line 56, 
etc., and in the " Legend of Good Women," Hne 
405, etc. These then we know to be his; and by 
studying their grammar, scansion, and especially 
their rimes, we obtain criteria by which to test 
the poems not claimed by himself but ascribed 
to him by others. In grammar and scansion he 
adheres to the usage of the thirteenth century, 
and does not anticipate the usage of the fifteenth, 
so that where later grammatical forms are found 



GUIDE TO READING CHAUCER 85 

in a poem professing to be his the fact leads us 
to suspect it. But a still closer test has been 
found in his system of riming. The author of this 
invaluable discovery was the famous Cambridge 
bibliographer, Henry Bradshaw, to me always a 
dear friend and often an illuminating literary 
adviser. And since by some recondite law dis- 
coverers always seem to arise in pairs — witness 
Adams and Leverrier, Stephenson and Trevithick, 
Wallace and Darwin — the test was simultaneously 
and independently applied by Professor ten Brink 
on the Continent. It was observed by both, that 
Chaucer in his accepted poems never rimes a 
word ending etymologically in j, such as " com- 
monly," whose termination represents the suffix 
like^ with a word ending etymologically inj^'^, such 
as "melody(e)," whose termination represents the 
Italian ia of "melodia." So again, the ending 
ight never rimes with yt^ as " light " with " appe- 
tyt "; nor open <?, sounded as in Maud^ with close 
sounded as in alone^ nor open e as in " clene," 
whose sound was cledn^ with close e as in "grene," 
whose sound was green. And it came to be found 
that rimes of this and other kinds, never used by 
Chaucer, were habitually used in many of the 
poems doubtful or on other grounds discarded, 
the rime test absolutely supporting the testimony 
negative and positive of the MSS. So the con- 
sentaneous dual agreement was irresistible; it 
could be said with confidence that certain poems 
were by Chaucer ; that others hitherto attributed 
to him were as certainly not his; and, as a con- 
sequence, the " Court of Love," the " Testament 



86 CHAUCER 

of Love," the *VComplaint of the Black Knight," 
" Chaucer's Dream," the " Assembly of Ladies," 
the "Flower and the Leaf," the "Cuckoo and 
the Nightingale," the " Plowman's Tale," are no 
longer admitted as Chaucer's, or printed among 
his compositions. 

The first edition claiming to give a complete 
collection of his works, by William Thynne, 1530, 
was wildly miscellaneous, including many poems 
by other, chiefly later, authors. The edition by 
Stowe in 1561 merely added to Thynne's reper- 
tory fresh unauthorized pieces; while that of 
Speght, 1597, was copied mainly from Thynne's 
second issue of 1532. Urry, in 1721, brought 
out the "Canterbury Tales": the arbitrary in- 
novations introduced by him into the text im- 
paired the value of his work. Tyrwhitt, in 1775, 
was the first scholarly editor. He printed the 
"Canterbury Tales," appended valuable intro- 
duction, notes, glossary; and rejected as unten- 
able nineteen of the poems hitherto ranked as 
Chaucer's. A later edition of the same was 
beautifully printed for Pickering in 1822; those 
who are so fortunate as to possess it may, like 
Dogberry, give God thanks. An anonymous 
"Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer," attributed 
by a misleading title-page to Tyrwhitt, was put 
forth in 1855, and repeated in 1868. Of more 
recent editions may be mentioned Singer's, Bell's, 
Wright's, the Aldine, and the Globe. At last, in 
1894-7, appeared Professor Skeat's monumental 
work, extinguishing all former publications, while 
for those to whom its necessarily high price was 



GUIDE TO READING CHAUCER 87 

deterrent, he mercifully produced, in 1901, a 
small cheap edition, with a valuable Preface and 
Glossary. Owners of this last, with the three small 
Clarendon Press volumes, will have an apparatus 
amply sufficient for all but the most advanced 
Chaucerian scholarship. Their desire to know 
something of the predecessors, contemporaries, 
and immediate successors of the poet will be met 
by Morris and Skeat's specimens of Early English, 
Part II, by Skeat's small edition of " Piers the 
Plowman," and by Henry Morley's reprint of 
Gower's " Confessio Amantis " in the Caris- 
brooke Library. The notice of Chaucer in 
Green's " Short History," illustrated edition, con- 
tains portraits of the pilgrims reproduced from the 
Ellesmere MS. All who have access to Warton's 
" History of English Poetry " may read his Sec- 
tions VI to XVII; much will be found in Morley's 
"English Writers," vol. iii; while for a brilliant 
aesthetic study of the author nothing can surpass 
the Essay in " My Study Windows " by James 
Russell Lowell, 1866. 

I called attention in the opening chapter to 
Chaucer's amazing erudition. His knowledge of 
the Bible is shown in nearly three hundred allu- 
sions. He quotes, second hand, from Homer, 
Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Euripides, Horace, 
Juvenal, and from several of the Latin Fathers. 
He was intimate with Ovid, Virgil, Statius; ac- 
quainted with Cicero and Seneca. For knowledge 
of Italian he stood alone amongst Englishmen of 
his age; imitating Boccaccio, though he seems 
not to have read the " Decameron," quoting from 



88 CHAUCER 

Dante often, from Petrarch once. French he 
knew familiarly from childhood, adapting or cit- 
ing Trivet, de Machault, de Graunson, Des- 
champs, P'rere Lorens, possibly Marie of France. 
His learning other than literary was astonishing 
in extent. His treatise on the Astrolabe shows 
his proficiency in mathematics and astronomy; 
he had mastered the so-called science of astro- 
logy, was conversant with the methods and the 
terms of alchemy; refers intelligently in the 
" Squyer's Tale " to the angles and reflexions of 
optics, while the same tale is built in great 
measure on his knowledge of magical arts. Nor 
are his illustrations drawn only from the library 
shelves : his verse is rich and lively with the 
parley of market-place and shop. In dexterous 
use of pithy adages, current now as then in 
popular talk, perhaps only two European writers 
have competed with him. In " Troilus," for in- 
stance, we have " nettle in dokke out," " a nine 
days' wonder," *^sixes and sevens," "thus maketh 
Vertue of Necessity." In the "Monkes Tale," 
"therefor bihoveth him a ful long spoon that 
shal ete with a feend "; in the " Hous of Fame," 
"hit is not al gold that glaseth"; and, most in- 
teresting from Lady Macbeth's employment of 
it, a contemporary rendering of the old Latin 
" Catus edit pisces, sed non vult tingere plantas," 

For ye be like the sweynte [slothful] cat, 
That wolde have fish; but, wostow what? 
He wolde no-thing wete his clawes. 

I have named only three or four; there are 
scores besides. Lord Chesterfield, who stigma- 



GUIDE TO READING CHAUCER 89 

tized all proverbs as execrably vulgar, would on 
this ground have disapproved of Chaucer; but 
he must have denounced also Lyly's " Euphues " 
and " Don Quixote." 

It is the fate of most great writers to be under- 
valued by contemporaries; they await recognition 
in old age, or their Manes receive it in the shades. 
It was so with Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth; 
it was not so with Chaucer. At home and abroad 
his name was held in instant, as also in post- 
humous, honour. Eustache Deschamps addresses 
to him a passionate eulogy: 

Seneque en moeurs et Anglux en pratique, 
Tu es d'amours mondains Deux en Albie, 
Grand translateur, noble Geffrey Chaucier. 

The entire poem is given by Professor Skeat. 
Gower compliments him through the lips of 
Venus; Occleve preserves his portrait, and salutes 
him as 

O maister dere and fader reverent. 
My maister Chaucer, flour of eloquence, 
Mirour of fructuous entendement, 
O universel fader in science. 

Lydgate laments him in his " Fall of Princes "; 
to Gawain Douglas he is ^* principal Poet but 
[without] peer"; to King James I, "superlative 
as poet laureate, of morality and eloquence or- 
nate." Spenser hails him as " well of English 
undefiled " ; Dryden and Pope, Wordsworth, 
Leigh Hunt, Mrs. Browning, paraphrased his 
poems. Wordsworth when an undergraduate 
carried the " Reve's Tale " to Trumpington that 



90 CHAUCER 

he might read it " under a levesel "; in later years 
set before him as models Chaucer, Shakespeare, 
Spenser, Milton, placing Chaucer above Burns 
and Crabbe as master of the natural school. 
Tennyson, whom we have already quoted, found 
in him chivalry, romance, and tragedy. We may 
find in him much more than this. We may learn 
from him to look on nature with understanding, 
joy, and gratitude, on humanity with hopeful 
optimism; may garner while we read him gentle 
loving thoughts and tender feelings, as we set 
our steps to his quick music, our hearts to his 
tolerant allowance and all-wide sympathy. Open- 
ing each volume in its turn we shall enter in as 
he feigned his own entrance through the gate in 
" Scipio's Dream." 

Through me men goon into that blisful place 

Of hertes hele and deadly woundes cure ; 

Through me men goon unto the welle of grace 

Ther grene and lusty May shal ever endure ; 

This is the way to all good aventure. 

Be glad, thou reder, and thy sorwe of-caste, 

Al open am I ; passe in, and hy the [hie thee] faste. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 

ABRIDGFJD FROM SKEAT'S " CHAUCER CANON " 

When printed 

1477-147 8. Canterbury Tales. Ed. i. Caxlon. 

Parlement of Foules, etc. Caxton. 
1479. Boethius. Caxton. 
1483. Troilus. Caxton. 

Canterbury Tales. Ed. 2. Caxton. 

Hous of Fame. Caxton. 
1493. Canterbury Tales. Ed. 3. Pynson. 
1498. Canterbury Tales. Ed. 4. W. de Worde. 
1499-1502. Compleynt of Mars. Julian Notary. 
15 1 7. Troilus. Ed. 2. Wynkyn de Worde. 
1526. Canterbury Tales. Ed. 5. Pynson. 
1522. Thynne. Works. 
1542. Thynne. Works. Second issue. 
1 56 1. Stow. Works. 
1598. Speght. Works. 
1 72 1. Urry. Works. 
177 1. Tyrwhitt. Canterbury Tales. 
1822. Tyrwhitt. Ed. 2. 
1845. Pickering. The Works. 
1857. R. Bell. Poetical Works. 
1863. R. Morris. Revised edition. 
91 



92 CHAUCER 

1867. Wright. The Works. 
1894. Skeat. Complete Works. 
1903. Globe edition. The Works. 



When composed 

1368. Romaunt of the Rose. 

1369. Book of the Duchess. 
St. Cecyle. 

Monke's Tale (in part). 
1372-1373. Clerke's Tale (in part). 

Anelida and Arcite. 

Meliboeus. 

Persone^s Tale. 

Man of Lawe's Tale. 
1377-1381. Boethius. 

Compleynt of Mars. 

Troilus. 
1382. Parlement of Foules. 
13^3-13^4- HousofFame. 
13S5-13S6. Legend of Good Women. 
1 386-1 390. Canterbury Tales. 
1 3 9 1 . The Astrolabe. 



INDEX 



A. B. C, 23. 

Actium, 39. 
Alceste, 38. 
Alchemy, 75. 
Alein Delille, 26. 
Alliteration, 59, 84. 
Anne of Bohemia, 37, 52. 
Anelida and Arcite, 26. 
Arabian Nights, 40, 44. 
Artaveldt, 9. 
Arviragus, 73. 
Ashmole, 75. 
Astrolabe, 40, 87. 
Athalus, 25. 
Aurelins, 73. 
Austen, Jane, 54, 63. 

Bailly, Harry, 47. 
Becket, 45. 
Bidpai, Fables, 44. 
Blanche of Lancaster, 12, 

25. 
Boccaccio, 12, 26, 44, 49, 

59, 70, 87. 
Boethius, 27, etc., T]. 
Book of the Duchesse, 12, 

24, etc. 
Boughton under Blee, 75. 
Bradshaw, Henry, 47, 85. 



Brigham, Nicholas, 15. 
Brown, Ford Madox, 82. 
Browning, Mrs., 89. 
Brut of Layamon, '^^^ 84. 
Bunyan, John, 44. 
Bui ton, 54. 

Csedmon, 82. 
Calchas, 31. 
Cambuscan, 'j'^. 
Cannon, 36. 
Canterbury, 45, 48. 
Caxton, 15, 91. 
Chanon's Yeman, 47, 75. 
Chaunticlere and Pertelote, 

6s. 

Chaucer, Agnes, 10. 

Chaucer, John, 10, 11. 

Chaucer, Lewis, 16, 41. 

Chaucer, Philippa, 13. 

Chaucer, Thomas, 16. 

Chaucer, Geoffrey. 
Born, 10. Page to Duch- 
ess Elizabeth, 11. Soldier 
in France, li. Valet to 
Edward HI, 12. Am- 
bassador, 12. Promoted 
and rewarded, 13. Mar- 
ried to Philippa Roet, 13. 



93 



94 



INDEX 



In favour with Richard 
II and his Queen, 13, 14. 
Knight of the Shire, 14. 
In adversity, 14. Re- 
stored to favour, 14. 
Death, 15. Tomb in 
Westminster Abbey, 15. 
Myths concerning him, 
1 7. Periods of his Works, 
19, etc. Late production 
of his best poems, 37. 
His creation of our liter- 
ature, 43. His unfulfilled 
intentions, 44. Charac- 
teristics of his poetry, 49. 
Catholicity of his por- 
traits, 53. Simplicity of 
his diction, 54. His vo- 
cabulary, 78. Grammar, 
80. Metrical pronuncia- 
tion, 81. Rimes, S^. 
Editions of his works, 86. 
Erudition, Sy. Admira- 
tion of his contemporar- 
ies, 89. 

Chess, 25. 

Chesterfield, Lord, 88. 

Child, Professor, 48. 

Cicero, 26. 

Clarence,Lionel,dukeof, 11. 

Cleopatra, 39. 

Gierke's Tale, 12, 70, 84. 

Coke's Tale, 60. 

Coleridge, 37. 

Compleynt of Mars, 24. 

Compleynt unto Pite, 1 3, 24. 

Compleynt to his Empty 
Purs, 15. 

Croker, 72. 

" Cursor Mundi," 83. 

Custance, 60, 82. 



1 Daisy, the, 38. 
Dante, 9, 29, 34, 35, 40, 

64, 87. 
Deguilleville, G. de, 24. 
Deschamps, Eustache, 19, 

64, 88. 
Dibdin, T. F., 20. 
Doctour, 51. 
Doctour's Tale, 11. 
Don Quixote, 88. 
Douglas, Gawain, 35, 89. 
Dryden, 50, 65, 68. 

Edgeworth, Miss, 65. 

Edward III, King, 9, 11, 
13, 82. 

Eglentyne, Madame, 50. 

Elizabeth, Duchess of Clar- 
ence, II. 

El win, W., 68. 

End-links, 44, 47, 74. 

FitzGerald, 37. 
Fletcher, 59. 
Frankeleyne, 51, 73. 
Friar, 50, 69. 
Froissart, 9, I2. 
Fuller, 54. 
Furnivall, 48, 74. 

Gaunt, John of, 12. 
Gay, 74. J 

Gervinus, 32. ^ 

Gloucester, Duke of, 14. 
Gloucester, Robert of, 

83- 

Golden Legend, 75. 

Goldsmith, 52. 

Gower, 61, 68, 76, S^, 87, 

89. 
Grisildis, 12, 7a 



IN't)EX. 



95 



Hampole, 83. 

Henry IV., 15, 76. 

Heptameron, 44, 74. 

Homer, 34. 

Hous of Fame, 17, 34, etc., 

88. 
Hugh of Lincoln, 62. 

Itinerary of Pilgrims, 48. 

James I, 20, 63, 89. 
Jameson, Mrs., 75. 
January and May, 72. 
Johnson, Dr., 66. 

Knight, the, 50. 
Knightes Tale, 57, etc., 84. 

Lamek, 26. 
Langland, 44. 
Layamon. See Brut. 
Legend of Good Women, 

14, 19, 37, etc., 45. 60, 

84. 
Linian, 70. 
Lionel. See Clarence. 
Loathly, Lady, 68. 
LoUardism, 69. 
Loller, 61. 
LoUius, 34. 
Lorens, 77, 88. 
Lorris, Guillaume de, 17, 

20. 
Lowell, 87. 

Lowis. See Chaucer, Lewis. 
Lucretia, 40. 
Lydgate, 35, 64, 89. 
Lyly, 29, 88. 

Macaulay, 29, 80. 
Macbeth, Lady, ^Z, 



Machault, G. de, 19, 63, 
83, 88. 

Man of Lawes Prologue, 
46, 51, 84. 

Man of Lawes Tale, 60. 

Manciple's Tale, 76. 

Marchaunt, 51. 

Marchaunt's Tale, 71. 

Marie of France, 88. 

Meliboeus, 63. 

Milan, Duke of, 13. 

Meun, Jean de, 19, 20. 

Miller, 53. 

Miller's Tale, 60. 

Milton, 21, 35. 

Minor Poems, 23, 24. 

Minot, Laurence, 83, 84. 

Mirror for Magistrates, 64. 
: Monk, 50. 

j Monk's Tale, 64, %i, 88. 
I Montaigne, 28. 
j Morley, Henry, 87. 
! Morris, Dr., 80, 87. 

I Nonnes Preestes Tale, 65. 

i Occleve, 16, 89. 

i Ormulum, 83. 

I Ovid, 25, 39, 76. 

; Oxenford Scholar, 53. 

1 Palamonand Arcite, 57, etc. 

I Pardoner, 53. 

I • Pardoner's Tale, 67. 

; Parlement of Foules, 26, 83. 

Pecorone, 61. 
I Percy's Reliques, 63. 
I Persone, 52, 61. 
! Persones Tale, 77. 
I Petrarch, 12, 70, ^^J. 
\ Phebus and the Crow, *](). 



9^ 



INDEX 



Philippa, Queen, 9. 

Piers the Plowman, S^, 84. 

Piers the Plowman's Crede, 

49. 
Pope, 35, 67, 72, 89. 
Prioresse. See Eglentyne. 
Prioresses Tale, 62. 
Proverbial sayings, 88. 
Prynne, Hester, 50. 

Ratcliffe, Mrs., 63. 
Reve, 53. 

Reve's Tale, 60, 89. 
Richard II, 13, 37, 38. 
Roger de Coverley, 51. 
Romaunt of Rose, 17, 20, 
etc., 45, 66, 83. 

Sackville, 23. 

Scogan, 24. 

Scott, 33, 34, 37, 68, 73, 82. 

Seynt Cecile, 74. 

Shakespeare, Hamlet, 28. 
Lear, 34. Merchant of 
Venice, 72. Midsammer 
Night's Dream, 72. Troi- 
lus, 32. 

Shipman, 51. 

Shipman's Tale, 62. 

Skeat, Professor, 17, 28, 
41, 48, 60, 73, 80, 82, 
84, 86, S7, 89. 

Skelton, 23, 35. 

Sompnour, 53. 

Sompnour's Tale, 69. 

Speght, 86. 

Spenser, 27, 89. 

Spurious Works, 85, S6. 



Squyer, 16, 50. 

Squyer's Tale, 73i 88. 

Statius, 26, 34. 

Swift, 69. 

Swynford, Catherine, 13. 

Tabard, 46, 47, 48. 
Taylor, Jeremy, 29, 54. 
Ten Brink, Professor, 48. 
Tennyson, 37, 40, 82, 90. 
Theseus, 57. 
Thopas, Sir, 16, 63, 83. 
Thynne, W., 86. 
Troilus and Criseyde, 13, 

30, etc., 83, 87. 
Trivet, Nicholas, 61. 
Tyrwhitt, 17, 63, 72, S6. 

Ugolino, 64. 
Urry, 86. 

Virgil, 34, S^- 
Virginia, 66. 
Viri Illustres, 64. 

Walton, J., 28. 
Warton, T., 87. 
Wordes to Adam, 24. 
Wordsworth, 37, 43, 63, 89. 
Wyf of Bathe, 52. 
Wyf of Bathe, Prologue, 67 . 
Wyf of Bathes Tale, 68. 

Yeman, Chanon's. See Cha- 

non. 
Yeman, Knightes, 50. 

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