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Title: Chaucer and His Times
Author: Hadow, Grace E.
Language: English
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  HOME UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
  OF MODERN KNOWLEDGE


  CHAUCER AND HIS TIMES

  BY GRACE E. HADOW


  LONDON
  WILLIAMS & NORGATE

  HENRY HOLT & Co., NEW YORK
  CANADA: WM. BRIGGS, TORONTO
  INDIA: R. & T. WASHBOURNE, LTD.

  1914



  HOME UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
  OF MODERN KNOWLEDGE

  _Editors_:
    HERBERT FISHER, M.A., F.B.A, LL.D.
    PROF. GILBERT MURRAY, D.LITT., LL.D., F.B.A.
    PROF. J. ARTHUR THOMSON, M.A., LL.D.
    PROF. WILLIAM T. BREWSTER, M.A.
      (Columbia University, U.S.A.)

  NEW YORK
  HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY



  CHAUCER AND HIS TIMES


  BY GRACE E. HADOW

  LECTURER IN ENGLISH, LADY MARGARET
  HALL, OXFORD; LATE READER IN ENGLISH,
  BRYN MAWR COLLEGE, U.S.A.


  LONDON
  WILLIAMS AND NORGATE



_The following volumes of kindred interest have already been published in
this Library_:

  43. English Literature: Mediæval. By Prof. W. P. Ker.
  13. Mediæval Europe. By H. W. C. Davis, M.A.
  45. The English Language. By L. Pearsall Smith, M.A.
  35. Landmarks in French Literature. By G. L. Strachey.


_First Printed April 1914_



CONTENTS


  CHAP.                                               PAGE

       NOTES ON CHAUCER'S USE OF 'E'                    vi

     I CHAUCER'S LIFE AND TIMES                          7

    II CHAUCER'S WORKS                                  32

   III CHAUCER'S TREATMENT OF HIS SOURCES               69

    IV CHAUCER'S CHARACTER-DRAWING                     106

     V CHAUCER'S HUMOUR                                143

    VI CHAUCER'S DESCRIPTIVE POWER                     173

   VII SOME VIEWS OF CHAUCER'S ON MEN AND THINGS       196

  VIII CHAUCER'S INFLUENCE                             229

       BIBLIOGRAPHY                                    254

       INDEX                                           255



NOTES ON CHAUCER'S USE OF 'E'


     1. Final _e_ is usually sounded in Chaucerian verse, but

     (_a_) it is slurred over before a word beginning with a vowel, e.g. I
     noldë sette◠at al that noyse◠a grote; before certain words beginning
     with _h_, such as _he_; any part of the verb to _have_; the adverbs
     _heer_, _how_, and a mute _h_ as in _honour_--e.g. Tho redde◠he me
     how Sampson loste◠his heres:

     (_b_) it is sometimes dropped in certain words in common use such as
     _were_, _hadde_, _wolde_, etc.--e.g. Wolde◠go to bedde,◠he wolde◠no
     lenger tarie.

     2. Middle _e_ is sometimes dropped: e.g. hav(e)nes.

     3. Final _e_ should always be sounded at the end of a line.

These notes are based on the grammatical hints given in Professor Skeat's
Introduction to his single-volume edition of Chaucer's complete works
(Clarendon Press, 1901), from which the illustrations in this book are
also drawn. To his researches and to those of Professors Lounsbury and Ten
Brink, and of the members of the Chaucer Society, all students of Chaucer
must gratefully acknowledge their indebtedness. In quoting from Chaucer I
have kept to Professor Skeat's spelling. All attempts to modernise
Chaucerian verse inevitably result in destroying something of the charm
and melody of the original. Readers whose eyes are not accustomed to the
forms of Middle English will find practically all difficulty disappear if
they read the passages aloud with modern pronunciation. With other Middle
English and Scottish poets I have reluctantly taken greater liberties,
since their language is often more remote from the speech of to-day. An
example of the original Scottish forms will be found on p. 240.

G. E. H.



CHAUCER AND HIS TIMES



CHAPTER I

CHAUCER'S LIFE AND TIMES


"The biography of Chaucer is built upon doubts and thrives upon
perplexities" according to one of the most famous of Chaucer scholars, and
the more carefully we consider the evidence upon which this statement is
based, the more fully do we find it endorsed. The name Chaucer itself has
been variously derived from the Latin _calcearius_, a shoemaker, the
French _chaussier_, a maker of long hose, and the French _chaufecire_,
chafe-wax (_i. e._ a clerk of the court of Chancery whose duty consisted
in affixing seals to royal documents). The one point of agreement seems to
be that the family was undoubtedly of French origin, though whether the
founder of the English branch came over with the Conqueror or in Henry
III's reign, cannot be decided. Most scholars are now agreed that Geoffrey
Chaucer was born about 1340, and that his father was John Chaucer, a
vintner of Thames Street, London, though at one time his birth was dated
as early as 1328, and Mr. Snell, in his _Age of Chaucer_, endeavours
further to darken counsel--already sufficiently obscure--by suggesting
that there may have been two contemporary Geoffreys, and that the facts
which are usually accepted as throwing light on the history of the poet
may really apply to his unknown namesake. This theory, however, has at
present no evidence to support it, and it is reasonable to assume that
Chaucer was a native of London. Possibly it was his early association with
the wine-trade that gave him such insight into its mysteries, and called
forth the Pardoner's warning:--

  Now kepe yow fro the whyte and fro the rede,
  And namely fro the whyte wyn of Lepe,
  That is to selle in Fish-strete or in Chepe.
  This wyn of Spayne crepeth subtilly
  In othere wynes, growing faste by,
  Of which there ryseth swich fumositee
  That when a man hath dronken draughtes three
  And weneth that he be at hoom in Chepe,
  He is in Spayne, right at the toune of Lepe.

    (_Pardoners Tale_, l. 562, etc.)

And it is noteworthy that more than once Chaucer goes out of his way to
inveigh against drunkenness:--

  A lecherous thing is wyn, and dronkenesse
  Is ful of stryving and of wrecchednesse

    *       *       *       *       *

  For dronkenesse is verray sepulture
  Of mannes wit and his discrecioun.

    (_Pardoners Tale_, l. 549-559.)

Of his early years we know nothing. Probably he lived the life of other
boys of that time: Lydgate's portrait of the mediæval school-boy may well
stand for a type:--

  I had in custom to come to school late
  Not for to learn but for a countenance,
  With my fellows ready to debate,
  To jangle and jape was set all my pleasaunce.
  Whereof rebuked was my Chevisaunce[1]
  To forge a lesyng and thereupon to muse
  When I trespassed myselfe to excuse.

    *       *       *       *       *

  Loth to rise, lother to bed at eve;
  With unwashed handes ready aye to dinner;
  My Paternoster, my Creed, or my Believe
  Cast at the Cook; lo! this was my manner;
  Waved with each wind, as doth a reede-spear;
  Snibbed[2] of my friends such taches[3] for to amend
  Made deaf eare list nat to them attend.

    (_Testament._)

Leland, with that sublime disregard for anything so prosaic as evidence
which characterises sixteenth-century biographers, declares that "Geoffrey
Chaucer, a youth of noble birth and highest promise, studied at Oxford
University with all the earnestness of those who have applied themselves
most diligently to learning.... He left the University an acute logician,
a delightful orator, an elegant poet, a profound philosopher, and an able
mathematician"; and to this list of accomplishments he afterwards adds,
"and a devout theologian." Fifty years later, Speght--to whom lovers of
Chaucer are deeply indebted in other respects--equally authoritatively
asserts that he was at Cambridge, but as he bases this assertion on a
remark--

  Philogenet I called am far and near
  Of Cambridge clerk--

made by one of the characters in the _Court of Love_, a poem which
scholars are now universally of opinion is not Chaucer's work, it has
little weight. As a matter of fact Chaucer's name does not appear in the
records of any college at either university, and, as Professor Lounsbury
has conclusively shown, wide as are the poet's interests, and great as
his knowledge undoubtedly is, the scholarship shown by his works is not so
remarkable as necessarily to imply close and protracted study. Classical
legends were frequently embodied in the romances of an age in which, if we
may believe Jean Bodel, himself a poet,

  Ne sont que trois matières à nul homme entendant,
  De France, et de Bretagne, et de Rome la grant,[4]

and the habit of treating Alexander the Great as if he were
brother-in-arms to Roland and Oliver naturally opened the door to all
sorts of embellishments and modifications. A veil of romance covers and
colours the history of Greece and Rome. To Chaucer, Cleopatra is akin to
the Lady of the Hideous Pass, or Morgan le Fay. The account of her death
given in the _Legend of Good Women_ (l. 671, etc.) is purely mediæval:--

  (She) made her subtil workmen make a shryne
  Of alle the rubies and the stones fyne
  In all Egipte that she coude espye;
  And putte ful the shryne of spycerye,
  And leet the cors embaume;[5] and forth she fette
  This dede cors, and in the shryne hit shette.[6]
  And next the shryne a pit than doth she grave;
  And alle the serpents that she mighte have
  She putte hem in that grave....

    *       *       *       *       *

  And with that word, naked, with ful good herte,
  Among the serpents in the pit she sterte.[7]

Nor is this devout theologian always accurate in his references to Bible
history. His allusions to Old Testament stories are full of mistakes, as,
for instance, when he speaks (in _Book of Duchesse_, l. 738) of Samson
slaying himself with a pillar for love of Delila. It was not an age of
nice scholarship, or care for detail. Men used stories as they found them,
and repeated them as they happened to remember them, and no one was
hyper-critical enough to refer to the original. More than half a century
after Chaucer's death Caxton translates the _Æneid_, not from the Latin of
Virgil, but from "a little book in French," and Gawain Douglas, the most
scholarly of all the Scottish poets of the early sixteenth century,
regards it as a moral allegory of the soul's progress, cast in the form
of an epic. But while Chaucer's occasional mistranslations of Latin words
and misrenderings of classical legends cannot be said to disprove his
residence at one of the universities, they certainly cannot be said to
support Leland's statement, and the probability is that he early became
attached to the court. The reign of Edward III witnessed a marked increase
in the prosperity of the merchant class. The members of the great trade
guilds were men of wealth and importance and there is nothing surprising
in finding a vintner's son one of the household of Elizabeth, wife of the
king's son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence. In fact the seals of John Chaucer
and Agnes his wife show that both bore arms. In 1357 we find, from the
royal accounts, that Geoffrey Chaucer was provided with a paltok (cloak)
costing four shillings, and a pair of red and black breeches and a pair of
shoes, valued at three shillings, and in December of the same year he
received a grant of 2_s._ 6_d._ "for necessaries against the feast of the
Nativity" (Chaucer Soc., _Life Records of Chaucer_, p. xiv). The
_Canterbury Tales_ give abundant proof that their author had a keen eye
for the niceties of dress, and at seventeen he had doubtless a proper
appreciation of new shoes and red and black breeches.

Two years later (1359) he served in the French wars and was taken prisoner
at "Retters," a place which has been variously identified as Retiers, near
Rennes, and Rethel, near Reims. He was liberated in March 1360, Edward III
paying £16 (over £200 of our money) towards his ransom, which looks as if
he were considered a person of some importance. Apparently he returned to
court life in England, and to the duties of _valettus camerae regis_. A
valet of the King's Chamber had to "make beddis, to beare or hold torches,
to sett boardis, to apparell all chambres, and such othir seruices as the
Chamberlain, or Vshers of the Chambre, comaunde or assigne, to attend the
Chambre, to watch the King by course, to go in messages, etc." (_Life
Records_, Pt. II, p. xi), and holders of the office must have had ample
opportunity of acquiring the wisdom of Placebo:--

  I have now been a court-man al my lyf.
    And god it woot,[8] though I unworthy be,
  I have stonden in ful greet degree
  Abouten lordes of ful heigh estaat;
  Yet hadde I never with noon of hem debaat.
  I never hem contraried,[9] trewely;
  I woot wel that my lord can[10] more than I.
  What that he seith, I holde it ferme and stable;
  I say the same, or elles thing semblable.[11]
  A ful gret fool is any conseillour,
  That serveth any lord of heigh honour,
  That dar presume, or elles thenken it,
  That his conseil sholde passe his lordes wit.
  Nay, lordes been no foles,[12] by my fay.

    (_Marchantes Tale_, l. 1492, etc.)

In 1366 a pension was granted to Philippa Chaucer, one of the damsels of
the Queen's Chamber, and it is usually thought that this indicates
Chaucer's marriage about this time, since in 1381 the money was paid "to
Geoffrey Chaucer, her husband." Philippa seems to have been the
sister--the Chaucer Society suggests, the sister-in-law--of Katherine
Swynford, who became John of Gaunt's third wife, and this connection
possibly helps to explain the consistent kindness shown to Chaucer by the
House of Lancaster. Various attempts have been made to show that the
marriage was an unhappy one. Some of these will be noticed later in
treating of Chaucer's women, here it may suffice to say that although it
is true that he paints a sufficiently gloomy picture of married life in
the _Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton_, that neither the host nor the merchant
are happy in their choice, and that the _Lenvoy_ which concludes the
_Clerkes Tale_ warns husbands that if they expect to find their wives
patient Griseldas they will certainly be disappointed, we have to remember
that the shrewish wife was as stock a comic convention of those days as
the shrewish mother-in-law of later times, and when it comes to taking
away the character of Philippa Chaucer on the ground that her husband
complains in the _Hous of Fame_ that he is unaccustomed to be awakened
gently, it is impossible not to feel that she is receiving unnecessarily
harsh treatment. Equally slight is the evidence for his suffering from an
unhappy love affair. In the _Parlement of Foules_ (ll. 89, 90) he speaks
of himself as

  Fulfild of thought and besy hevinesse;
  For bothe I hadde thing which that I nolde,[13]
  And eek I ne hadde that thing that I wolde,

and commentators have leaped to the conclusion that he is here referring
to his wife and a lady of high rank for whom he sighed in vain. In the
same way when, in the _Book of the Duchesse_, he speaks of having suffered
for eight years from a sickness which one physician alone can cure, this
is taken as an unmistakable reference to the same unrequited passion. But
we have nothing to show that in these passages Chaucer is revealing his
actual feelings. To be crossed in love is proper to every poet, and if his
wife might have been justly annoyed when in 1382--at least sixteen years
after his marriage--he wrote

  ... I knowe not love in dede
  Ne wot how that he quyteth folk hir hyre,[14]

    (_Parlement of Foules_, ll. 8, 9.)

"Rosemounde"--if she had any real existence--can hardly have felt
complimented by the affection of a poet who told her--and the world at
large--

  Nas never pyk walwed in galauntyne
  As I in love am walwed and y-wounde.[15]

There is no proof one way or the other.

We know nothing of his children, except that in 1391 he wrote a treatise
on the astrolabe for his little son Lewis, then ten years of age.
Gascoigne, a generation after Chaucer's death, speaks of Thomas Chaucer, a
well-known man of wealth and position in the early fifteenth century,
more than once Speaker of the House of Commons, as Geoffrey's son, but no
mention is made of him by Chaucer himself or by any of his contemporaries
or immediate successors. John of Gaunt paid a considerable sum of money to
place a certain Elizabeth Chaucer in the nunnery of Barking in 1381, but
she is usually considered to have been the poet's sister.

In 1367 Chaucer himself was granted a pension of twenty marks a year for
life, in recognition of his services, and in 1368 (or, according to Mr. G.
C. Coulton, 1372) he was promoted to be an Esquire of the royal household.
The duties of an esquire seem better suited to a poet than those of a
valet: "These Esquires of houshold of old be accustumed winter & summer in
afternoons & in eunings to drawe to Lordes Chambres within Court, there to
keep honest company after there Cunninge, in talking of Cronicles of
Kinges & of others pollicies, & in pipeing or harpinge, songinges or other
actes marcealls, to helpe to occupie the Court, & accompanie estraingers
till the time require of departing."

In 1369 a Geoffrey Chaucer was again with the army in France, but no
particular adventures seem to have befallen him.

At this time John of Gaunt's influence was paramount at the English court,
which may partly account for Chaucer's steady and rapid promotion. In 1370
he was sent abroad on an important mission--the exact nature of which we
do not know--and two years later he went to Genoa to arrange which English
port should become the headquarters of the Genoese trade. From Genoa he
went to Florence, and by November 1373 he was back in England again.

When Chaucer went to Italy, Dante had already been dead for over fifty
years, but Petrarch and Boccaccio, the other members of that great trilogy
of the earlier Renaissance, were both alive. Chaucer makes his clerk
declare that he learned the tale of Griselda

  ... at Padowe of a worthy clerk,

    *       *       *       *       *

  Fraunceys Petrark, the laureat poete,
  Highte this clerk, whos rethoryke sweete
  Enlumined al Itaille of poetrye,[16]

    (_Clerkes Prologue_, ll. 31-33.)

but it is impossible to say whether this is autobiographical or not. The
two poets may well have met, but in this, as in so many other cases, we
cannot be certain. It is improbable that he ever met Boccaccio, since,
largely as he borrows from the _Filostrato_ and the _Teseide_, he never
once mentions Boccaccio's name, and when, in _Troilus and Criseyde_, he
confesses that he is indebted to an earlier poet for his story, he gives
him the apparently fictitious name of Lollius. Mr. Coulton suggests that
Boccaccio's works may have been published anonymously and that Chaucer may
have been ignorant of their real author, and this could hardly have been
the case if the two had met. But whether Chaucer had, or had not, any
personal intercourse with Petrarch and Boccaccio, both their work and
Dante's exercised marked influence upon him. More of this will be said in
the next chapter; here it is sufficient to note that the Italian mission
affected not only his material prosperity but also his literary
development.

Meanwhile he continued to grow in favour at court. On St. George's Day,
1374, he was granted a daily pitcher of wine from the royal cellars--later
commuted for a payment in money. In the following May he rented the
gate-house of Aldgate from the corporation of London. A month later he was
appointed controller of customs for wool, etc., in the port of London,
receiving a few days afterwards an additional pension of £10 a year from
John of Gaunt and his wife. Office work seems to have weighed heavily on
the poet, and there may well be truth in the complaint of the _Hous of
Fame_ (Bk. II, l. 644, etc.) that it cut him off from all intercourse with
the world:--

  ... thou hast no tydinges
  Of Loves folk, if they be glade,
  Ne of noght elles that god made;
  And noght only fro fer contree
  That ther no tyding comth to thee,
  But of thy verray neyghebores,
  That dwellen almost at thy dores,
  Thou herest neither that ne this;
  For whan thy labour doon al is,
  And hast y-maad thy rekeninges,
  In stede of reste and newe thinges,
  Thou gost hoom to thy hous anoon;
  And, also domb as any stoon,
  Thou sittest at another boke,
  Til fully daswed is thy loke,[17]
  And livest thus as an hermyte
  Although thyn abstinence is lyte.

In November 1375 Chaucer was granted the wardship of Edmund Staplegate of
Kent. Few persons nowadays would welcome such a charge, but in the
fourteenth century the position of guardian was highly coveted, and not
infrequently bought for a good round sum, since the holder had a right to
a certain percentage (sometimes amounting to as much as 10%) of the ward's
property, to say nothing of the power of selling him (or her) in marriage.
This particular wardship brought in £103.

In 1376-7 Chaucer was again employed on various secret missions abroad. In
April 1377 he was sent to France to treat for peace with Charles V, for
which service he received £48 13_s._ 4_d._ In June of this year Edward III
died, but for a time John of Gaunt still retained his power, and soon
after the accession of the boy king, Richard II, we find Chaucer sent on
an embassy to

                Barnabo Viscounte,
  God of delyt, and scourge of Lumbardye.

    (_Monkes Tale_, ll. 408-409.)

Amongst those whom he appointed to act for him during his absence, was his
friend and fellow-poet, John Gower.

In May 1380 occurred a curious incident, of which no full and satisfactory
explanation has yet been found. By a deed dated May 1st, one Cecilia de
Chaumpaigne releases Geoffrey Chaucer from a charge which she had brought
against him _de raptu meo_. It has been suggested (_Camb. Hist. Lit._,
Vol. II) that this may refer to one of those attempts to carry off an heir
or heiress and marry them forcibly to some relation of the abductor, which
were not infrequent at the time. Chaucer's own father had been the victim
of such an attempt, being kidnapped in order that he might be married to
Joan de Westhale. The case had come before the courts and the jury found
that "the defendants had by night forcibly abducted John le Chaucer from
the plaintiff's custody, but did not marry him," and assessed the damages
at £250. John Chaucer was under fourteen at the time, and there are
instances of mere babies of four and five being carried off in the same
way. One poor little lady was twice widowed and thrice married before she
was nine. Whatever the facts may have been in connection with Cecilia de
Chaumpaigne it is evident that Chaucer's influence at court was sufficient
to protect him from any unpleasant consequences.

A year later (May 1382) to his controllership of wool was added that of
petty customs. This probably meant a substantial increase of income, but
the poet, who found his original duties sufficiently irksome, does not
seem to have looked with favour upon a corresponding increase in office
hours. In February 1385 he was granted the privilege of appointing a
permanent deputy to perform his official duties. Professor Skeat suggests
that the expressions of gratitude towards the queen which are inserted in
the later version of the prologue to the _Legend of Good Women_, point to
the probability that he owed this unusual concession to her intervention.

About this time Chaucer seems to have given up his house over Aldgate and
to have moved to Greenwich. The lease of the Aldgate house was made over
to a certain Richard Foster in 1386, and in the _Lenvoy a Scogan_ (written
probably about 1393) Chaucer contrasts the lot of his friend,

  ... that knelest at the stremes heed
  Of grace, of alle honour and worthinesse,

with his own fate at the other end of the same stream,

  Forgete in solitarie wildernesse,

and adds two footnotes to explain that he is referring in the first place
to Windsor and in the second to Greenwich. If the description in the
prologue to the _Legend of Good Women_ is not mere poetic fiction, it
would seem that the poet had a pleasant country house and garden in his
"solitarie wildernesse," and that he cultivated the excellent habit of
sleeping out of doors in the summer.

Meanwhile his activity found scope in various directions. He had been
appointed a Justice of the Peace for Kent in 1381, and in 1386 he entered
Parliament as one of the Knights of the Shire for the same county. In
August of this year Chaucer's patron, John of Gaunt, went to Spain, and
during his absence his brother and rival, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester,
succeeded in establishing his ascendancy over the king. Chaucer felt the
change at once. He was deprived of both his controllerships, and the money
loss must have been considerable. In 1387 his wife died, so that her
pension must also have lapsed. Evidently the poet was in straits, for in
1388 he was driven to raising money on his pensions and allowances, making
them over to John Scalby of Lincolnshire. His abstinence, as we have seen,
was "lyte," and the necessity for retrenchment must have been extremely
galling.

The fall of Gloucester in 1389 swept away the clouds which had darkened
the poet's sky. Once more we find him filling one office after another,
and engaged in such useful and prosaic occupations as superintending the
repairs done to the banks of the Thames or the erection of scaffolds in
Smithfield for the king and queen to view the tournament held there in May
1390. One of his appointments was that of Clerk of the Works to his
Majesty, which gave him charge of the fabric of the Tower, Westminster
Palace, Windsor Castle, and other royal residences. He was commissioner of
the roads between Greenwich and Woolwich, and the post of sub-forester of
North Pemberton Park (in Somerset) must have given him ample opportunity
for studying

  The bilder ook, and eek the hardy asshe;
  The piler elm, the cofre unto careyne;[18]
  The boxtree piper;[19] holm[20] to whippes lasshe;
  The sayling firr;[21] the cipres, deth to pleyne;[22]
  The sheter ew,[23] the asp for shaftes pleyne,[24]

if not--

  The olyve of pees, and eek the drunken vyne

or--

  The victor palm.

    (_Parlement of Foules_, l. 176, etc.
    The whole passage is taken from Boccaccio's _Teseide_.)

The commissionership of roads can have been no sinecure. In 1499--after
nearly a century more of development and civilisation--"a glover from
Leighton Buzzard travelled with his wares to Aylesbury for the market
before Christmas Day. It happened that an Aylesbury miller, Richard Boose,
finding that his mill needed repairs, sent a couple of servants to dig
clay called 'Ramming clay' for him on the highway, and was in no way
dismayed because the digging of this clay made a great pit in the middle
of the road ten feet wide, eight feet broad, and eight feet deep, which
was quickly filled with water by the winter rains. But the unhappy glover,
making his way from the town in the dusk, with his horse laden with
paniers full of gloves, straightway fell into the pit, and man and horse
were drowned. The miller was charged with his death, but was acquitted by
the court on the ground that he had no malicious intent and had only dug
the pit to repair his mill, and because he really did not know of any
other place to get the kind of clay he wanted save the highroad" (Mrs.
Green, _Town Life in the Fifteenth Century_, Vol. II, pp. 31-2). The
modern traveller in the United States is sometimes surprised at dusk by
finding the highway temporarily blocked by a house which is being moved
from one side to the other and has been dumped down at the end of the
day's work, but this is nothing to finding that the road itself has been
removed bodily. It is true that the corporation of Nottingham issued an
order in 1507 forbidding people to dig holes in the market-place without
leave, but this was long after Chaucer's day, and if such ordinances were
necessary to protect the actual market-place of a busy commercial city, it
is not difficult to imagine the condition of country roads. The keeping of
bridges in repair was looked upon, not as a matter of ordinary business,
but as an act of piety, so that on the Continent special "Bridge Friars"
existed, part of whose religious duties consisted in such work. In 1311-16
Richard of Kellawe, Bishop of Durham, offered forty days' indulgence to
all those "who shall help by their charitable gifts, or by their bodily
labour" in repairing various roads and bridges (Jusserand, _English
Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages_, p. 4). And in 1353 a patent of Edward
III had ordered the paving of the highroad from Temple Bar to Westminster,
since "it is so full of holes and bogs ... and the pavement is so damaged
and broken" that traffic has become dangerous to man and beast. No wonder
that robbers abounded, and that pilgrims found safety in numbers.

In 1390 highwaymen seem to have been particularly active, and the
commissioner of roads himself was robbed more than once. Richard Brerelay
was indicted for having "with others unknown" robbed Geoffrey Chaucer at
Westminster of the sum of £10, on the Tuesday after the Nativity of the
Virgin Mary (_i. e._ September 6); and in the same year "near the Fowle
Ok" at Hatcham, in Surrey, Chaucer was robbed of a horse worth £10, goods
worth 100 shillings, and £20 6_s._ 8_d._ in cash. Some, at least, of this
seems to have been public money, for he was granted a royal pardon for the
loss of £20 of the King's money taken from him "by some notable robbers."

In 1391 he lost his post as Clerk of the Works, but this does not seem to
imply any serious loss of the royal favour, for three years later the
king granted him a pension of £20 (about £300 of our money) a year for
life. During the interval he seems to have got into money difficulties,
for no sooner was this grant made than his creditors promptly sued him for
debt.

In 1398 he received an additional grant of wine--a tun a year for
life--and was also promoted to be sole, instead of sub-, forester of North
Pemberton. In 1399 the son of his earliest and most powerful patron came
to the throne, and Chaucer, who was still struggling with his creditors,
addressed an impassioned appeal to him. Already, in 1398, the poet had
been threatened with legal proceedings, and although the king had
entrusted him with various commissions in the country, he had not dared to
leave his house for fear of arrest (Ten Brink, _History of English
Literature_, Vol. II, p. 198). No wonder he sang:--

  To you, my purse, and to non other wight
  Compleyne I, for ye be my lady dere!
  I am so sory, now that ye be light;
  For certes, but ye make me hevy chere.

    (_The Complaint of Chaucer to his Empty Purse._
    Professor Ten Brink believes this poem to have been
    addressed to King Richard, but Professor Skeat has
    no doubt that it was addressed to Henry.)

It is consoling to learn that Henry IV added forty marks a year to the
pension granted by King Richard, thus bringing Chaucer's income up to £600
or £700 of our money. This new outburst of good fortune promised well for
the future, and Chaucer evidently looked forward to a prosperous and
comfortable old age, for, on December 24, 1399, he took the lease of a
house in the garden of St. Mary's, Westminster, for fifty-four years. He
was not, however, to make long use of his new possession, for on October
25, 1400, he died, and his grave was the first to mark the Poets' Corner
of Westminster Abbey. One of his later ballades, _Truth_ may well serve as
epitaph for the poet whom court life could never corrupt into a courtier,
and whose clear sight and sharp wit never led him into bitterness or
cynicism:--

  That thee is sent, receyve in buxumnesse,[25]
  The wrastling for this worlde axeth a fal.
  Her nis non hoom,[26] her nis but wildernesse:
  Forth pilgrim, forth! Forth beste out of thy stal!
  Know thy contree, look up, thank God of al;
  Hold the hye way, and lat thygost thee lede:[27].
  And trouthe shal delivre, hit is no drede.[28]



CHAPTER II

CHAUCER'S WORKS


When Chaucer began to write, English literature was at a low ebb. The
Norman Conquest had practically killed the old alliterative poetry, and
the passion and mysticism of Old English epic and lament had given way to
the prim didacticism of interminable homilies in verse, or the jog-trot
respectability of rhymed chronicles. "For a long time before and after
1100," says Professor Ker, "there is a great scarcity of English
production," and the more ambitious attempts at verse which appeared in
the twelfth, thirteenth, and early fourteenth centuries, are entirely
lacking in the charm and dignity of pre-Conquest poetry. "The verse of
Layamon's _Brut_ is unsteady, never to be trusted, changing its pace
without warning in a most uncomfortable way." Nor as a rule is the matter
greatly superior to the manner. Such interest as is possessed by the
majority of the poems of this period (apart from the definitely
historical or philological point of view) arises largely from the
unconscious naïveté and simplicity of their authors. What hard heart could
refuse to be touched by the difficulties which that saintly hermit Richard
Rolle of Hampole had evidently experienced in distinguishing the sex of a
baby, or to share in the triumph with which he suggests a solution of the
difficulty:--

  For unethes[29] is a child born fully
  That it ne beginnes to yowle and cry;
  And by that cry men may know then
  Whether it be man or woman,
  For when it is born it cries swa;[30]
  If it be man it says "a, a."
  That the first letter is of the nam(e)
  Of our fore-father Adam.
  And if the child a woman be,
  When it is born it says "e, e,"
  E is the first letter and the hede[31]
  Of the name of Eve that began our dede.[32]

But delightful as this is, it is not poetry. In the middle of the
fourteenth century come the notable exceptions of _Sir Gawayne_, _The
Pearl_, and _Piers Plowman_, but by this time we are already drawing near
the era of Chaucer himself. His poor Parson dismisses the popular
alliterative verse of the day contemptuously enough:--

  I can nat geste--rum, ram, ruf--by lettre--

but perhaps his strictures must not be taken too seriously, as he goes on
to say:--

  Ne, God wot, rym holde I but litel bettre--

a sentiment with which we can hardly imagine Chaucer to have been in
sympathy. As a matter of fact, the lyric verse which lightens up the three
hundred years from the Conquest to Chaucer, has a daintiness and grace
which show that the poetic sense of England was by no means dead. _Sumer
is icumen in, Lenten is come with love to toune, Of one that is so fair
and bright_, and numberless other songs with which recent anthologies have
made everyone familiar are sufficient evidence of this. But these are
chance flowers blossoming haphazard beside the dusty highway.

One well-beaten track, it is true, does lead us through green glades and
meadows enamelled with eye-pleasing flowers to the mysterious depths of
enchanted forests haunted by fell enchanters and baleful dragons, but the
metrical romances are for the most part more or less direct translations
from French originals, and show little that is distinctively English,
beyond a tendency to cut the sentiment and come to the story.[33]

To French influence also we owe the development of satire. Old Norse and
Icelandic poetry abound in instances of dry humour, but the Anglo-Saxon
idea of repartee seems--if we may judge by pre-Conquest literature--to
have consisted chiefly in such grim jests as baking the head of your
enemy's son in a pie and inviting the father to dinner. Tenderness,
passion, imagination, are to be found in such poems as _Beowulf_, the
_Husband's Lament_, _Judith_, but it is not until French wit flashes
across English seriousness that we travel to the Land of Cokaygne, where

  There are rivers great and fine
  Of oil, of milk, honey, and wine.
  Water serveth there for nothing
  Save to look at, and for washing:

or listen to Hendyng's shrewd comments on human nature:--

  Many a man saith, were he rich,
  There shoulde none be me y-lyche[34]
      To be good and free;
  But when he hath ought bygeten[35]
  All the freedom is forgeten
      And laid under knee.
  "He is free of his horse, that never had one,"
                  Quoth Hendyng.

The prose of the period is still less inspiring than the poetry. Not even
Chaucer discovered that prose-writing is an art. Works of any importance
were written in Latin, and such English prose as there was, consisted in
sermons, lives of the saints, etc. Now and then some author happens upon a
telling phrase or an apt illustration, but such instances are few and
obviously accidental. French influence was too strong for native
literature to put forth any very vigorous shoots of its own, and attempts
to force homilies, scientific treatises, and historical records into
French rhyme forms led to the production of such dreary works as the
_Cursor Mundi_ or Layamon's _Brut_.

By the fourteenth century, however, Normans and Saxons had long since
begun to amalgamate, and the Hundred Years' War did much to foster the
spirit of patriotism, and thus weld together the conflicting elements of
which the nation was composed. Different dialects prevailed in different
parts of the country, but they were at least varieties of English, and
English was the language of the people as a whole. French, whether of
Paris or of Stratford atte Bowe, was learned as a foreign tongue, although
as late as the end of the fourteenth century we still find Gower writing
indifferently in Latin, French, and English. It needed only that there
should arise an author great enough to establish some one dialect--or
combination of dialects--as standard English, and this creation of
language from dialect, we owe--among other things--in large measure to
Chaucer.

London was already the centre of English trade and industry, and the
circumstances of its position, which brought its inhabitants into contact
with both Northerners and Southerners, made its dialect particularly
suitable for the standard language of the country. Chaucer, as we have
seen, was London born and bred, and wrote naturally in the "cokeneye"
dialect, thus helping to establish it as the common speech. The modern
reader who turns over the pages of the _Ayenbite of Inwit_ or the _Ancren
Riwle_ finds himself confronted by what is practically a foreign tongue;
it is excusable if he finds even _Piers Plowman_ baffling in places, and
has difficulty in construing such passages as:--

  He was pale as a pelet, in the palsye he semed,
  And clothed in a caurimaury, I couthe it nouȝte discreue;
  In kirtel and kourteley, and a knyf bi his syde;
  Of a freres frokke were þe forsleues,[36]

but Chaucer's English, full as it may be of old and decayed terms,
presents few serious difficulties to any ordinary intelligence. We may
have to look up a word here and there in the glossary, or find ourselves
puzzled by some astronomical or chemical terms, but these are merely by
the way, and Chaucer fairly lays claim to the title of Father, not only of
English poetry, but of modern English.

In metre his work is no less remarkable. Professor Skeat, in his
introduction to the Oxford edition of Chaucer's works, gives a list of no
less than thirteen metres which he introduced into English poetry,
consisting for the most part of modifications and alterations of French
and Italian models.

The so-called Chaucerian stanza consists of seven lines of iambic verse
rhyming _ababbcc_--_e. g._:

    Ămōng thĭse chīldrĕn wās ă wīdwë̆s sōnë
  Ă lītĕl clērgeŏn, sēvĕn yēēr ŏf āgë,
  Thăt dāy by̆ dāy tŏ scōlë̆ wās hĭs wōnë,
  Ănd ēēk ălsō, whĕr-ās hĕ sāūgh th' ĭmāgë
  Ŏf Crīstĕs mōdĕr, hādde◠hĕ īn ŭsāgë
  Ăs hīm wăs tāūght, tŏ knēle◠adōūn and sēyë
  Hĭs _Āvé̆ Mārie_,◠ăs hē gŏth bȳ thĕ wēyë.

It is a modification of a form used by Boccaccio, and was itself possibly
used by Spenser as the basis of his peculiar stanza. Chaucer employs it
very largely for narrative purposes, preventing it from becoming
monotonous by varying the place of the cæsura, and freely adding or
suppressing weak syllables when he so desires. Mr. A. W. Pollard, in his
article on Chaucer in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_, declares that the
English poet borrowed both his stanza and his decasyllabic line from
Guillaume de Machault. The point of the whole matter, however, lies, not
in whether Chaucer was indebted to French or Italian sources for his
metres, but in the fact that he revealed the latent possibilities of
English as a poetic medium.

It is usual to divide Chaucer's life into three periods, and to speak of
him as successively under French, Italian, and English influence, and
although, as Professor Ker has pointed out, this method is open to some
objections, it brings out certain critical points of interest and is worth
adhering to for the sake of clearness.

French, as we have seen, had long been the dominant influence in English
literature. To French erotic poetry we owe the elaborate code of duties
owed by husband to wife and lover to mistress, and the whole artificial
convention which prescribed unhappy love affairs and revelled in the
minute analysis of over-strained emotion. "In poetry and life," says Ten
Brink, "fashion required an educated young man, especially one in the
service of the court, to fall in love at the earliest opportunity, and, if
possible, hopelessly." We have already seen Chaucer obeying this
convention in the _Book of the Duchesse_ and the _Parlement of Foules_,
and to these may be added the _Compleinte unto Pitè_, the _Compleint to
his Lady, Merciles Beaute_, _To Rosemounde_, _Against Women Unconstant_,
_An Amorous Compleint_, and Book I, stanza 3 of _Troilus and Criseyde_.
The poet protests so much that it is difficult to believe that he is
describing anything more than a lover bewailing his unhappy lot (in the
French fashion). Evidently French love-poetry appealed strongly to his
imagination, for one of his earliest works is a translation of the famous
_Romance of the Rose_. This long, allegorical poem (the original consists
of over 22,000 lines), falls into two parts. The first, by Guillaume de
Lorris, describes the search of the ideal lover for the mystic rose. The
hero is admitted by the portress Idleness into a fair garden of flowers,
where he finds Sir Mirth, Lady Courtesy, Dame Gladness, and many another
gallant and debonair knight and lady. In this garden is the enchanted Well
of Love, in whose depths the lover beholds the image of the Rose. He tries
to seize it, and finds that a hard struggle lies before him ere he can
hope to win the prize of love. Lorris left the poem unfinished, and the
second part was added by Jean le Meung, a cynic with no very high opinion
of women or of love. He introduces a sceptical friend who has a long
conversation with the lover in which he points out with extreme clearness
the drawbacks of marriage and the frailties of women.

The English version of the poem consists of three fragments, A, B, and C
(it is only 7,696 lines in all), and scholars are divided in opinion as to
how much of the translation is actually by Chaucer himself. Professor
Saintsbury, in the _Cambridge History of Literature_ considers that
Chaucer is probably the author of A, possibly the author of B, and
probably not the author of C. He must, however, have been known as the
translator of the later part, for in the _Prologue to the Legend of Good
Women_ (written about 1385), the god of love scolds the poet severely on
the ground,--

  Thou hast translated the Romauns of the Rose
  That is an hereyse ageyns my lawe.

Another early work is the A.B.C., a hymn in honour of the Virgin, modelled
upon a similar poem by Guillaume de Deguileville. Deguileville was well
known as a devotional writer at the time, and according to Speght
Chaucer's paraphrase was written "at the request of Blanch Duchesse of
Lancaster, as a praier for her priuat vse, being a woman in her religion
very deuout." There is, however, no evidence of this, and Ten Brink
believes that the A.B.C. dates from a later period when the poet was
passing through a phase of deep religious feeling. Whatever the facts
about this particular poem may be, it is interesting to notice that even
in these early days Chaucer combined some of the qualities of a satirist
with those of an idealist.

His first great original work was produced in 1369, when John of Gaunt's
beautiful and charming young wife died. The _Book of the Duchesse_ makes
no pretence to originality of treatment. The poet, after a conventional
lament over the conventional hard-heartedness of his mistress, falls into
a conventional slumber in the course of which he has a conventional dream
that he is following a conventional hunt in a conventional forest. Here he
meets a handsome young man

  Of the age of four and twenty yeer

    *       *       *       *       *

  And he was clothed al in blakke.

The young man is complaining to himself most piteously:--

  Hit was gret wonder that nature
  Might suffre(n) any creature
  To have swich sorwe and be not deed.

The poet is touched by his sorrow, and since they have evidently lost the
hunt, he begs the mourner to tell him of "his sorwes smerte." This opens
the way for a long, rambling lament, full of allusions to classical
mythology. So involved is it, that the poet finds some difficulty in
grasping the point, and cuts into a description of the lady's charms with
a puzzled,--

  Sir ... wher is she now?

The brief answer--

  I have lost more than thou wenest

    *       *       *       *

  She is deed--

strikes a note of tragedy which is beyond the scope of the youthful poet
as yet, and the elegy ends abruptly with

  Is that your los? by god hit is routhe.[37]

The scheme of the poem is simple, the idea is borrowed from French
laments, and whole passages are translated from de Machault's _Le Dit de
la Fontaine Amoureuse_ and _Remède de la Fortune_, but through all the
stiffness and conventionality, all the obvious immaturity, there flash
unmistakable signs of vigorous and original genius. Every poet of the day
finds himself wandering in a forest, but Chaucer alone meets

  A whelp that fauned me as I stood,
  That hadde y-followed, and coude no good,
  Hit com and creep to me as lowe,
  Right as hit hadde me y-knowe,
  Hild doun his heed and joyned his eres
  And leyde al smothe doun his heres;

or notices with tender amusement the

      many squirelles, that sete
  Ful hye upon the trees, and ete,
  And in hir maner made festes.

The praises of many fair ladies were sung by troubadour and minstrel, but
it would be hard to find another heroine possessed of the gaiety and
vigour and charm of Blanche:--

  I saw hir daunce so comlily
  Carole and singe so swetely,
  Laughe and pleye so womanly,
  And loke so debonairly,
  So goodly speke and so frendly,
  That certes I trow that evermore
  Nas seyn so blisful a tresore

    *       *       *       *

  Therewith hir liste so wel to live,
  That dulnesse was of hir a-drad.

Already Chaucer shows that truth to life, that impatience of artificiality
which are to become two of his most striking characteristics.

A number of experiments in verse follow. Chaucer had a habit of
rough-casting a poem, then leaving it for some time, and eventually using
it in a more or less modified form in some later work. The story of _Ceys
and Alcioun_, which forms part of the introduction to the _Book of the
Duchesse_, originally appears to have been written as a separate poem, and
between 1369 and 1379 we find no fewer than seven works, in prose and
poetry, which were afterwards embodied in the _Canterbury Tales_: the _Lyf
of St. Cecyle_ (afterwards used for the _Second Nonnes Tale_); parts of
the _Monkes Tale_; the greater part of the _Clerkes Tale_; _Palamon and
Arcite_ (which forms the basis of the _Knightes Tale_); the _Tale of
Melibeus_; the _Persones Tale_; and the _Man of Lawe's Tale_. In addition
to these come the _Compleint to his Lady_; _An Amorous Compleint_;
_Womanly Noblesse_; _Compleint unto Pitè_; _Anelida and Arcite_
(containing ten stanzas from Palamon); _Of the Wretched Engendring of
Mankind_ (a prose translation of Innocent III's _De Miseria Humanæ
Conditionis_, of which the title alone remains, though fragments of it are
used in the _Man of Lawe's Tale_); a translation of Boëthius's
_Consolations of Philosophy_; the _Complaint of Mars_; _Troilus and
Criseyde_; _Wordes to Adam Scriveyn_; _The Former Age_; _Fortune_. Apart
from _Troilus and Criseyde_ and the poems afterwards used in the
_Canterbury Tales_, none of these works are of any great importance in
themselves, but in them we see a steady development in technical skill.
The verse of the _Book of the Duchesse_ is easy and flowing but not
distinguished. The _Compleint unto Pitè_ shows a freedom and boldness in
the use of the French seven-lined stanza which marks a new departure in
English versification. Chaucer tries his hand at roundels and balades, at
narrative poetry and love laments, and the result is that he attains a
suppleness and melody unknown to his predecessors and unfortunately
ignored by his immediate successors. The music of his verse is not the
least of his contributions to a literature, whose exponents could placidly
remark

  And trouthe of metre I sette also a-syde;
  For of that art I hadde as tho no guyde
  Me to reduce when I went a-wronge:
  I toke none hede nouther of shorte nor longe.

Lydgate did not begin to write until after Chaucer's death, but the lines
quoted above from the _Troy Book_ exactly express the point of view of
the majority of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century poets.

In 1372, as we have seen, Chaucer went to Italy, and the influence of
Italian poetry upon him can hardly be exaggerated. Professor Ten Brink
believes that the influence of Dante was largely responsible for a sudden
quickening and deepening of religious feeling in Chaucer, and he
attributes the A.B.C., the _Lyf of St. Cecyle_, and the translation of the
_De Miseria Humanæ Conditionis_ to this period. Whether he is right or
wrong in this respect (and Professor Skeat dates both the A.B.C. and the
_Lyf of St. Cecyle_ before the Italian journey) there can be no question
as to Chaucer's profound admiration for the author of the _Divina
Commedia_. The _Inuocacio ad Mariam_ which prefaces the _Second Nonnes
Tale_ is drawn from the concluding canto of the _Paradiso_, the most
striking of all the Monk's tales

  Of him that stood in greet prosperitee
  And is y-fallen out of heigh degree
  Into miserie, and endeth wrecchedly,

is that of Count Hugo of Pisa, which is drawn direct from Canto XXXIII of
the _Inferno_, and it is impossible not to feel that the intense
reverence for things holy which underlay all Chaucer's shrewdness and
humour, may have been due--at least in part--to the influence of one of
the greatest of all religious poets. Of Petrarch he speaks with admiration
in the preface to the tale which he borrows from him, but except for a
translation of the eighty-eighth sonnet which is inserted in Book I of
_Troilus and Criseyde_, under the heading _Cantus Troili_, there is little
evidence of any direct influence. From Boccaccio he borrowed freely, with
a royal bettering in the borrowing. _Troilus and Criseyde_ is taken bodily
from the _Filostrato_, though with numerous additions, omissions,
alterations, and adaptations: the _Knightes Tale_ is condensed from the
twelve books of the _Teseide_: the idea of the _Canterbury Tales_ is taken
from that of the _Decamerone_, though with the very significant difference
that whereas Boccaccio's story-tellers are all drawn from one class and
are shut off from intercourse with the outer world, Chaucer's range from
knight to miller, from aristocratic prioress to bourgeois wife of Bath,
and the fact of their being on a pilgrimage affords opportunity for
incident on the way and for the introduction of fresh characters, thus
giving scope for far greater variety and keeping far more closely in touch
with actual life.

Between 1377 and 1382 he translated Boëthius's _De Consolatione
Philosophiæ_, a work which evidently produced a deep impression upon him.

In 1382 Chaucer produced another topical poem. So far he had addressed
himself to John of Gaunt--for whom not only the _Book of the Duchesse_,
but the scandalous _Compleint of Mars_ is said to have been written; now
he addresses King Richard, and after the fashion of the day clothes in
allegorical compliment the story of his wooing of Anne of Bohemia, who had
twice before been engaged to other suitors. The wedding festivities lasted
over February 14, when St. Valentine marries every year,

  The lyric lark, and the grave whispering dove,
  The sparrow that neglects his life for love,
  The household bird with the red stomacher;

and the opportunity was too good a one to be lost. Chaucer saluted his
king and queen in the _Parlement of Foules_, which though partially based
on the fabliau of _Hucline and Eglantine_ and containing passages from
Dante and Boccaccio, is in all essentials a thoroughly original work. The
poet, as usual, falls asleep and has a dream. He is taken by Scipio
Africanus (he had just been reading the _Somnium Scipionis_), to the gate
of a park which he is told none but the servants of Love may enter.
Although he himself is but dull and has lost the taste of love he is
permitted to see what passes in order that he may describe it, and is led
into a beautiful garden in which many fair ladies, such as Beautee and
Jolyte, are disporting themselves under the eye of Cupid. A number of
women are dancing round a temple of brass, before whose door

  Dame Pees sat with a curteyn in hir hond.

A long description of the temple and its occupants (Venus, Bacchus, Ceres,
etc.) follows, and the poet then passes once more into the open air where

  ... in a launde[38] upon a hille of floures

he finds the "noble goddesse Nature," who has sent for every bird to come
and choose its mate in honour of St. Valentine. Upon her hand she holds

  A formel[39] egle, of shap the gentileste[40]
  That ever she among hir werkes fonde.

Nature calls upon the royal eagle to make first choice, and he,

  With hed enclyned and with ful humble chere,

at once chooses the bird upon her hand. Before the formel eagle has
summoned up sufficient courage to give her answer,

  Another tercel egle spak anoon,
  Of lower kinde, and seyde, "that shal not be;
  I love hir bet than ye do, by seynt John."

And hardly has he finished when a third eagle puts forward his claim. The
various birds are called upon for their advice, and after a great deal of
chattering and confusion, Nature finally decrees that the choice is to lie
with the formel eagle herself. She modestly begs for a year's respite in
which to make up her mind, and the parliament is adjourned.

  But first were chosen foules for to singe
  As yeer by yere was always hir usaunce
  To singe a roundel at hir departinge
  To do Nature honour and pleasunce,

and the whole ends with the charming roundel:--

  Now welcom somer with thy sonne softe.

The poem has a freshness and tenderness which its conventional setting
cannot conceal, and the humour of the conversation among the worm-foul,
water-foul, and seed-foul, must have been even more delightful than it is
to-day if--as has been suggested--the "fool cukkow," "the waker goos,"
"the popinjay, ful of delicacy," and the rest were easily recognisable
portraits of contemporary courtiers.

The _Parlement of Foules_ was followed by the _Hous of Fame_. Here again
Chaucer makes use of the conventional stock-in-trade of medieval poets.

We have the dream, the strings of proper names drawn from Ovid and Virgil
and the Bible, the constant moralisations, the temple to which the dreamer
is guided, the use of allegory and symbol, all of which are common
property. The influence of Dante is evident, and shows itself in detail as
well as in the conception of the whole. The method of beginning each book
with an invocation, the exact marking of the date on which the poem was
begun, the steep rock, the description of the house of Rumour, and
numerous other points are borrowed direct from the _Divina Commedia_,
while there is no need to emphasise the obvious resemblance between the
general plan of Dante's great poem and the _Hous of Fame_. Professor Skeat
even goes so far as to suggest that Lydgate is referring to the _Hous of
Fame_ when he speaks of a poem of Chaucer's as "Dant in English."

The poem is divided into three books. Book I opens with a discussion of
dreams in general, what causes them and what weight should be attached to
them:--

  Why that is an avisioun
  And this a revelacioun.

This is followed by an invocation to the god of sleep, and then comes the
vision itself. The poet falls asleep on the tenth day of December, and
dreams that he is in a temple of glass. On a tablet on the wall is
engraved the history of "daun Eneas," and its recital occupies almost the
whole of the book. When the poet has "seyen al this sighte" he passes out
of the temple and finds himself in a desert place:--

  Withouten toun, or hous, or tree
  Or bush, or gras, or cred[41] lond.

    *       *       *       *       *

  Ne I no maner creature
  That is y-formed by nature
  Ne saw.

Terrified by the strangeness and loneliness of the place, he casts his
eyes towards heaven, praying to be saved,

  Fro fantom and illusion,

and as he looks upwards he becomes aware of a wonderful eagle with
feathers of gold, flying towards him. Book II opens with further remarks
on dreams, and a declaration that no one, not even Isaiah or Scipio or
Nebuchadnezzar, ever had such a dream as this. The story then continues.
The eagle swoops down upon the poet and catches him up in "his grimme
pawes stronge,"--

  Me caryinge in his clawes starke
  As lightly as I were a larke.

Dazed and astonished, Chaucer almost loses consciousness, till he is
recalled to life by the eagle, with "mannes voice," bidding him

                        ... Awak
  And be not so a-gast for shame!

and adding in a well-meant attempt to cheer him up,--

                ... Seynte Marie!
  Thou art noyous for to carie.[42]

He is then told that as a reward for his long and faithful service of
Cupid--

  Withoute guerdon ever yit,

Jove has decreed that he is to be taken to the House of Fame:--

  To do thee som disport and game,
  In som recompensacioun
  Of labour and devocioun.

In Fame's palace he will hear more wonders in two hours than there are
grains of corn in a granary, for every sound made upon earth,--

  Thogh hit were pyped of a mouse,

rises up there, multiplied and increased. Having concluded a learned
disquisition on the properties of air, water, and sound--which he
explains, he has kindly simplified in order to bring it within the grasp
of a "lewed[43] man"--the eagle bears the poet through the stars and past
all manner of "eyrish bestes" until they reach the House of Fame. Here
Chaucer is set upon his feet--much to his relief--and is told to enter; he
is further warned that every sound which rises from earth may be not only
heard but seen, since it takes the form of whatever made it. Book III
opens with an invocation to Apollo. The poet then climbs the steep rock of
ice on which the palace stands, noticing as he passes the names of famous
men cut in the ice and rapidly thawing away in the sun. At the summit is a
wonderful castle of beryl stone, and all round it crowd

  ... alle maner of minstrales
  And gestiours,[44] that tellen tales
  Bothe of weping and of game,
  Of al that longeth unto Fame.

Amongst these are all the famous harpers and singers of old days, and
close by stand

  ... hem that maken blody soun
  In trumpe, beme[45] and clarioun.

A curiously carved gate gives admission to the castle, and entering,
Chaucer finds a large number of knights-at-arms pouring out of a great
hall. The hall itself is

            plated half a fote thikke
  Of gold ...

and set with precious stones. Here the Lady Fame sits on a throne, her
feet resting on earth and her head touching the heavens. The nine Muses
sing her praises eternally, and on either side of her are pillars on which
stand the historian Josephus and the poets Statius, Homer, Virgil, Ovid,
Lucan, and Claudian:--

  The halle was al ful y-wis,
  Of hem that writen olde gestes,
  As ben on trees rokes nestes.

Suddenly a great noise is heard, and there bursts into the hall a
multitude of people of every race and every condition come to prefer their
requests to Fame. Some beg

  "That thou graunte us now good fame,
  And lete our werkes han that name;
  In ful recompensacioun
  Of good werk, give us good renoun;"

others said

              "Mercy, lady dere!
  To telle certain, as hit is,
  We han don neither that ne this
  But ydel al our lyf y-be.
  But, natheles, yit preye we,
  That we mowe han so good a fame
  And greet renoun and knowen name,
  As they that han don nobel gestes ..."

others--

  "But certeyn they were wonder fewe,"

cried

            "Certes, lady brighte,
  We han don wel with al our mighte;
  But we ne kepen have no fame.
  Hyd our werkes and our name,
  For goddes love! for certes we
  Han certeyn doon hit for bountee
  And for no maner other thing."

Their requests are granted or refused with absolute capriciousness. Fame
is attended by Eolus, who according to her direction blows a black trumpet
called Sclaunder (Slander) or a golden clarion called Clere Laude (Clear
Praise), and these trumpets are used as the whim takes her. Evil men have
good fame, and good men are slandered, or on the other hand, both receive
their deserts without any reason except Fame's good pleasure. As Chaucer
stands watching the endless procession, a man approaches him and asks if
he too has come to receive fame. The poet hastily protests against any
such desire, and explains that he has come for--

  Tydinges, other this or that
  Of love, or swiche thinges glade.

The stranger bids him follow him to another place, and leads him to

  An hous, that _domus Dedali_,
  That _Laborintus_ cleped is.

It is made of sticks and twigs and continually spins round and round:--

  And ther-out com so greet a noise
  That, had it stonden upon Oise,
  Men mighte hit han herd esely
  To Rome, I trowe sikerly.

    *       *       *       *

  And on the roof men may yit seen
  A thousand holes, and wel mo,
  To leten wel the soun out go.

This is the house of Rumour, to which come tidings

  Of werre, of pees, of mariages,
  Of reste, of labour of viages,[46]
  Of abood[47] of deeth, of lyfe,
  Of love, of hate, accorde, of stryfe, etc.

Here Chaucer meets the eagle again, who tells him that he is once more
prepared to become his guide, and without more ado seizes him "bitweene
his toon" and puts him in through the window. The house is full of people
all busy whispering in each other's ears:--

  Whan oon had herd a thing, y-wis,
  He com forth to another wight,
  And gan him tellen, anoon-right,
  The same that to him was told,
  Or hit a furlong-way was old,
  But gan somwhat for to eche
  To this tyding in this speche
  More than hit ever was.
  And nat so sone departed nas
  That he fro him, that he ne mette
  With the thridde; and or he lette
  Any stounde,[48] he tolde him als;
  Were the tyding sooth or fals,
  Yit wolde he telle hit natheless.

Out of the windows fly lies and truths, jostling each other, and Fame
decides which shall prevail. Shipmen and pilgrims, pardoners and
messengers, crowd into the house with boxes crammed with marvellous
stories. In one corner of the great hall men are telling love stories, the
poet goes to listen to these. Here, just when the climax appears to be in
sight, the poem breaks off in the middle of a sentence. Remarkable as it
is, full of humour and shrewd observation, and with signs of Chaucer's
genius for narrative, it is not in his most characteristic vein. _Troilus
and Criseyde_ had already given promise of genius of a very different
order, and it is possible that Chaucer himself grew weary of the smooth
monotony of his own verse, and felt within him a growing impulse to
produce something more human and more vivid. The _Hous of Fame_ is an
almost perfect example of a type of poem whose popularity was to continue
undiminished for another century and more. It was imitated again and
again, and a comparison between it and such works as Lydgate's _Temple of
Glas_ is sufficient to show the difference between genius and talent even
when genius in working with not wholly congenial material. If Chaucer's
reputation rested upon the _Book of the Duchesse_, the _Parlement of
Foules_, the _Hous of Fame_, and the _Legend of Good Women_, a few
scholars would know and appreciate his work, and anthologies would
probably make the majority of readers acquainted with a few
carefully-chosen extracts, but he would have done little or nothing to
break down the literary conventions of his day. It would need a keen eye
to discern in these the dawn of a new era, without the light thrown upon
them by _Troilus and Criseyde_ and the _Canterbury Tales_.

The _Legend of Good Women_ is said by Lydgate to have been written at the
Queen's request. The general plan is taken from Boccaccio's _De Claris
Mulieribus_, and Chaucer also translates freely from the _Heroides_ and
the _Metamorphoses_ of Ovid. The interest of the poem lies in the
Prologue, which consists of nearly six hundred lines, and of which there
are two distinct versions. The poet describes how in the spring he goes
out into the fields to worship the daisy, and he gives a long and poetical
description of this "emperice and flour of floures alle." That night he
sleeps in a little arbour in his garden, and in a dream he sees the god of
love leading by the hand a queen clothed in green and gold and of
surpassing beauty. Here follows a ballad in her praise. A rout of ladies
now appears, and they all kneel down and sing the praise of their queen.
The poet kneels among them, but presently the god of love catches sight of
him and declares that he is a traitor and heretic for he has translated
the _Romance of the Rose_--

  That is an heresye ageyns my lawe,

and has also written of the fickleness of Cressida--

  Why noldest thou as wel han seyd goodnesse
  Of women, as thou hast seyd wikkednesse?

The queen, who is none other than Alcestis, intercedes for him, reminding
the irate god that the poet is also the author of the _Book of the
Duchesse_, the _Parlement of Foules_, the story of _Palamon and Arcite_,
to say nothing of

  "... many an ympne for your haly-dayes."[49]

and the _Lyf of St. Cecyle_. She therefore begs that he may be forgiven,
and in token of true contrition he shall spend the most part of his time

  In making of a glorious Legende
  Of Gode Women, maidenes and wyves,
  That weren trewe in lovinge al hir lyves.

The legends which follow are the result of this command, and the
definition of virtue given above accounts for the inclusion of such "good
women" as Cleopatra and Medea. The plan of the poem necessarily involved
sameness of treatment. Chaucer grew tired of his heroines, and of the
twenty legends which he seems to have planned, only nine were written. The
stories of Cleopatra, Thisbe, Dido, Hypsipyle and Medea, Lucretia,
Ariadne, Philomela, Phyllis, and Hypermnestra, are strung together
somewhat perfunctorily. As the names show, they are all drawn from Latin
authors, but with the usual freedom of a medieval translator Chaucer does
not hesitate to alter the originals to suit his purpose. He wishes to show
the torments and constancy of love's martyrs, and without scruple he
blackens the characters of Jason and Æneas and Theseus, in order to bring
out the virtues of Medea, Dido, and Ariadne. The legends show little of
the humour and freshness of Chaucer's other poems. Occasionally a
description of the lover's passion recalls some similar passage in
_Troilus and Criseyde_, and the mere fact that the interest centres in
emotion rather than action is in itself of importance, but Hercules, in
the legend of Hypsipyle, is a poor substitute for Pandarus, and the
perpetual recurrence of the love _motif_ tends to weaken its effect. The
two versions of the Prologue show many interesting points of difference.
Mention has already been made of the supposed intervention of the Queen,
through which Chaucer obtained permission to appoint a deputy to assist
him in his office work. It is supposed that this incident must have
occurred after the writing of the first prologue and before the writing of
the second, for while the whole poem is written in Queen Anne's honour,
the second prologue contains numerous passages expressing the poet's
gratitude and affection, which are not found in the first. She is

              ... of alle floures flour,
  Fulfilled of al vertu and honour.

    *       *       *       *       *

  She is the clernesse and the verray light
  That in this derke worlde me wynt and ledeth,

    *       *       *       *       *

  For as the sonne wol the fyr disteyne[50]
  So passeth al my lady sovereyne,
  That is so good, so fair, so debonaire;
  I prey to god that ever falle hir faire!

Another striking change in the second version is the omission of certain
too explicit lines in which the poet had dared to set forth the duties of
kings towards their subjects. Part of this wise advice still remains, but
evidently Chaucer found it dangerous to call Richard's attention to the
necessity for hearing his people's petitions and complaints, and the later
version contents itself with a more general statement that kings should

    ... nat be lyk tiraunts of Lumbardye
  That han no reward but at tirannye.

It is also noteworthy that several words which appear in their older form
in the first version are modernised in the second (_e. g._ in the first
line _sythes_ becomes _tymes_), so that it is possible to see the language
in actual process of development.

Chaucer's last and greatest work, the _Canterbury Tales_, was begun in
1386--though as has been shown, certain isolated tales, or rough sketches
for tales, were already in existence--and the composition continued till
1389, when it--like so many of his other poems--was left unfinished. A
number of fugitive pieces and lyrics also date from about this time, as
does the prose _Treatise on the Astrolabe_ written for his little son,
Lewis.

The popularity of Chaucer's poetry is shown not only by repeated
references to him as master and teacher, made by his immediate successors,
but by the entire Chaucer apocrypha which soon sprang into being. Some
genuine works of his--such as the _Book of the Lion_ (this very probably
was no more than a translation of Machault's _Le Dit du Lion_), have been
lost, but to make up for this a number of poems have been attributed to
him, some of which were not written until years after his death. Subjoined
is a list of the more important of these, with the names of the real
authors in cases where scholars have succeeded in tracing them.


     _The Testament of Love._ Thomas Usk (_d._ 1386).

     _La Belle Dame sans Merci._ Sir R. Ros (fifteenth century).

     _The Cuckoo and the Nightingale_ (sometimes called _The Book of Cupid
     God of Love_). Sir Thomas Clanvowe.

     _The Flower and the Leaf_; _The Assembly of Ladies_. Considered by
     some scholars to be the work of the same hand. Both purport to be
     written by a woman.

     _The Court of Love._

     _The Second Merchant's Tale_, or _The Tale of Beryn_ (containing a
     preliminary account of the Pardoner's adventures in Canterbury).

     _The Complaint of the Black Knight._ Lydgate.

     _The Tale of Gamelyn._ This poem is included among the MSS. of the
     _Canterbury Tales_. Professor Ten Brink suggests that Chaucer may
     have intended to work it up into the Yeoman's tale.

     _The Letter of Cupid._ Occleve.



CHAPTER III

CHAUCER'S TREATMENT OF HIS SOURCES


The sin of plagiary is a development of modern civilisation. To medieval
authors, as to Elizabethan, the interest of a story lay in the telling,
and while plot was of first-rate importance the same plot could quite well
be used indifferently by any number of writers. Indeed, they did not
hesitate to go even further and to form a patchwork of scraps taken from
different authors, so that the plot may be drawn from one poet, fragments
of the dialogue from another, and descriptive or reflective passages from
a third, and yet the whole may be justly reckoned the work of the
compiler. In the _Parlement of Foules_, for instance, Chaucer takes the
idea of the whole from a current fabliau, the first eighty-four lines from
Cicero's _Somnium Scipionis_, three distinct passages from Dante, the
description of the garden from Boccaccio, and lines 95-105 from Claudian,
and yet the originality of the whole is incontestable. It is a noteworthy
fact that he tries his hand at almost every form of poetry popular in his
day, he writes romances, lives of the saints, homilies, allegorical poems,
topical satire, love songs, and fabliaux, and in every case he borrows
wherever he sees anything likely to suit his purpose, he alters and adds
and omits as he sees fit; yet it is only necessary to compare a story
(that of Constance, for instance) as told by him, with the same as told by
any other poet of the day, to see why it is impossible for a genius to be
a plagiarist.

Chaucer's treatment of romance is particularly characteristic. As has been
said, the medieval romance is the most intrinsically interesting literary
development of the period from the Conquest to Chaucer. Very roughly
speaking, romances may be said--apart from allegorical works such as the
_Romance of the Rose_--to fall into two classes, those, such as _Guy of
Warwick_, or _Sir Ferumbras_, in which adventure and action form the chief
interest, and those, such as _Aucassin and Nicolette_, or _Florice and
Blanchefleur_, in which the stress is laid on emotion. In both cases the
action is usually set in motion by the hero's desire to ingratiate himself
with his lady, but in the one he rides off in quest of renown that may
make him worthy to aspire to her hand, and probably does not see her
again for years; in the other, though he may perform doughty deeds for her
sake, he may even go so far as to refuse battle unless he may have his
sweet love, and much space is devoted to the description of his sighs and
tears. In both, the emotion is perfectly simple and straightforward. The
knight wishes for the lady's hand and fights or sulks, as the case may be,
until he gets it, but in the former type there is scope for indefinite
digressions and interminable adventures, while the latter, at all events
in England, is apt to be shorter. Occasionally some opening is given for a
more complex treatment of character, but as a rule the opportunity is
ignored. Guy, when he returns to Felice after many years of adventure,
lives with her only forty days. Then he becomes pensive and downcast, for
it occurs to him

  How he had done many a man wo,
  And slain many a man with his hand,
  Burnt and destroyed many a land,
  And all was for woman's love,
  And not for God's sake above,

and he leaves her for ever, that he may give himself to penance and fight
for the glory of God. Here is a fine opportunity for tragic emotion, but
although we are told that Felice thinks of killing herself, the whole
episode is so perfunctorily related and the purpose of it is so evidently
to provide occasion for fresh adventures that it is impossible to feel the
slightest sympathy with either husband or wife. In _Sir Gawayne and the
Green Knight_ the remorse of Gawayne after he has failed to keep his word
is finely suggested, but the whole poem is far in advance of most romances
of the period, and even here the magic setting rather detracts from the
human interest. It is impossible to feel that it is a fair fight when one
of the combatants can be beheaded without inconvenience to himself. The
magic castles and enchanted swords, the dragons and sorcerers of medieval
romance have a fascination of their own, but it is the fascination of
sheer story-telling, not of character study. The love romances might
naturally be expected to show evidence of a more analytical mind, but the
feelings they describe are too obviously conventional to be very
convincing, and though there is an undeniable charm in works of this sort,
there is an equally undeniable sameness. Their strength lies, not in
dramatic force of emotion, but in daintiness of description. Nicolette
escaping from her turret chamber, with her skirts kilted behind and
before for fear of the dew, Florice borne to Blanchefleur's chamber in a
basket of flowers, are pictures which can never lose their freshness, but
we grow weary of the perpetual swoons and tears of every lover, and the
small variety of characters introduced, the fact that practically all
belong to the same class and are distinguishable only as villains or
heroes, base enchantresses or noble ladies, intensifies the monotony. To
this must be added the dreary jingle of the verse, which almost invariably
consists of short, rhyming couplets, the lines constantly having to be
eked out by expletives and meaningless monosyllables.

Chaucer showed himself fully alive at once to the possibilities and the
absurdities of the romance. In the _Knightes Tale_ we have an excellent
example of the romance of adventure. It is based upon Boccaccio's
_Teseide_, but while the _Teseide_ is an epic in twelve books, the
_Knightes Tale_ consists of only 2,250 lines. The poet who set out to
write a romance seems as a rule to have had no sense either of time or of
unity. The hero sets out on his travels and in the first forest glade he
comes to, meets a stranger knight. The two at once joust. After
unheard-of prowess the hero unhorses the stranger and unlaces his vizor.
The strange knight no sooner recovers his senses than he sets to work to
relate his totally irrelevant adventures, and the reader is lucky if in
the course of those adventures the still more irrelevant life-story of
some other knight is not introduced. Not till some hundreds of lines have
been thus occupied do we come back to the original hero who has all this
while been left in the glade. The _Teseide_, as has been said, is an epic
rather than a romance, and its twelve books afford scope for such episodes
as the war of Theseus with the Amazons, his marriage with Hippolyta, the
obsequies of those who fall in the combat between Palamon and Arcite,
etc., etc. Chaucer in turning epic into romance has shown an extraordinary
power of condensation. The conventional romance writer seems to have had
no idea of proportion, no conception that one incident could be of more
importance than another, or that it could be necessary to slur over one
episode and concentrate on another. In the _Knightes Tale_ Chaucer shows
the instinct of the true story-teller. The account of the war with the
Amazons and Theseus' marriage--which occupies two books of the
_Teseide_--is reduced to twelve lines, which briefly tell us the bare
facts. Theseus and Hippolyta are kept in the background throughout that
the figures of Palamon, Arcite, and Emily may stand out the more clearly.
The story moves steadily and rapidly, without a single digression.
Occasionally, indeed, a little more explanation would be welcome. Who, for
instance, was the friend by whose aid Palamon broke prison after seven
weary years? Was it the gaoler's daughter, as the _Two Noble Kinsmen_
would have us believe, or did his servant bribe a physician to help him,
as the _Teseide_ relates? Chaucer merely whets our curiosity by stating
that he drugged the gaoler, and hurries on to describe his meeting with
Arcite. It is this very speed, this close-knitting of the story, which
marks it out from other poems of the kind. The characterisation is slight.
Palamon and Arcite might well be, not cousins but twins, so closely do
they resemble each other. Emily, sweet and gracious as she is, scarcely
seems more than a fair vision of girlhood. Only now and then, as in the
thumb-nail sketch of the crowd watching the knights assemble for the
tourney, or in some sudden aside, such as his comment on Arcite's death--

  His spirit chaunged hous, and wente ther,
  As I cam never, I can nat tellen wher--

do we catch a glimpse of Chaucer's shrewd observation and dry humour. He
is learning how to tell a tale, and for the moment his interest lies in
the telling.

In _Troilus and Criseyde_, his method is very different. Here he is
dealing with a love romance, and he does not hesitate to dwell at length
upon the sufferings and emotions of his hero and heroine. About a third of
the whole work is actual paraphrase or translation of Boccaccio's
_Filostrato_: Book IV contains a lengthy extract from Boëthius, and
certain passages are drawn from Guido delle Colonne, but the _Filostrato_
forms the basis of the whole. This being so, the first thing we notice is
that whereas in the _Knightes Tale_ Chaucer has very considerably cut down
his original, here he has enlarged it, for the 5,704 lines of Boccaccio's
poem have become 8,329 in the English version. Further, he has taken
considerable liberties with the characters themselves. Troilus is in many
respects a conventional enough hero. He falls in love with Cressida at
first sight and at once despairs of winning her. Handsome, brave, and
resolute, he is well fitted to gain the love of any woman, but such is
his modesty that he is incapable of helping himself and can do nothing
more to the purpose than sit on his bed and groan. The unnecessary mystery
made by the lovers, the endless difficulties which they put in their own
way, are quite in keeping with the spirit of the age, though even here
Chaucer shows a skill in characterisation which almost makes us forget to
be impatient with his hero's helplessness. Cressida, while she too has
much in common with the conventional heroine of romance, has much that is
peculiarly her own. She is beautiful and tender and clinging, as a heroine
should be, but her shallow little character has an individuality of its
own. It will be treated more fully in a later chapter, here it is
sufficient to say that Chaucer transforms the mature woman of Boccaccio's
poem into a timid girl, whose youth and inexperience appeal to our pity
and make it impossible to judge her harshly. But the most important and
characteristic change which Chaucer makes in the story is in the character
of Pandarus. Instead of the gay young cousin of Troilus, he gives us the
vulgar, gossiping, good-natured old uncle of Cressida, an utterly
unimaginative and prosaic person who plays with the fires of passion as
ignorantly and light-heartedly as the Nurse in _Romeo and Juliet_. Not
only is the character of Pandarus of interest in itself but its creation
and its introduction into a poem of this type marks a new development in
literature--the study of the common-place. Hitherto, though some rare
flash of humour might for an instant lighten the pages of the love romance
and give us such an episode as that of the herd-boy in _Aucassin and
Nicolette_, it was but a flash. The interest was concentrated in the hero
and heroine, and though some faithful servant or lady-in-waiting might
assist their lovers, it would have been regarded as undignified in the
extreme to give prominence to such a character. Chaucer flings dignity to
the winds. What he cares for is truth to life, and already he has made the
great discovery that certain persons are not told off by nature to be
unhappy and certain others to be amusing, but that a perfectly
common-place and ordinary individual may play a part in tragedy without
even realising what tragedy is. He studies a man, not because he is
unusual, but just because he is the kind of person to be met with any day,
and by using Pandarus as a foil he prevents the high-flown emotion of the
lovers from becoming absurd or monotonous.

Chaucer evidently realised to the full the attractiveness and the dramatic
possibilities of this form of literature, but at the same time his eyes
were open to its shortcomings. In the _Squieres Tale_ we have a typical
romance in which love, magic, and adventure are all blended together. It
has the true medieval air of having all eternity in which to tell its
story. It begins with an account of King Cambinskan, his two sons Algarsif
and Cambalo, and his daughter Canace, and the coming of the magic
gifts--the steed of brass which will carry its rider whithersoever he
desires, the mirror which shows if any adversity is about to befall its
owner, the ring which enables its wearer to understand the speech of the
birds and also gives knowledge of the healing properties of all herbs, and
the sword whose edge will cut through any armour and the flat of whose
blade will cure the wound so made. Any one of these would in itself be
sufficient to furnish forth a tale, and when we find them heaped together
with so lavish a hand at the very beginning, we know what to expect. Three
hundred and four of the squire's 361 lines are occupied with the
apparently irrelevant story of the love-lorn falcon and the faithless
tercelet. Even this is not ended. Canace uses her knowledge of simples for
the poor hawk's benefit, and cures its wounds and swears to redress its
wrongs; but having got thus far the narrator draws breath and then plunges
into a list of further episodes with which he intends to deal:--

  Thus lete I Canace hir hauk keping;
  I wol na-more as now speke of hir ring,
  Til it come eft to purpos for to seyn
  How that this faucon gat hir love ageyn
  Repentant, as the storie telleth us.

    *       *       *       *       *

  But hennes-forth I wol my proces holde
  To speke of aventures and of batailles,
  That never yet was herd so grete mervailles.
  First wol I telle yow of Cambinskan,
  That in his tyme many a citee wan;
  And after wol I speke of Algarsyf,
  How that he wan Theodora to his wyf,
  For whom ful ofte in greet peril he was,
  Ne hadde he ben holpen by the steed of bras;
  And after wol I speke of Cambalo
  That faught in listes with the brethren two
  For Canacee, er that he mighte hir winne,
  And ther I lefte I wol ageyn beginne.

It is here that the Franklin breaks in, and in the most courteous and
charming manner succeeds in checking the story, of which the pilgrims
have evidently had as much as they want, and in skilfully leading up to
his own tale. Nothing could give a more vivid impression of youth and
exuberance than the Squire's naïve enjoyment of the marvellous adventures
which he describes: the story is exactly suited to the teller, and his
sublime unconsciousness of the fact that any one else can possibly find it
long or quail before the prospect of a tale which bids fair to last all
the way to Canterbury and back, is just what we should expect of this

                            ... lusty bacheler
  With lokkes crulle,[51] as they were leyd in presse.
  Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse

    *       *       *       *       *

  Embrouded[52] was he, as it were a mede
  Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and rede.
  Singinge he was, or floytinge[53] al the day;
  He was as fresh as is the month of May.

No wonder he tells of enchanted steeds and magic rings, of joust and
tourney. And in showing the charm and youthfulness of the Squire, Chaucer
also contrives to show us the charm, and we might almost add the
youthfulness, of the popular romance. It is difficult to believe that the
_Squieres Tale_ was left unfinished by chance. The manner in which it is
cut short not only lights up the characters of the Squire and the Franklin
in a manner eminently characteristic of Chaucer, but also gently satirises
the long-windedness and absurdity of the romance-writers; and that Chaucer
was keenly alive to their faults is shown by the rollicking burlesque of
_Sir Thopas_. The _Squieres Tale_ forms, as it were, a half-way house
between the serious treatment of romance in _Troilus and Criseyde_ and the
_Knightes Tale_, and the pure parody of Chaucer's own "tale of mirthe."

_Sir Thopas_ parodies not only the matter but the manner of the romance
writers. It out-Herods Herod in the intolerable jingle of its verse and
the absurdity of its extra syllables, while the adventures of Sir Thopas
and the fairy queen prove too much even for the pilgrims, ready as they
are to be interested in a story of any kind.

  Sir Thopas wex a doghty swayn,
  Whyt was his face as payndemayn[54]
    His lippes red as rose;
  His rode[55] is lyk scarlet in grayn,
  And I you telle in good certayn
    He hadde a semely nose,

drones the poet, and no wonder after bearing a couple of hundred lines,
the host breaks in with,

  "No more of this, for goddes dignitee

    *       *       *       *       *

  Myn eres aken of thy drasty[56] speche;
  Now swiche a rym the devel I biteche!
  This may wel be rym dogerel," quod he.

Considerations of space make it impossible to take in detail Chaucer's
treatment of all his various sources. Like Shakespeare, he rarely troubles
to invent a plot for himself, and Professor Skeat's table shows but one of
all the _Canterbury Tales_ for which no original has yet been found. In
the brief consideration of his treatment of romance as a whole two points
stand out conspicuously: in the first place his skill in simple narration,
and in the second his interest in action as revealing character rather
than for its own sake. In the _Canterbury Tales_ he shows greater
certainty in the delineation of character, greater readiness to trust to
his readers' discrimination. Instead of describing characters at length,
he gives us an occasional comment, or leaves us to see for ourselves the
meaning of some significant action, and the consequence is that every
addition or omission that he makes is worthy of careful attention. Three
typical instances may be taken as illustrating his method: the _Man of
Lawes Tale_, the _Nonne Preestes Tale_, and the story of Count Hugo of
Pisa in the _Monkes Tale_.

The story of Constance is taken from the Anglo-Norman chronicle of
Nicholas Trivet. Trivet's version, which is in prose, is considerably
longer than Chaucer's. It begins, undramatically, by speaking of the
virtue and prosperity of Maurice, "a very gracious youth, and wondrously
strong for his age, and wise and sharp of wit. According to the history of
the Saxons aforesaid, he was the son of Constance, the daughter of
Tiberius, by a king of the Saxons, Alle,"[57]--thus doing away with all
suspense as to Constance's fate, and showing at the outset that the story
is to have a happy ending. The chronicle then goes on to lay stress on the
learning of the princess, who was instructed not only in the Christian
faith but also in the seven sciences, logic, physics, morals, astronomy,
geometry, music, and perspective,[58] and in various tongues. When she was
thirteen, there came to her father's court certain Saracen merchants, and
Constance, hearing of the rich merchandise they had brought, went down to
inspect it and to question them concerning their land and creed. Finding
that they were heathen, she at once proceeded to convert them, and such
was her eloquence that before returning to their own land, they were all
baptised. Nor were they content with this, for on their arrival in
Saracenland, they began to preach the new doctrine. The Sultan sent for
them, that his wise men might rebuke them, but they refuted the arguments
of the heathen, and then "began to praise the maid Constance, who had
converted and fully instructed them, for very high and noble wit and
wisdom, and great marvellous beauty, and gentleness, and nobleness of
blood." So deep an impression did they make on their lord that he was
"greatly overcome with love for the maiden" and promptly dispatched these
same merchants, and with them a heathen Admiral, to demand her in
marriage. Tiberius sent back the messengers with great honour, giving his
consent if his prospective son-in-law on his part would agree to become a
Christian. "And the Admiral, before the Sultan and all his council, vowed
himself to the Christian faith, if the Sultan should consent." The
impatient lover soon agreed, and Constance accordingly set sail for
Saracenland under escort of "a cardinal bishop, and a cardinal priest,
with a great number of clergy, and a senator of Rome, with noble chivalry
and great and rich array, and with a great number of Christians who went
thither, some on pilgrimage, others to take possession of Jerusalem." The
Sultan's mother, seeing her religion in danger, determined to rid the land
of these invaders. Having made a covenant with seven hundred Saracens, who
swore to aid her, she invited all the Christians to a great feast,
professing that she herself desired to embrace their religion. At a given
signal the seven hundred Saracens fell upon the unarmed guests, and of the
whole number there escaped but three young men and Constance herself. The
Sultan, the Admiral, and the other converts were involved in the general
massacre. The three young men fled to Rome, where they told the Emperor
that his daughter had perished with the rest. Constance, having refused
to renounce her faith, "for no fair promise of wealth or honour, nor for
any threat of punishment or death," is set adrift in an open boat, with
provision enough to last her for three years, and also with all the
treasure which she had brought with her as a bride. For three whole years
she drifts about on the great ocean. "Then, in the eighth month of the
fourth year, God who steered the ship of the holy man Noah in the great
flood, sent a favourable wind, and drove the ship to England, under a
castle in the kingdom of Northumberland, near Humber." Elda, the warden of
the castle, goes down to ask her of her condition. "And she answered him
in Saxon ... as one who was learned in divers languages, as is aforesaid."
The good warden receives her hospitably, and his wife Hermingild becomes
so enamoured of the maiden "that nothing could happen to her that she
would not do according to her will." Then follows the conversion of
Hermingild and Elda owing to a miracle wrought by Constance upon a blind
man. Elda tells Alle, King of Northumberland, of the wonderful maiden at
his castle, and Alle is about to visit her when dire distress falls upon
the three friends. A felon knight, to whose suit Constance has turned a
deaf ear, murders Hermingild and contrives that suspicion shall fall upon
Constance. Elda cannot believe her capable of such treachery, whereupon
the accuser swears upon the gospels and upon his baptism, "which he had
already lately received," that Constance is the criminal. Scarcely had he
ended the word, when a closed hand, like a man's fist, appeared before
Elda and all who were present, and smote such a blow on the nape of the
felon's neck, that both his eyes flew out of his head, and his teeth out
of his mouth; and the felon fell smitten down to the earth. And thereupon
a voice said in the hearing of all, "Against Mother Church thou wert
laying a scandal: this hast thou done, and I have held my peace." On
Alle's arrival the felon is condemned to death, and so struck is the king
by what has passed that he is himself baptised, and then marries
Constance. Six months later he is called away by a border raid. During his
absence the queen is delivered of a fair boy, and letters are sent to the
king to tell him the good news. Once again, however, Constance is
unfortunate enough to possess a mother-in-law who hates her: "For she had
great disdain that King Alle had, for the love of a strange woman whose
lineage was unknown to him, forsaken his former religion." The messenger
rests at her house at Knaresborough, and the queen-mother gives him an
evil drink, and then alters his letters, telling King Alle that his wife
is an evil spirit in the form of a woman, "Whereto witnesseth the child
born of her, which resembles not a human form, but a cursed form hideous
and doleful." With rare justice and self-restraint Alle writes back to his
lords, bidding them take no steps against the queen or her child until he
himself can return and inquire into the matter. Again the foolish
messenger stays the night at Knaresborough, and again the queen-mother
tampers with the letters. Under the king's seal she writes to the lords
and bids them set Constance and her child adrift in an open boat, that she
may leave the land in like manner that she came to it. The king's word is
obeyed, and amidst the lamentations and tears of all the people Constance
is put on board a ship "without sail or oar or any device." The ship is
driven to the coast of Spain, where a certain heathen Admiral befriends
her. His seneschal, a renegade knight named Thelous, persuades Constance
that he wishes to repent of his sins and return to the Christian faith,
and prays her to take him with her, that he may come to a land of
Christians. Once alone with her, he reveals his true purpose. Constance
begs him to look out and see if there is no land in sight, and then comes
privily behind his back and thrusts him into the sea. Meanwhile Alle,
having discovered his mother's treachery, puts her to death, and vows
never to marry again. Constance is eventually rescued by mariners and
brought to Rome. She learns that her father has avenged her supposed death
upon the Saracens, but instead of revealing her identity she lives for
twelve years with a noble couple called Arsemius and Helen. At the end of
that time Alle visits Rome, and Constance's son, Maurice, is invited to be
present at the feast in his honour. Constance bids the youth make a point
of serving the King of England. Alle, struck by Maurice's likeness to
Constance, inquires what his origin may be, and by this means recovers his
wife and child. Tiberius proclaims Maurice his heir and "companion in the
Empire." Constance returns to England with her husband, but six months
later, hearing that her father is dying, she comes back to Rome, where
she herself dies a year later.

The story is worth telling in some detail because it shows how closely
Chaucer keeps to his original when it suits his purpose. The Man of Lawe
does not alter a single point of any importance. He makes no attempt to
soften down the improbabilities of the story or reduce the miraculous
element. After all, he is himself going on a pilgrimage to the
wonder-working shrine of St. Thomas à Becket, and shrewd man of the world
as he is, there is nothing in the history of Constance to strain his
credulity. But whereas in Trivet the characters are mere lay figures set
up to illustrate the power of Christianity and the evil fate which befalls
the opponents of Mother Church, in Chaucer they have an individuality of
their own. Instead of alienating our sympathy at the outset by insisting
on the learning and missionary enterprise of a child of thirteen, Chaucer
omits all this and follows the more natural path of making the foreign
chapmen so struck by the good report which they hear of the emperor's
daughter, that having once seen her, and proved her beauty for themselves,
when after their custom they go to tell the Soldan what wonders they have
met with on their travels, they in turn inflame his imagination by their
description. The brief dialogue between Constance and her father, when the
marriage has been arranged, is Chaucer's own interpolation, and its note
of despair prepares us for what is to follow:--

  Allas! unto the Barbre nacioun[59]
  I moste anon, sin that it is your wille;
  But Crist, that starf[60] for our redempcioun
  So yeve me grace his hestes[61] to fulfille;
  I, wrecche womman, no fors though I spille[62]
  Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,
  And to ben under mannes governance.

Here we have no priggish and self-righteous virgin setting forth with smug
self-satisfaction to convert Saracenland, but a lonely, timid girl, whose
heart misgives her at the thought of leaving her parents and going to meet
an unknown husband. Equally vivid and effective is Chaucer's picture of
the Soldan's wicked mother, who not only professes readiness to accept
baptism herself but advises her fellow-conspirators to do the same on the
ground--

  Cold water shal not greve us but a lyte,[63]

and adds with savage humour that by the time she has done with her son's
wife,

  She shal have nede to wasshe awey the rede,
  Thogh she a font-ful water with hir lede.

The marriage festivities are passed over lightly, and then comes a
characteristic interpolation which Chaucer borrows from quite a different
source, _i. e._ from Innocent III's _De Miseria Humanæ Conditionis_:--

  O sodeyn wo! that ever art successour
  To worldly blisse, spreynd[64] with bitternesse;
  Th'ende of the joye of our worldly labour;
  Wo occupieth the fyn of our gladnesse.[65]
  Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse,
  Upon thy gladde day have in thy minde
  The unwar wo or harm that comth behinde.

Then come a few brief words describing the massacre and Constance's
unhappy fate, followed by the beautiful prayer of Constance when she finds
herself alone on "the salte see," of which no trace at all is to be found
in Trivet. Here the poet breaks off to discuss the miraculous element in
the story. Nothing is more characteristic of Chaucer than this habit of
pausing to consider some abstract question raised by what he is
relating--it is even more conspicuously evident in the _Nonne Preestes
Tale_ than it is here, where such a discussion is in keeping with the
spirit of the poem, and where he shows himself content to take the simple
explanation of religion.

The episode of Elda and Hermingild is given very simply and shortly,
Elda's name not being mentioned. Then comes the false accusation brought
against Constance by the treacherous knight, and here we see Chaucer's
power of painting a dramatic situation in a few words. He tells us how
Constance is brought before the king and gives her brief prayer to the God
"that savedest Susanne," and then with a sudden vivid simile drives home
to us her agony of suspense:--

  Have ye nat seyn som tyme a pale face
  Among a prees, of him that hath be lad
  Toward his deeth, where-as him gat no grace,
  And swich a colour in his face hath had,
  Men mighte knowe his face, that was bestad,
  Amonges alle faces in that route:
  So stant Custance, and loketh hir aboute.

Her marriage with Alle, Chaucer dismisses even more hastily than her
marriage with the Soldan:--

  Me list nat of the chaf nor of the stree
  Maken so long a tale as of the corn.
  What sholde I tellen of the royaltee
  At mariage, or which cours gooth biforn
  Who bloweth in a trompe or in an horn?
  The fruit of every tale is for to seye,
  They ete, and drinke, and daunce, and singe, and pleye.

The mishap of the messenger causes him to break out into an invective
against drunkenness, and then follows one of the most wonderful passages
in the whole poem, that in which he describes Constance going down to the
boat "with deedly pale face," her baby weeping in her arms. Chaucer's love
of children manifests itself again and again in his poems. The tenderness
of the mother's

  "Pees litel sone, I wol do thee non harm"

as she binds her kerchief round the child's eyes is far more moving in its
simplicity than the most harrowing description could be. And here again,
as Constance lulls the baby in her arms, Chaucer puts into her mouth a
beautifully simple and touching prayer to the Virgin Mother:--

  "Thou sawe thy child y-slayn bifor thy yën,
  And yet now liveth my litel child, parfay!
  Now, lady bright, to whom alle woful cryen,
  Thou glorie of wommanhede, thou faire may,[66]
  Thou haven of refut, brighte sterre of day
  Rewe on[67] my child, that of thy gentilesse
  Rewest on every rewful[68] in distresse."

With these words on her lips she turns to Elda and holding up the child
cries

  "And if thou darst not saven him for blame,
  So kis him ones in his fadres name,"

and without further complaint

  She blesseth hir; and in-to ship she wente.

The whole passage has a breathing human passion in it of which Trivet's
chronicle knows nothing. We forget the absurdity of the story, the
impossible repetition of an impossible situation, and see only a cruelly
wronged wife and mother meeting her fate with simple dignity and faith.

Trivet gives us lurid details concerning the vengeance that falls on
Alle's mother. Chaucer, who never takes pleasure in horrors, remarks
briefly that he "his moder slow," and hastens on to tell of Constance's
adventures off the coast of Spain. Here again, we find a break in the
narrative, as the author pauses to comment on the evils of
self-indulgence, and to explain how God sends weak women the "spirit of
vigour" that they may save themselves in time of need. The rest of the
story follows Trivet's chronicle very closely, though the description of
Alle's meeting with his wife is Chaucer's own:--

  I trowe an hundred tymes been they kist,
  And swich a blisse is ther bitwix hem two
  That, save the joye that lasteth evermo
  Ther is non lyk, that any creature
  Hath seyn or shal whyl that the world may dure.

And he also adds a brief comment on the instability of human happiness.

It will be seen that Chaucer tends to reduce descriptive passages pure and
simple to a minimum, and so far to condense the actual narrative that it
moves quickly and straight-forwardly, while at the same time he expands
any situation which affords opportunity for the display of character, adds
dialogue and intensifies emotion, and also shows a disposition to comment
on what he is describing.

The _Nonne Preestes Tale_ is based on Marie de France's fable of the _Cock
and the Fox_, though it is possible that Chaucer's more immediate source
was an enlargement of this, called the _Roman de Renart_. The _Cock and
the Fox_ consists of but thirty-eight lines, and the _Roman de Renart_ of
453, whereas the _Nonne Preestes Tale_ consists of 626 lines, so that here
we have a case in which Chaucer enlarges his original very considerably.
In fact he can hardly be said to have borrowed more than the bare outline
of the story.

In the first place, the whole description of the "poore widwe" and her
poultry-yard is entirely Chaucer's. There is nothing in the French to
correspond to the delightful picture of Chauntecleer strutting among the
submissive hens--

  Of which the faireste hewed on hir throte
  Was cleped faire damoysele Pertelote,

or singing "my lief is faren in londe"[69] in sweet accord with his love.
Then the incident of the dream is entirely altered. The French author
makes dame Pinte, the hen, expound the dream to her husband and warn him
of the danger which lies before him. Chaucer draws inimitable portraits of
the fussy, self-important cock, thoroughly frightened and yet too
conceited to accept his wife's simple and prosaic suggestion that his
terrors spring from indigestion, and of the sensible, practical hen with
her scathing contempt for the husband who though he has a beard has yet
"no mannes heart." And here follows a lengthy disquisition on dreams, the
cock overwhelming his sceptical wife with examples of warnings which have
been fulfilled, and illustrations drawn from the most varied sources.
Having restored his self-esteem by reference to the histories of Joseph,
St. Kenelm, Crœsus, Andromache and others,

  Royal he was, he was namore aferd.

The advent of the fox gives Chaucer another opportunity to discuss
fore-knowledge, and suddenly, in the midst of this lightest and most
amusing of skits, we find him gravely considering the question of
predestination and free-will. He comes to no conclusion, but after stating
various learned opinions, shrugs his shoulders and turns aside with a
dry:--

  I wol not han to do of swich matere;
  My tale is of a cok, as ye may here ...

The dialogue between the cock and the fox is much the same in both
versions, though as Dr. Furnivall points out (_Chaucer's Originals and
Analogues_, p. 112), Chaucer improves the story by omitting the spring
made by the fox before he begins to flatter Chauntecleer; but Pinte shows
none of the extremely proper feeling displayed by Pertelote when she sees
her husband carried off before her eyes:--

  But soverynly dame Pertelote shrighte
  Ful louder than dide Hasdrubables wyf,
  Whan that hir housbond hadde lost his lyf,
  And that the Romans hadde brende Cartage.

The peculiar characteristic of the English version is its all-pervading
sense of humour, the gravity with which we are led on step by step until
we find ourselves accepting the most ridiculous situations, and the
extraordinary skill with which the characters of Chauntecleer and
Pertelote are drawn.

In the _Monkes Tale_ Chaucer draws his stories of the falls of illustrious
men from all kinds of sources. The heroes range from Lucifer to Pedro the
Cruel, and the worthy monk chooses his illustrations apparently at random,
now from sacred history, now from the classics, now from contemporary
life. No great dramatic skill is to be expected of the narrator, and for
the most part the tragedies succeed one another with placid regularity,
the occasional comments made by the monk himself showing no particular
insight or intelligence. Having described the fall of Sampson, for
instance, no more inspiring reflection occurs to him than

  That no men telle hir conseil til hir wyves
  Of swich thing as they wolde han secree fayn,
  If that it touche hir limmes or hir lyves.

One tale, however, stands out conspicuously above the rest. In the
_Inferno_ (Canto XXXIII) Dante had told the story of Count Hugo of Pisa,
who was locked up in a tower with his sons and starved to death. In a few
grim words he describes the father's despair and the slow death of the
wretched sons:--

                          When we came
  To the fourth day, then Gaddo at my feet
  Outstretch'd did fling him, crying, "Hast no help
  For me, my father?" There he died; and e'en
  Plainly as thou seest me, saw I the three
  Fall one by one 'twixt the fifth day and sixth:
  Whence I betook me, now grown blind, to grope
  Over them all, and for three days aloud
  Call'd on them who were dead. Then, fasting got
  The mastery of grief.

    (Carey's translation.)

Chaucer takes this and uses it as the basis of one of his tragedies. In
Dante the actual story occupies fifty-nine lines, in Chaucer it occupies
fifty-six, so in this case there is little in the way either of
condensation or expansion. The changes which Chaucer makes are, however,
very significant. Dante simply says that the three sons of Count Hugo
suffer with their father. Chaucer enhances the pathos by telling us that

  The eldeste scarsly fyf yeer was of age.
  Allas, fortune! it was greet crueltee
  Swiche briddes for to putte in swiche a cage!

When Dante's Count Hugo hears

  ... at its outlet underneath lock'd up
  The horrible tower ...

he is so turned to stone that he can find no relief in tears. Chaucer's
cries,

        "Allas! ... that I was wrought."
  Therewith the teres fillen from his yën.[70]

Chaucer gives us a moving picture of the little three-year-old looking up
and asking

            "Fader, why do ye wepe!
  Whan wol the gayler bringen our potage,
  Is ther no morsel breed that ye do kepe?
  I am so hungry that I may nat slepe ..."

and finally lying down in his father's lap, and kissing him, and dying.
The stern horror of Dante's story is too terrible to admit of pathos such
as this. Chaucer's version is infinitely touching, but it has nothing in
it that chills our blood as does the picture of the father, grown blind
with hunger, groping over the dead bodies of his children till fasting
gets the mastery of grief. He can depict innocent suffering, he can arouse
our sympathy and stir our pity, but he never strikes the note of real
tragedy. It is not only that no one of his many heroes and heroines
experiences any tragic conflict of soul, but in the simple presentation of
suffering Chaucer shows little of that power of grim suggestion, of appeal
to the imagination, which are among the most essential characteristics of
the tragic poet. Cressida's hesitation has nothing grand or tragic about
it. She is simply uncertain which course will bring her most happiness.
And her repentance--if such it can be called--is no more than a momentary
discomfort at the thought that she has caused Troilus pain and that unkind
things are likely to be said of her. Troilus suffers, but, in Professor
Bradley's phrase, it is suffering that merely befalls him, the whole
tragedy is external, and his abandonment of passion has none of the
dignity and restraint of a great emotion. Othello's cry of "Desdemona,
Desdemona dead!" contains more poignancy of suffering than all the
outbursts of Troilus put together. Constance, and Griselda, and Dorigen
all know the meaning of sorrow, but their simple acceptance of their fate
is pathetic rather than tragic, and in the cases of Constance and
Griselda, as in the case of Count Hugo, the tragedy is further softened by
the part played by the children. The monk's definition of tragedy--though
it need not necessarily be Chaucer's own--sufficiently explains the
medieval conception:--

  Tragedie is to seyn a certeyn storie,
  As olde bokes maken us memorie,
  Of him that stood in greet prosperitee
  And is y-fallen out of heigh degree
  Into miserie, and endeth wrecchedly.

To Chaucer the interest lies in the study of normal men and women, and in
comparing his narratives with their originals nothing is more striking
than the air of homeliness and naturalness with which he contrives to
invest the most amazing incidents. Dorigen and her husband strike one as
simple, natural folk whose nice sense of honour leads them to keep their
word though it were to their own hindrance. We hardly notice the absurdity
of the situation itself, and are little troubled by the magic arts which
enable her persecutor to remove all rocks from the coast of Brittany.
Constance is no tragedy-queen, but a true-hearted, simple woman; and the
fact that she lives in a world of miracles never obtrudes itself. We
accept her adventures without a qualm since our interest lies in her
personality, and the odd thing is that her personality, attractive as it
is, strikes one as so little out of the common. Writers of the day, as a
rule, desired either to point a moral or to thrill their readers by sheer
force of adventure. Chaucer took the accepted conventions of his day, and
pierced through them to the human nature underneath.



CHAPTER IV

CHAUCER'S CHARACTER-DRAWING


Like every other young poet Chaucer had to learn his trade, and in nothing
is the development of his genius more clearly to be traced than in his
treatment of character. The _Book of the Duchesse_ gives us a sort of map
of the character of the good fair White: in his choice of qualities and
method of expression Chaucer shows both observation and originality, but
the plan of the poem precludes anything in the nature of dramatic
self-revelation, and the whole description of Blanche is from the outside.
The _Parlement of Foules_ and the _Hous of Fame_ afford little scope for
character-drawing, and though something more might be expected of the
_Legend of Good Women_, as we have seen, the moral purpose which inspires
it leads to perfunctory and undramatic treatment of the legends.

One only of Chaucer's earlier poems shows the true bent of his genius. The
rough sketches which he afterwards worked up and used in the _Canterbury
Tales_ had given some evidence of his keen interest in human nature, but
not until we come to _Troilus and Criseyde_ do we find him giving full
rein to his invention. The earlier part of Book I, which describes how
Troilus first catches sight of Cressida in the temple and at once falls in
love with her, is taken almost literally from Boccaccio, but the entrance
of Pandarus strikes a new note. Troilus lies languishing in his chamber in
the most approved manner, when Pandarus comes in and hearing him asks what
is the matter:--

  Han now thus sone Grekes maad yow lene?[71]
  Or hastow som remors of conscience,
  And art now falle in som devocioun...?

Troilus replies that he is the "refus of every creature," and that love
has overcome him and brought him to despair. Pandarus heaves a sigh of
relief and says if that is all he will soon put matters right, for though
he knows nothing of such foolishness himself, he can easily arrange the
affair:--

  A whetston is no kerving instrument,
  And yet it maketh sharpe kerving-tolis.[72]

Troilus still refuses to be comforted and only casts up his eyes and
sighs, whereupon Pandarus grows annoyed as well as anxious:--

  And cryde "a-wake" ful wonderly and sharpe;
  What? slombrestow as in a lytargye?[73]
  Or artow lyk an asse to the harpe,
  That hereth soun, when men the strenges plye,
  But in his minde of that no melodye
  May sinken, him to glade, for that he
  So dul is of his bestialitee?

Having at last succeeded in rousing the disconsolate lover and inducing
him once more to take his part in the life of court and camp, Pandarus
hurries off to interview his niece, whom he finds sitting with her maidens
"with-inne a paved parlour" reading the geste of Thebes. The contrast
between the shrewd, elderly man of the world and the love-sick youth has
been admirably brought out in Book I; in Book II a different, but no less
striking contrast is shown between the coarse humour and practical wisdom
of the uncle and the daintiness and charm of the niece. Pandarus angles
for Cressida and plays her as a skilful fisherman plays a trout. It is
obvious that he regards the whole thing as a good-natured grown-up
regards a children's game. It is deadly earnest to them, and since they
take it so seriously he will do his best to help them, but all the while
he considers it a piece of pretty and amusing childishness, though he
takes pleasure in playing it adroitly. His idea of effective appeal is to
poke his niece "ever newe and newe" and his jests when he has succeeded in
bringing the lovers together savour more of the camp than the court. When
the tragedy occurs and Troilus and Cressida are parted for ever, Pandarus
has no better comfort to offer than the platitude:--

  That alwey freendes may nought been y-fere,[74]

and he evidently thinks that Troilus is making a most unnecessary fuss
about it, though he is so sincerely distressed at Cressida's treachery
that he offers--lightly enough--to "hate hir evermore":--

  If I dide ought that mighte lyken thee,
  It is me leef;[75] and of this treson now,
  God woot, that it a sorwe is un-to me!
  And dredeless, for hertes ese of yow,[76]
  Right fayn wolde I amende it, wiste I how
  And fro this world, almighty god I preye
  Delivere hir sone; I can no-more seye.

At the same time he is a person of some energy and force. When Troilus
rushes about his chamber beating his head against the wall,

  And of his deeth roreth in compleyninge,

Pandarus shows some impatience of such weakness and bids him pull himself
together and

  ... manly set the world on sixe and sevene;
  And if thou deye a martir, go to hevene.

Excellently sound advice.

Nowhere is attention ostentatiously called to him; we are never allowed to
feel that he is being dragged in by way of comic relief; but his mere
presence at once removes _Troilus and Criseyde_ from the category of
conventional love-romances, and the very fact that we are left to discover
his significance for ourselves, without comment or explanation shows
Chaucer's confidence in his craftmanship.

But skilfully as Pandarus is drawn, the character of Cressida shows even
greater subtlety of treatment. To the medieval mind faithlessness in love
was the one unforgivable crime. Nearly a hundred years after Chaucer
wrote his _Troilus and Criseyde_, Sir Thomas Malory tells us of Guenever,
"she was a good lover and therefore she made a good end," and again and
again in the medieval romances proper we find the same thought insisted
on. Chaucer had therefore no light task before him when he set out to draw
a heroine at once lovable and fickle, and to enlist the sympathies of his
readers on behalf of one whose name had become a by-word for faithlessness
in love. With consummate skill he insists from the outset on her
gentleness and timidity. When Pandarus declares that the deaths both of
Troilus and himself will lie at her door if she turns a deaf ear to his
pleading, Cressida is simple enough to believe that he means it, and

  ... wel neigh starf for fere,[77]
  So as she was the ferfulleste wight[78]
  That might be....

That she is no vulgar coquette is shown by her ignorance of Troilus's
passion. Apparently he spends his whole time in the temple gazing at her,
but there is no mistaking the sincerity of her unselfconsciousness and
surprise when Pandarus tells her of her lover's plight. Nor is she at
first altogether pleased at having one of the handsomest and bravest of
Priam's sons at her feet; indeed Chaucer is at some pains to explain that
she does not suffer herself to be lightly won:--

  For I sey nought that she so sodeynly
  Yaf him hir love, but that she gan enclyne
  To lyk him first, and I have told you why;
  And after that, his manhood and his pyne[79]
  Made love with-inne hir for to myne,[80]
  For which, by process and by good servyse
  He gat hir love, and in no sodyn wyse.

Altogether we get the impression of a simple, child-like being who wanders
happily about her garden with Flexippe and Tharbe and Antigone "and othere
of hir wommen," or sits poring over tales of chivalry, without a thought
of marriage. She is woman enough to feel the force of Pandarus's hint that
it is folly to live

                    ... alle proude
  Til crowes feet be growe under your yë,

and to like the thought that the hero who rides blushing through the
cheering crowd

                            ... is he
  Which that myn uncle swereth he most be deed
  But I on him have mercy and pitee,

but she is no Delilah spreading her snares for men. Her uncle, the only
person whom she has to advise her, urges her to listen to Troilus; the
prince himself has everything likely to attract a girl's fancy; and as she
sagely remarks:--

  I knowe also, and alday here and see
  Men loven wommen al this toun aboute;
  Be they the wers? why nay, with-outen doubte.

No wonder she finally yields to her lover's passionate wooing when
Pandarus tricks her into coming to see him:--

  "But nathelees, this warne I yow," quod she,
  "A kinges sone although ye be, y-wis,
  Ye shul na-more have soverainetee
  Of me in love, than right that cas is;
  Ne I nil forbere, if that ye doon a-mis,
  To wrathen[81] yow; and whyl that ye me serve
  Cherycen[82] yow right after ye deserve.

  And shortly, dere herte and al my knight,
  Beth glad, and draweth yow to lustinisse,
  And I shal trewely, with al my might,
  Your bittre tornen al into swetnesse;
  If I be she that may yow do gladnesse,
  For every wo ye shal recovre a blisse;
  And him in armes took, and gan him kisse."

There is no prettier confession of love in all literature. Then follows
their brief period of rapture, with its mock quarrels and speedy
reconciliations, before the dreadful day when Calkas sends for his
daughter. The news that Cressida is to be delivered up to the Greeks fills
the lovers with despair. Troilus flings himself on his bed railing against
Fortune and abusing Calkas as an

  ... olde unholsom and mislyved man:

Cressida with tears prepares for her journey. One of the most delightful
pictures in the whole story is that of the worthy women who came to bid
her farewell and take her tears as a delicate compliment to themselves:--

  And thilke foles sittinge hir aboute
  Wenden that she wepte and syked[83] sore
  By-cause that she sholde out of that route
  Depart, and never pleye with hem more.
  And they that hadde y-knowen hir of yore
  Seye hir so wepe, and thoughte it kindenesse,
  And eche of hem wepte eek for hir distresse.

Her sorrow is sincere, and her tears do not cease to flow when Troilus is
out of sight. Shakespeare's Cressid, whose one idea is to ingratiate
herself with her new friends, is a very different person from Chaucer's
woebegone heroine. And yet in her very sorrow we see her weakness. When
Pandarus first tried to move her pity she had yielded, not solely out of
compassion but also because she was afraid of what might be said of her if
any harm came to Troilus:--

  And if this man slee here himself, allas!
  In my presence, it wol be no solas.
  What men wolde of hit deme I can nat seye:
  It nedeth me ful sleyly for to pley.[84]

The same strain of selfishness manifests itself now. Cressida is incapable
of being swept away by a great passion. She has a cat-like softness and
daintiness and charm, a cat's readiness to attach herself to the person
she is with at the moment, and a cat's adaptability to circumstances. She
is genuinely distressed at being parted from Troilus, she cries till her
eyes have dark rings round them, and even Pandarus is moved at the sight,
but she is incapable of exposing herself to any danger or inconvenience
for her lover's sake. Like the lady in the _Statue and the Bust_ she
hesitates at the thought of difficulty:--

  "And if that I me putte in jupartye[85]
  To stele awey by nighte, and it befalle
  That I be caught, I shal be holde a spye,
  Or elles, lo, this drede I most of alle
  If in the hondes of som wrecche I falle,
  I am but lost, al be myn herte trewe;
  Now mighty god, thou on my sorwe rewe!

    *       *       *       *       *

  But natheles, bityde what bityde,
  I shal to-morwe at night, by est or weste,
  Out of the ost stele on som maner syde,
  And go with Troilus wher-as him leste.
  This purpos wol I holde, and this is beste.
  No fors of wikked tonges janglerye,[86]
  For ever on love han wrecches had envye.

To such souls to-morrow never comes, and it is no surprise to find her
before long yielding to Diomede's entreaties, as she had formerly yielded
to those of Troilus. Boccaccio's heroine at once makes up her mind to flee
from the Greek camp, and then is quickly turned from her "high and great
intent" by the advent of a new lover. Chaucer with far greater sublety
prepares us for the change, and makes her very weakness her excuse:--

  But trewely, the story telleth us,
  Ther made never womman more wo
  Than she, whan that she falsed Troilus.

The reason for this excess of sorrow is characteristic:--

  She seyde, "Allas! for now is clene a-go
  My name of trouthe in love for ever-mo

    *       *       *       *       *

  Allas, of me unto the worldes ende
  Shal neither been y-written nor y-songe
  No good word, for thise bokes wol me shende,[87]
  O, rolled shal I ben on many a tonge,"[88]

and equally characteristic her hasty excuse,

  "Al be I not the firste that dide amis,"

and the sublime self-confidence with which in the act of jilting one lover
she announces her unalterable fidelity to the next:--

  "And sin I see there is no bettre way,
  And that to late is now for me to rewe,
  To Diomede algate I wol be trewe."

The whole character is drawn with extraordinary delicacy and insight, and
with a tenderness which marks Chaucer's large-hearted tolerance. It is
comparatively easy for an author to hold up a character to execration, but
only the very greatest can show us the weaknesses of human nature without
for one moment becoming cynical or contemptuous.

In the _Canterbury Tales_ Chaucer's method of character delineation is
more concise. In _Troilus and Criseyde_ he has five books, containing over
8000 lines, at his disposal, and the raptures and anguish of the lovers
are described at considerable length. In the _Canterbury Tales_ he has a
far more complex task before him; he has to present the pilgrims
themselves, in the various prologues and end-links; to make each tale a
dramatic revelation of the character of the teller; and to exhibit the
characters of the personages who play a part in the various stories. The
560 lines of the _Prologue_ in themselves contain a far greater number and
variety of characters than are to be found in the whole of _Troilus and
Criseyde_, and if there is less subtlety of treatment the later prologues
and end-links soon atone for this. Nothing, for instance, would have been
easier than to draw a conventional picture of the self-indulgent,
pleasure-loving monk, and at first sight we might think that Chaucer had
done little more, though even in the _Prologue_ we are conscious of a
sharp distinction between the Monk, who with all his faults is a
gentleman, and such vulgar impostors as the Pardoner and the Somnour. But
further acquaintance soon rectifies this conception. Self-indulgent and
pleasure-loving the Monk undoubtedly is, but he is no hypocrite or
evil-liver. The Host makes one of his few mistakes in tact by treating
him with breezy familiarity, "Ryd forth," he cries:--

  Ryd forth, myn owne lord, brek nat our game,
  But, by my trouthe, I knowe nat your name,
  Wher shal I calle you my lord dan John,
  Or dan Thomas, or elles dan Albon?
  Of what hous be ye, by your fader kin?
  I vow to god, thou hast a ful fair skin,
  It is a gentil pasture ther thou goost;
  Thou art nat lyk a penaunt[89] or a goost.

The Monk knows better than to rebuke the somewhat coarse pleasantries that
follow; but with quiet dignity he ignores the familiarity and offers to
relate either the life of St. Edward or else a series of tragedies:--

  Of whiche I have an hundred in my celle.

The choice of subjects in itself constitutes a delicate but unmistakable
snub. The Host expected some tale of hunting and merriment from
him--tragedy has little in common with his stout, jovial person, and frank
delight in good living--instead of which the pilgrims are regaled with a
series of moral discourses which would have been perfectly in place in the
cloister, but seem strangely ill-suited to the present company. Indeed,
the pilgrims grow restive under so much good advice; they evidently fear
that the worthy Monk means to inflict the whole hundred tragedies on them,
and after listening, with growing impatience, to seventeen tales of woe,
the tender-hearted Knight can bear no more:--

  "Ho!" quod the knight, "good sir, na-more of this.
  That ye han seyd is right y-nough, y-wis,
  And mochel more; for litel hevinesse
  Is right y-nough to mochel folk, I gesse.
  I seye for me it is a greet disese
  Wher-as men han ben in greet welthe and ese
  To heren of hir sodyn fal, allas!"

But it is significant that it is the Knight and not the Host who breaks
in, and that it is not until the Knight has spoken that Harry Bailly
informs the narrator of the obvious fact that his tale "anoyeth al this
companye," and courteously begs him to "sey somwhat of hunting." The Monk
refuses, and the turn passes to the Nun's Priest, but never again does the
Host venture to take a liberty with "dan Piers."

The Host's character is drawn with extraordinary skill, and without the
aid of any such introductory description as the _Prologue_ gives us of the
other pilgrims. The knowledge of human nature is part of his trade, and
the success with which he manages the diverse company which chance has
thrown in his way is proof enough that he is passed-master of his
profession. Shrewd, worldly, and unimaginative, we should imagine that the
coarser tales best please his taste, but it is his business to cater for
people of all kinds, and he well understands how to ensure sufficient
variety to suit all listeners. His rough good-humoured air of authority is
sufficient to keep the Friar and the Somnour within bounds. He prevents
the drunken Cook from becoming an intolerable nuisance to the company. He
keeps an eye on every individual pilgrim, and sees that no one is
overlooked. His ready jests smooth over many little roughnesses and
disagreeables, and the one thing that really takes him aback is when the
poor parson rebukes him for the constant oaths which slip off his tongue
so readily. He can only conclude that a person so extraordinary must be a
Lollard. And all the time that he is keeping the pilgrims in a good temper
and preventing them from feeling the journey irksome, he has by no means
lost sight of the fact that the reward of the best story is to be "a soper
at our aller cost," given at the Tabard Inn. The money he expended on the
pilgrimage was probably a good investment--not to mention the chance that
his expenses might very possibly be reduced to nothing, since at the very
beginning he had established it as a law that:--

  ... who-so wol my judgement withseye
  Shal paye al that we spenden by the weye

A very practical person, Harry Bailly!

Chaucer excels in drawing characters of this type. His young men are not
unlike the heroes of Shakespearean comedy. They are real enough, but they
have no very marked individuality. The Squire is by far the best of them.
In him we see the charm and freshness of youth, and it would be ungracious
to ask more of so fair a promise. But Troilus, with his tearfulness and
emotionalism, his readiness to procrastinate and to look to others to help
him out of his difficulties, with something of Bassanio's gallantry and
attractiveness, has also Bassanio's pliability. His is too slight a nature
to form the centre of a tragedy. Palamon and Arcite are as
indistinguishable as Demetrius and Lysander. There are critics who profess
to see subtle differences of character between them, but to the majority
of readers they are mere types of chivalry. Dorigen's husband, Averagus,
is little more than an embodiment of loyal truth, and Griselda's, were one
to regard him as anything but the means of testing wifely patience, would
be a monster of cruelty. Compare with these, the Pardoner, the Friar, the
Somnour, the Canon's Yeoman, the Miller, and all the other commonplace,
practical men whom Chaucer describes. Most of them strike us as elderly;
certainly none of them have any of the freshness or idealism of youth. The
remarkable thing about them is that they are so ordinary and yet so
interesting. The fussy self-importance of Chauntecleer; the garrulous
vulgarity of Pandarus; the senile uxoriousness of January, are all drawn
to the life, without one touch of bitterness or exaggeration. We listen to
the jests and squabbles of the pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, or the
story of some drama of everyday life, and we feel as if we had been made
free of the ale-house and were listening to the village gossips of our own
day.

But if the best drawn of Chaucer's men are confined to one comparatively
narrow class, his women show no such limitation. He draws no great
tragedy-queen, no Guenever or Vittoria Corrombona, but with this great
exception he depicts women of almost every type. Before going on to
discuss his heroines in detail, however, it might, perhaps, be well to say
a few words as to Chaucer's attitude towards women in general.

It must be evident even to the most superficial observer, that Chaucer had
an innate reverence for womanhood. The cult of the Virgin Mary, which had
done so much to exalt woman among all Christian nations, appealed to him
strongly, and, as we have seen, he more than once goes out of his way to
introduce some invocation to the "flour of virgines alle." His love of
children no doubt inclined him to look with tenderness on the relation of
mother and child, and among his most beautiful pictures are those of
Constance, with her baby in her arms, and Griselda bidding farewell to her
"litel yonge mayde":--

  And in her barm[90] this litel child she leyde
  With ful sad face, and gan the child to kisse
  And lulled it, and after gan it blisse.[91]

But he was far too shrewd and honest an observer of life to persuade
himself that all women were angels, or to allow reverence to degenerate
into sentimentality. His attitude towards marriage is characteristic.
Reference has already been made to his acceptance of the comic convention
of the shrewish wife, and certainly both the Host and the Merchant have
but few illusions left concerning wives. The virago whom the Host has
married cannot as much as go to say her prayers without finding some cause
of quarrel:--

  And if that any neighebour of myne
  Wol nat in chirche to my wyf enclyne,[92]
  Or be so hardy to hir to trespace,
  Whan she comth hoom, she rampeth in my face
  And cryeth, "false coward, wreek[93] thy wyf!"

The Merchant's wife would "overmatch the devil himself" were he foolish
enough to wed her. In the Lenvoy to the _Clerkes Tale_ Chaucer warns
modern husbands to look for no patient Griseldas among their wives, and
gives much satiric advice to "archewyves" to stand no nonsense from their
husbands. In the _Lenvoy a Bukton_ he warns his friend of "the sorwe and
wo that is in mariage":--

  I wol nat seyn how that it is the cheyne[94]
  Of Sathanas, on which he gnaweth ever,
  But I dar seyn, were he out of his peyne,
  As by his wille, he wolde be bounne never.

A fair proportion of the _Canterbury Tales_ deal with the tricks by which
a faithless wife imposes on her too credulous husband, and the bitterest
of all the words which Chaucer utters on the subject are those which
preface the _Marchantes Tale_ of January and May, when with biting sarcasm
he rebukes Theophrastus for daring to say that a good servant is of more
value than a wife, and goes on to discuss at length the happiness of
wedded life:--

  How mighte a man han 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 poore, she helpeth him to swinke;[95]
  She kepeth his good, and wasteth never a deel;
  Al that her housbonde lust,[96] hir lyketh weel;[97]

before relating the shame which a young wife brings upon her doting old
husband. The Shipmann protests with brutal frankness that wives cost more
than they are worth, and tells a tale to prove it. From all this we might
imagine Chaucer a cross-grained misogynist, but a glance for one moment at
the other side of the picture corrects this impression. He is as ready to
say what will amuse his contemporaries as Shakespeare is to tickle the
ears of the groundlings in his generation, but, like Shakespeare, he is
too just to see anything from only one point of view. There certainly are
women who abuse their husbands, and Chaucer's inferiority to Shakespeare
is marked by the fact that he finds the situation amusing; and there are
also shrews and termagants who make their husbands' lives a burden in
other ways. But pecking is not confined to hens. Chaucer realises that for
woman marriage is even more of a lottery than for man, since she is
necessarily so much at her husband's mercy:--

  Lo, how a woman doth amis,
  To love him that unknowen is!
  For, by Crist, lo! thus it fareth;
  "Hit is not al gold that glareth."[98]
  For, al-so brouke I wel myn heed,[99]
  Ther may be under goodliheed
  Kevered many a shrewd vyce;
  Therefore be no wight so nyce
  To take a love only for chere,
  For speche, or for frendly manere;
  For this shal every woman finde
  That som man, of his pure kinde,[100]
  Wol shewen outward the faireste,
  Til he have caught that what him leste;
  And thanne wol he causes finde,
  And swere how that she is unkinde,
  Or fals, or prevy, or double was.

    (_Hous of Fame_, Bk. I, ll. 269-85.)

Husband-hunting is a sport which has roused the laughter of men from time
immemorial; Chaucer is one of the few who has ever portrayed that fierce
shrinking from the thought of matrimony which is no less common among
women. Emily longing to be free to roam in the forest and "noght to been a
wyf," and Constance trembling at the thought of the strange man into whose
hands she is being committed, are as true to life as the Wife of Bath with
her husbands five at the Church door. And this poet, who sees so clearly
the dangers and evils of matrimony, has left us one of the most perfect
pictures of married life at its best. Dorigen and Averagus understand how
to remain lovers all their lives:--

  Heer may men seen an humble wys accord;
  Thus hath she take hir servant and hir lord,
  Servant in love, and lord in mariage;
  Then was he bothe in lordship and servage;
  Servage? nay, but in lordshipe above
  Sith he hath bothe his lady and his love;
  His lady, certes, and his wyf also,
  The whiche that lawe of love acordeth to.

    (_Frankeleyns Tale_, ll. 63-70.)

The passage immediately preceding this, with its beautiful picture of what
love understands by freedom, is too long to quote in full, but it shows
clearly enough Chaucer's conception of the relation of the sexes. To talk
of mastery is absurd:--

  Whan maistrie comth, the god of love anon
  Beteth his winges, and farewel! he is gon!

True love learns to give and take and does not demand payment for every
wrong:--

  Ire, siknesse, or constellacioun,[101]
  Wyn, wo, or chaunginge of complexioun[102]
  Causeth ful ofte to doon amis or speken.
  On every wrong a man may nat be wreken ...

and the great lesson of married life is patience and tender forbearance in
such moments of weakness. The story illustrates the text. Averagus has no
word of reproach for his wife when she tells him what she has done, and
Dorigen, on her part, shows a simple confidence in her husband's honour
which almost makes us forget the impossible absurdity of the situation.
After all, it is in Chaucer's women themselves, rather than in what he
says about woman, that we see his attitude most clearly. In the character
of Blanche the Duchesse he portrays an ideal which differs in many ways
from the conventional standard of the day. Instead of the typical heroine
of romance, whose sole thought is of love and whose sole desire that her
knight may prove the bravest in Christendom, Chaucer draws a lively,
quick-witted girl, whose consciousness of her own power and simple delight
in her own beauty never degenerate into selfish coquetry. The medieval
heroine considered it a point of honour to set her lover impossible tasks
to perform for her sake. Blanche "ne used no such knakkes small." She sees
no sense in sending a man

        ... into Walayke,[103]
  To Pruyse and in-to Tartarye,
  To Alisaundre, ne in-to Turkye,
  And bidde him faste, annoo that he
  Go hoodles to the drye see[104]
  And come hoom by the Carrenare;[105]

and telling him to be

        ... right ware
  That I may of yow here seyn[106]
  Worship, or that ye come ageyn.

Nor does she use any arts to enhance her beauty. She looks you straight in
the face with those great grey eyes of hers:--

  Debonair, goode, gladde, and sadde,

and offers a frank friendship to all "gode folk." She utters no half
truths, and takes no pleasure in deceit, nor was there ever

      ... through hir tonge
  Man ne woman greatly harmed.

There is no touch of pettiness in her nature. One of the most delightful
passages in the poem is that in which the Black Knight declares how ready
she always was to forgive and forget:--

  Whan I had wrong and she the right
  She wolde alwey so goodely
  For-geve me so debonairly.
  In alle my youthe in alle chaunce
  She took me in hir governaunce.

At the same time she "loved so wel hir owne name" that she suffered no
liberties to be taken with her:--

  She wrong do wolde to no wight;

and

  No wight might do her no shame.

Through the whole picture there breathes a spirit of vigour and freshness
and gaiety. Once again Chaucer seems to foreshadow Shakespeare: Blanche
might well take her place beside Rosalind and Portia and Beatrice, as a
type of simple unspoiled girlhood. Her frank enjoyment of life, her keen
wit, which knows no touch of malice, her combination of tender-heartedness
and strength remind us more than once of Shakespeare's heroines, and like
them she is no colourless model of propriety, but has all a true woman's
charm and unexpectedness.

No other of Chaucer's portraits is so detailed, but he recurs more than
once to the same type. Emily is drawn with comparatively few strokes, but
she gives us very much the same impression as Blanche. There is the same
sense of the open air, the same simplicity and directness. Nothing better
brings out the peculiar quality of Chaucer's heroine than a comparison
between the Emily of the _Knightes Tale_ and the Emily of _Two Noble
Kinsmen_. The one walks alone in the garden, gathering flowers, and
singing to herself for sheer lightness of heart. The other converses with
her waiting-woman, and her chief interest in nature lies in the hope that
the maid may prove able "to work such flowers in silk." There is no
reason why the second Emily should not wish to have an embroidered gown,
but its introduction here at once destroys the freshness and simplicity of
the picture. Canace, too, delights in wandering in the forest in the early
morning. She is so closely in sympathy with nature that it seems but
natural that she should understand bird-latin, and her quick sympathy with
the unhappy falcon is very characteristic of a Chaucerian heroine, for
again and again he tells us

  That pitee renneth sone in gentil heart.

It is a pretty picture which shows the king's daughter gently bandaging
the wounded bird upon her lap, or doing "hir bisiness and al hir might" to
gather herbs for salves.

Constance, Griselda, Dorigen are maturer and more developed. They are
women, not girls, and women who have lived and suffered, but they are just
what we should expect Blanche, or Emily, or Canace to develop into. They
have less gaiety and light-heartedness, less pretty wilfulness than these
younger sisters of theirs, but they have the same frankness and
directness, the same honesty of mind. They meet their fate with grave
serenity and simple courage. Griselda abandons herself to what she
believes to be her duty. Constance and Dorigen when confronted by danger
show perfect readiness to do what in them lies to defend their own honour.
Constance throws the wicked steward into the sea; Dorigen, instead of
indulging in hysterics, is quick-witted enough to hit on a way of escape
which no natural means could have blocked. Through all three stories runs
a vein of tenderness which stirs our sympathy. Griselda, who has borne so
much in patience, gives vent to one passionate cry of reproach when she is
bidden to make way for the new wife, a cry which has in it all a woman's
fond clinging to the memory of a past happiness:--

  O gode god! how gentil and how kinde
  Ye semed by your speche and your visage
  The day that maked was our mariage;

and surely no direct accusation of cruelty could show with equal clearness
how deeply she has suffered. They are great-hearted women, before whose
innate nobility the persecutions and unjust accusations to which they are
subjected drop into nothingness.

When Chaucer deliberately sets out to draw a saint instead of a woman, he
is less successful. Our sympathies are with Blanche, as she sings and
dances so gaily, rather than with the preternaturally pious Virginia, who
at the age of twelve often feigns sickness in order to

          ... fleen the companye
  Wher lykly was to treten of folye,[107]
  As is at festes, revels, and at daunces ...

Indeed the whole of the _Phisiciens Tale_ seems curiously cold and
lifeless. There is a touch of nature at the end where the child,
forgetting her piety, flings her arms round her father's neck, and asks if
there is no remedy, and again where she begs him to smite softly, but
these are not enough to atone for the perfunctoriness of the rest. The
story is too essentially tragic for the barest narration of it not to make
some appeal to us, but it is impossible not to feel that Chaucer was
either hurried or working against the grain when he wrote his version.

The _Seconde Nonnes Tale_ contains even less of human interest. Cecilia is
neither more nor less than the mouthpiece of the Christian religion, and
the miracles that she works and the sermons that she preaches leave the
reader unmoved. The music of the verse has a charm of its own, and
Chaucer's most left-handed work is yet the work of a genius, but a
comparison of Cecilia with Constance soon shows the difference between a
real woman and an embodied ideal. The miraculous element, which is
subordinated to the human interest in the _Man of Lawes Tale_, dominates
the whole of the _Seconde Nonnes Tale_, and the inevitable sameness of the
various conversions further detracts from its vividness.

In Cressida Chaucer had painted a woman of the butterfly type. In the
_Canterbury Tales_ he gives us a certain number of actually immoral women,
such as Alisoun and May, but he paints no second picture of pretty
helpless coquettishness. The heroines of the less savoury tales are
coarser in fibre and for the most part lower in the social scale than
Calkas' daughter, and their stories are of mere sensuous self-indulgence
with none of the charm and poetry which marks the tale of Troilus and
Cressida. One character alone recalls Chaucer's earlier heroine. The
Prioress is very much what a fourteenth-century Cressida would have been
if her friends had placed her in a convent instead of finding her a
husband. She has the same daintiness and trimness, the same superficial
tender-heartedness. It is difficult to imagine that her sympathy, like
Canace's, would take the practical form of applying salves or binding up
wounds, but:--

  She was so charitable and so pitous,
  She wolde wepe if that she sawe a mous
  Caught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.

Her table manners are excellent, and she wears her veil with an air:--

  Ful semely hir wimpel pinched was.

Her silver brooch, with its _Amor vincit omnia_, betrays a naïve interest
in her personal appearance. She is never brought into contact with the
more passionate side of life as Cressida is, and her seclusion from the
world has given her a touch of primness which combines oddly with her
little affectations. The contrast between her worldliness and that of the
Monk is complete. He is gross, jovial, self-indulgent; she is delicate,
mincing, conventional. Like Cressida she would always follow the line of
least resistance, though it would cause her genuine--if but
momentary--distress to give pain to anyone. She is too well-bred ever to
think for herself, and too innocent and simple-minded not to accept life
as it is offered her. She tells her story with real tenderness and
feeling, and it is evident that the atmosphere of the cloister in no wise
irks her. It is impossible to regard her as a pattern nun, but equally
impossible to judge her harshly. Both she and Cressida have something
childlike about them, and it seems out of place to try them by the
ordinary standards.

Of a very different type are Chaucer's practical, bustling housewives,
amongst whom the Wife of Bath and Dame Pertelote stand pre-eminent. The
Wife of Bath is a capable, active, pushing woman, with plenty of courage
and plenty of self-confidence. She is well-to-do and has a fitting sense
of her own dignity and importance, but she has no idea of letting dignity
stand in the way of enjoyment, and is quite ready to take her part in the
rough jests of the company. Comely of face and plump of person, she
dresses well and is quite prepared to make the most of her attractions.
The prologue to her tale shows that she has plenty of shrewd mother-wit.
Her view of matrimony is characteristic. She recognises the "greet
perfeccioun" of celibacy, but since all men and women are not suited to
such a life, she is impatient of the idea that they should marry but once,
and she quotes the Scriptures most aptly for her purpose. Her present
husband is her fifth, and when he dies she has every intention of marrying
again:--

  "I nil envye no virginitee;"

she cries,

  "Let hem be breed of pured whete-seed,
  And lat us wyves hoten barly-breed,"[108]

for barley-bread is by no means to be despised. In fact she is the epitome
of common-sense, and her confidence in her own opinion enables her to bear
contradiction good-humouredly enough. Her methods with her various
husbands were simple: three she bullied and brow-beat, one she paid back
in his own coin. The fifth, who had the sense to beat her, was the only
one for whom she had any respect, and even he had finally yielded her

  ... the governance of hous and lond
  And of his tonge and of his hond also.

It is the picture of a violent, coarse--but not wholly ill-natured--woman,
who despises bookishness and thoroughly enjoys good ale and good company.
She has no morals and no ideals, though she loves to go

  To vigiles and to processiouns,
  To preching eek, and to thise pilgrimages,
  To pleyes of miracles and mariages,

but her genial good-fellowship makes her a pleasant enough companion.

Dame Pertelote is drawn with even greater skill. The impatience with which
she listens to Chauntecleer's account of his dream is just what we should
expect of a sensible, unimaginative, middle-class woman, whose own nerves
and digestion were in excellent order, if her husband came to her with a
long story of a supernatural warning. Dreams, she says, are the natural
consequence of over-eating; the best thing he can do is to take some of
the herbs she recommends, and when he has pecked these up, "right as they
growe" and "ete hem in" he will find all his nervousness and depression
disappear. Chauntecleer is furious at being treated with such scant
respect and proceeds to overwhelm her with examples of dreams that have
come true. His wise wife, who knows when to hold her tongue, makes no
attempt to answer him back, but is evidently only too thankful when at
last, being convinced that he has established his point, he suffers his
attention to be distracted and turns to the pleasanter business of
love-making. Pertelote is in fact typical of the good wives of her class,
as the Wife of Bath is of the bad. She is no more a heroine than the Wife
of Bath is a villainess, but the one studies her husband's comforts and
thoroughly understands how to make him happy, while the other cares for
nothing but her own amusement. Pertelote's lamentations when Chauntecleer
is borne off are in the best taste. Restraint was considered no virtue in
a medieval widow, and Pertelote very properly screams loudly and
persistently. Nor does wifely affection go unrewarded. The "sely widwe"
and her daughters who own the hen-yard

  Herden thise hennes cry and maken wo,
  And out at dores steten they anoon,

with the result that Chauntecleer is saved.

It is this power of making characters at once typical and individual which
marks true dramatic genius. Browning's men and women reveal their
innermost souls to us, we see them with a passionate vividness which is
almost startling in its brilliancy, but all the while we are conscious of
the intensity of their individuality. The conspicuous thing about them is
that which marks them out from the rest of the world. The commonplace
novelist or dramatist, on the other hand, gives us mere types of vice and
virtue. Mr. Jerome's gallery of Stageland characters--the hero, the
heroine, the comic Irishman, the good old man, and the rest--is scarcely
caricature. It is hardly necessary to give them names, the same types have
been recurring again and again for many a long year, and are likely to
continue to recur as long as there are cheap books and cheap theatres. But
the great masters of character-drawing contrive to show us the individual
at once as a unit and as part of the whole. We see the peculiar
idiosyncrasies of this or that person, and we are conscious, not only of a
subtle bond between ourselves and them which enables us to see things from
their point of view, but of their relation to human nature in general and
to their own class in particular.



CHAPTER V

CHAUCER'S HUMOUR


Critics may be divided in opinion as to Chaucer's right to be called the
Father of English poetry, but there can be no question that he is the
first great English humorist. As far back as Henry III's reign fabliaux
had been imported from France, but they took no real root in English soil,
and though their coarse jests and indecent situations were fully
appreciated by thirteenth- and fourteenth-century readers, they never rose
above the level of collections of "merrie tales" and made no pretensions
to originality or literary style. The same stories were repeated again and
again, with slight variations, and are often to be found in Indian or
Arabian versions as well as in French and English. Chaucer alone, showed
that it was possible to see in them a revelation of human nature. The
romances, as has been said, were far more French than English, and, even
so, comparatively few of them show any flicker of humour. _Aucassin and
Nicolette_ stands out as a conspicuous exception, but this is pure
French, and the more English romances, such as _Guy of Warwick_ or _Bevis
of Hampton_, take everything with intense seriousness. It is true that the
Continental animal epic had begun to make its influence felt in England,
but it was still the Continental epic: it belonged to the days of literary
free-trade before the national spirit made itself felt in literature.
Satire, it is true, had long since made its appearance in England, but
except for rude popular rhymes and an occasional poem of greater
pretensions--such as the _Land of Cokaygne_--it was in Latin, and had
nothing distinctively English about it. In the Miracle Plays, it is true,
we find that mixture of shrewd common-sense and real feeling, of comedy
and tragedy, which we are accustomed to regard as characteristically
English, but though they had been popular in England for many years before
Chaucer began to write, the best of them date from the fifteenth century,
and the comic element in the earlier plays seems chiefly to have consisted
in rough-and-tumble farce. It was left for Chaucer to show the true
meaning and value of the comic point of view, and at the same time to
embody the characteristics of a nation which had but recently awakened to
the consciousness of its own individuality.

To say that humour is the most subtle and illusive of qualities, is to
utter a truism. Certain situations are in themselves necessarily and
essentially tragic. The slaying of parent by child, or child by parent; a
great shipwreck involving terrible loss of life; any sudden and
overwhelming catastrophe must always bring with it a sense of horror. But
comedy depends on point of view rather than on situation. An absurdity of
dress or manner which would cause us to smile under normal circumstances,
would cease to be amusing if it indicated dangerous insanity: a man
falling off the roof of a house might go into the most ridiculous
attitudes without in the least stirring the spectator's sense of humour.
It is this which makes it difficult to accept Professor Bergson's most
interesting and suggestive theory of the mechanical nature of comedy as
wholly satisfactory. And again, while such tragic incidents as have been
suggested appeal to every normal human being, what amuses one person may
leave another absolutely untouched. We all know the blank sensation of
having our best story received with stony politeness, and the despair of
trying to explain a joke. Certain things, however, do appeal in greater or
less degree to the majority of people, and among these is the element of
unexpectedness. The whole point of the modern musical comedy consists in
making the actor behave as no sane person ever dreamed of behaving in
actual life. If it were the fashion to enter a room in a series of
cart-wheels we should see nothing funny in it. The audience roars with
laughter when the elderly gentleman sits on his hat, because hats are not
intended to be used as cushions. Nor is this element of unexpectedness
confined to mere farce. It constitutes more than half the point of a
brilliant repartee or play upon words. The child's misuse of terms is
amusing because it suggests something which would never have occurred to
us. And it is this which underlies the assertion that humour consists in
incongruity. True humour, however, contains far more than this. If comedy
plays on the surface of life, its greatest exponents bring home to us the
fact that that surface covers a depth. It is no accident that causes
Shakespeare's comedies to deepen in tone until they become well-nigh
indistinguishable from tragedies, or that leads Chaucer to introduce a
Pandarus into the tragedy of _Troilus and Criseyde_. Comedy has a double
value. It is amusing, and it is also a bond which connects us with
everyday life. It keeps tragedy from soaring into worlds peopled
exclusively by heroes and heroines of almost superhuman greatness, and
romance from dwelling wholly in a land of faery. Had the poets of the
Restoration ever dared to view their heroes from the comic point of view
we should have been spared the bombastic grandiloquence of their Almanzors
and Osmyns. Had Rosalind no sense of humour, were Touchstone and Jaques
non-existent, _As You Like It_ might still be a charming forest idyll, but
it would cease to have any hint of realism.

Chaucer's comedy touches both extremes: it includes the most elementary,
and the most subtle forms, and though he never rises to the height of the
great Shakespearean dramas, he does reveal possibilities hitherto
undreamed of in English literature. For the sake of clearness it may be
well to consider his comedy under four heads: farce, wit, satire, humour
proper.

(1) _Farce._--Farce may be defined as that form of comedy which makes
least appeal to the intelligence, which is, in fact, almost wholly
physical. An imbecile may be incapable of realising that there is anything
unusual in wearing straws in one's hair and therefore may not find the
spectacle amusing, but it needs but a very low order of intelligence to
appreciate such physical peculiarity--hence the popularity of costume
songs, and pantomime generally, which call for no mental effort on the
part of the audience. But while farce is undoubtedly the lowest form of
comedy, it does not necessarily follow that it is to be despised. The
greatest authors do not disdain to make use of it, only they keep it
subordinate to other interests. Shakespeare contrives to blend farce with
character-study in a way that is truly marvellous. Falstaff's fatness is
eminently farcical, and yet it is something more--a starveling Sir John
would be a wholly different person. It is farce touched with humour.
Dogberry and Verges are of a different species from the comic policeman of
musical comedy.

In Chaucer we find both forms of farce. The "sely carpenter" of the
_Milleres Tale_ provides plenty of incident well suited to tickle the most
elementary sense of the comic. The picture of the unfortunate John
victualling his tub in readiness for a second edition of Noah's flood,
and sitting in it, slung up to the ceiling, "awaytinge on the reyn," is
irresistibly funny, and it is easy to fancy the delight of the audience
when, thinking the flood has come, he cuts the cord and comes bumping on
to the floor; for the truest farce of all is the practical joke which
makes someone else ridiculous. All the coarser tales are full of such
episodes. It would make no difference if the incidents were transferred
from one tale to another, they have no subtle connection with the
personality of those involved in them; the absurdity lies in the actual
situation, and is exactly on a level with the rough-and-tumble fights
between Noah and his wife, which proved so popular in the Miracle Plays,
or the tossing of Mak in a blanket in the well-known Townley Mystery.

The portrait of the drunken Cook contains farce of a somewhat higher
order. He is a most unattractive person, and from any other point of view
would be merely repulsive. But humour, while it cuts through false
sentiment, not infrequently softens down the harsher lines in a character.
There is no bitterness in true laughter; we cannot wholly despise what
amuses us. In a tract the Cook and the Wife of Bath, the Friar and the
Pardoner, would serve as awful warnings. In the _Canterbury Tales_ they
show an extraordinary power of disarming criticism and worming themselves
into our affections:--

  The Cook of London, whyl the Reve spak,
  For joye, him thoughte, he clawed him on the bak.

He is a genial rascal after all, and we almost resent his having so
unfortunately appropriate a name as Hogge. When he falls asleep as he
rides and rolls off his horse our sympathies are with him, though we fully
appreciate the force of the Maunciple's plea that he shall not be
permitted to tell his tale. The picture of the rest of the pilgrims
shoving him to and fro in their efforts to mount him again, is farce of
the simplest and most primitive kind, but Roger himself is a live man, not
a mere occasion of mirth in others.

The Wyf of Bath, again, is a foul-mouthed, coarse-grained woman, selfish
and self-indulgent. Her prologue shows an amazing ignorance of the meaning
of clean living, and her piety merely serves as an excuse for seeing the
world. Yet such is the power of the comic point of view that it is quite
impossible to judge her from the conventional moral standpoint. Comedy
lays stress on her good-humour and her sense, and, above all, on her power
of amusing the company. Compare her for one moment with Mrs. Sinclair in
_Clarissa_, or the old hag in _Dombey and Son_, and the effect produced by
comic treatment at once becomes evident. It is not that it dulls our moral
sense, but it gives us a peculiar tolerance of its own. Instead of judging
all men from our own particular plane, we learn to see these illiterate
and common folk as they see each other, and we find them extraordinarily
human after all.

(2) _Wit._--Wit is the intellectual counterpart of farce. Farce at its
lowest is actually physical--the jester trips his victim up, 'Arry and
'Arriet exchange hats--and at its highest consists in physical absurdity.
Wit appeals as much to a blind man as to one who can see. In neither case
has the comic element any necessary connection with the characters of
those concerned. Farce, as we have seen, may be combined with humour, and
wit may gain an added keenness from our knowledge of the witty person, but
in their simplest form neither depends on any such connection. A man
chasing his hat is a funny sight, quite apart from our having any idea of
who he is. Any additional element of humour which may be added by the fact
that it is Mr. So-and-so, who prides himself on his dignified deportment,
is not purely farcical. In like manner, a brilliant repartee is amusing,
though we may have no notion who uttered it: in fact, not infrequently the
same story is told, with equal effect, about two or more different men. At
the same time a remark, witty in itself, often gains additional force from
its context, and in certain cases the chief point depends on the setting.
The wit-traps so beloved by Restoration comedy writers, of which George
Meredith speaks in his _Essay on Comedy_, are typical examples of pure
wit. It does not matter in the least by whom the remark is made: the
actual verbal sword-play is in itself amusing. Frequently such dialogue
does nothing whatever to help on the plot. Its wit is in itself sufficient
to justify its existence. Shakespeare, on the other hand, has
extraordinarily few passages which can be detached from the play in which
they occur, and quoted as essentially amusing. Falstaff's jests without
Falstaff lose all their savour, and the wit of a Rosalind or a Beatrice is
too intimate a part of her personality for the two to be divorced.
Millament's brilliant jests are scintillating jewels of wit. The wit of
Shakespeare's heroines is a facet of their character.

Drama naturally affords more scope for the display of wit than does
narrative poetry. That Chaucer is witty is undeniable, but his wit shows
itself chiefly in sly comments and parentheses, or in the adroit use of an
unexpected simile. His dry comment on the probable fate of Arcite's soul;
the parenthesis which tells us how small is the number of those who having
done well desire to hide their good deeds; the eagle's complaint, in the
_Hous of Fame_, that the poet is "noyous for to carie"; Placebo's
explanation of the reason why he has never yet quarrelled with any lord of
"heigh estaat," are good examples of the former method. Detached from
their context, there is little or nothing in any of them to raise a smile.
They contain no play upon words, nothing intrinsically amusing. But in
their proper setting they cause that pleasant shock which breeds laughter;
they give a sudden whimsical turn to the thought.

The _Nonne Preestes Tale_ illustrates, not only Chaucer's comic use of
simile, but, what is closely allied to this, the comic effect produced by
speaking of one thing in terms of another. The mock-heroic effect produced
by the learning of Chauntecleer and the weight of the illustrations which
he adduces in support of his faith in dreams, is inimitable. This cock
quotes Josephus and Macrobius and Cato with such pompous gravity that he
almost persuades us to share his own sense of his importance. The grave
disquisition on predestination and free-will which prefaces the account of
his untoward fate has an irresistibly comic effect. This is, however, not
purely comic. It is characteristic of Chaucer that he should treat a
matter which was evidently much in his thoughts, in this half-ironic
manner. The comparison of the bereaved Pertelote to "Hasdrubales wyf," and
her sister hens to the wives of the senators of Rome

  --whan that Nero brende[109] the citee--

is no less effective. The whole story indeed is treated consistently from
the comic point of view, and while here again there is nothing inherently
funny in detached passages, wit lights up the poem from end to end.

(3) _Satire._--Satire differs from farce or wit in that it has a definite
moral purpose.

  It is our purpose, Crites, to correct
  And punish with our laughter ...

says Mercury in _Cynthia's Revels_. The satirist deliberately alienates
our sympathies from those whom he describes, and as the true humorist is
apt to pass from comedy to romance, and from romance to tragedy, so the
satirist not infrequently ends by finding rage and disgust overpower his
sense of the ridiculous. Ben Jonson passes from the comedy of _Every Man
in his Humour_ to the bitterness of _Volpone_, Swift from the comparative
lightness of Gulliver in Lilliput, to the savage brutality of the
Hounyhymns. Of satire pure and simple few examples are to be found in
Chaucer. The _Hous of Fame_ is indeed satiric in conception, and certain
of the pictures it contains are decidedly effective. The
fourteenth-century equivalent of the game of Russian Scandal which it
describes, has already been noticed. No less ironic is the account of the

            shipmen and pilgrymes
  With scrippes bret-ful of lesinges
  Entremedled with tydinges,[110]

whom the poet meets in the house of Rumour. But the poem as a whole is so
lengthy and so much of it is occupied with the description of symbols,
references to classical mythology, and other equally serious matters, that
the more witty portions stand out conspicuously, and the reader is apt to
find some difficulty in seeing the various parts in their proper relation.
Successful satire must ever keep its object in view. The _Hous of Fame_ is
too discursive to be really effective as a whole.

The fact is that satire is not Chaucer's natural bent. He is too
quick-witted not to see through sham and humbug, but his interest lies in
portraiture rather than in exposure. His object is to paint life as he
sees it, to hold up the mirror to nature, and, as has justly been said, "a
mirror has no tendency," it reflects, but it does not, or should not,
distort. In two cases only does Chaucer deliberately draw a one-sided
picture, and both are topical skits, too slight to regard as satire
proper. The _Compleint of Mars_, which is not specially witty or amusing
in itself, is said to have been written at the expense of my lady of York
and the Earl of Huntingdon, but any savour which the jest may once have
had, has long since passed away. The rhyme of _Sir Thopas_ has already
been noticed as a good-natured parody of the conventional romance.

But if Chaucer is too tolerant and genial, too little of a preacher and
enthusiast, for a satirist, enough has already been said to show that his
wit has often a satiric turn. The student of the _Canterbury Tales_ is
often reminded of the worth of another great English humorist. Chaucer and
Fielding are alike in a certain air of rollicking good-fellowship, a
certain virility, a determination to paint men and women as they know
them. Neither is particularly squeamish, both enjoy a rough jest, and have
little patience with over-refinement. Both give one a sense of sturdy
honesty and kindliness, and know how to combine tenderness with strength.
Both, with all their tolerance, have a keen eye for hypocrisy or
affectation and a sharp tongue wherewith to chastise and expose it.
Chaucer hates no one, not even the Pardoner, as whole-heartedly as
Fielding hates Master Blifil, but the _Pardoners Tale_ affords the best
instance of the satiric bent of the poet's humour when he is brought face
to face with a scheming rogue.

The Host, who has been much moved by the piteous tale of Virginia, turns
to the Pardoner for something to remove its depressing influence:--

  "Or but I here anon a mery tale."

he cries,

  "Myn herte is lost for pitee of this mayde.
  Thou belamy,[111] thou Pardoner," he seyde,
  "Tel us som mirthe or japes[112] right anon."

The Pardoner is ready enough to oblige, as soon as he has called at the
inn they are passing and has eaten and drunk. But it is noteworthy that
the pilgrims, who have listened to the Miller's tale without a murmur, are
nervous as to what the Pardoner's idea of a merry tale may be. With one
voice they protest:--

  "Nay! lat him telle us of no ribaudye;[113]
  Tell us som moral thing, that we may lere[114]
  Som wit, and thanne wol we gladly here."

To the Pardoner it is all one. Practised speaker as he is, a comic story
or a sermon comes equally readily to his lips, and he promises with ready
good-nature, though he begs for a moment for reflection:--

  "I graunte, y-wis," quod he, "but I moste thinke
  Up-on som honest thing, whyl that I drinke."

Of their insinuations as to the kind of tale he is likely to tell if left
to himself, he takes not the slightest notice. His tongue loosened by the
ale, he begins with a cynical confession of his methods as a popular
preacher.

  "Lordings," quod he, "in chirches whan I preche
  I peyne me to han an hauteyn[115] speche,
  And ringe it out as round as gooth a belle,
  For I can al by rote that I telle.[116]
  My theme is alwey oon, and ever was--
  '_Radix malorum est Cupiditas_.'"

Having thus warned his hearers against the love of money, he proceeds to
show his credentials, sprinkling a few Latin terms here and there in his
speech:--

  "To saffron with my predicacioun[117]
  And for to stire men to devocioun,"

and then shows his relics, the shoulder-bone of "an holy Jewes shepe," a
miraculous mitten which will cause the crops of the man who wears it to
increase manifold:--

  "By this gaude have I wonne, yeer by yeer,
  An hundred mark sith I was Pardoner"--

a pillow-case, which he swears is our Lady's veil, etc., etc. After this
he preaches a vehement sermon against avarice, the object of which, he
frankly explains, is

          "... for to make hem free
  To yeve her pens, and namely unto me.
  For my entente is nat but for to winne,
  And no-thing for correccioun of sinne.
  I rekke never, whan that they ben beried,
  Though that her soules goon a-blakeberied."[118]

If anyone has offended him, he takes care so to point at him in what he
says that the reference is unmistakable and the whole congregation
understands who it is that is being denounced:--

  "Thus quyte I folk that doon us displeasances."

In fact, the whole object of his preaching is neither more nor less than
the amassing of money:--

  "Therfore my theme is yet, and ever was--
  '_Radix malorum est Cupiditas_.'

    *       *       *       *       *

  For I wol preche and begge in sondry londes;
  I wol not do no labour with myn hondes

    *       *       *       *       *

  I wol have money, wolle, chese, and whete,
  Al were it yeven of the poorest page,
  Or of the poorest widwe in a village."

No wonder that

  Up-on a day he gat him more moneye
  Than that the person[119] gat in monthes tweye.

After this shameless confession, the Pardoner offers to relate one of the
moral tales which he has found most efficacious in cajoling money out of
unwilling pockets.

  In Flaundres whylom was a companye
  Of yonge folk, that haunteden folye[120] ...

thus he begins, and so moved is he with the thought of the folly of these
young people that, with his own lips scarce dry from their last draught of
corny ale, he proceeds to denounce gluttony and drunkenness in no measured
terms. It is an admirable sermon, full of apt illustrations and
appropriate references to the Bible. It enables us to see, at the outset,
how the preacher succeeds in dominating his illiterate audiences when he
speaks in the village churches. Having got well into his stride, the
Pardoner passes on to the promised tale. Among the riotous company are
three young men. One day, as they sit drinking in a tavern, they hear the
bell toll, and sending a servant to inquire the cause, they learn that
Death has carried away one of their companions. With pot-valiant courage
they declare their intention of seeking out and slaying this false traitor
Death, and without more ado set forth on the quest. An old man, whom they
meet by the way, tells them that Death is to be found in a neighbouring
grove, under a tree:--

  And everich of thise ryotoures ran
  Til he cam to that tree, and ther they founde
  Of florins fyne of golde y-coyned rounde
  Wel ny an eighte busshels, as hem thoughte.

The sight effectually puts Death out of their minds. They decide that the
treasure must be hidden, and since it will be well to wait for darkness
before venturing to remove it, they draw lots to determine which of them
shall run to the town for meat and drink, while the other two keep guard.
The lot falls on the youngest, but no sooner has he gone than the two who
remain plot to murder him when he comes back, since there will be the more
gold for them if he is out of the way. The youngest also thinks it a pity
to divide such wealth by three, and having reached the town he goes to an
apothecary and demands

  Som poyson, that he mighte his rattes quelle.[121]

He then buys three bottles, puts poison in two and reserves the third for
his own use. On his return he is slain by the other two.

  And whan that this was doon, thus spak that oon,
  "Now lat us sitte and drinke, and make us merie
  And afterward we wol his body berie."

Thus all three find Death where they sought him.

The story is told with considerable force. The action moves quickly, and
there is enough grim suggestiveness to stir the hearer's imagination
without the detail being in any way overloaded. The picture of the old man
vainly seeking death as he strikes his staff upon the ground and cries:
"Leve moder, leet me in"; the brief dialogue between the two roisterers in
the wood; the description of the thoughts that chase each other through
the mind of the third as he runs, all show a power of vivid dramatic
presentation. It is not in the least such a tale as the pilgrims expect
from the Pardoner. The poor Parson himself could point no better moral.
And it ends with (of all things!) an impassioned appeal against avarice.
The Pardoner has fallen unconsciously into his professional manner.
Carried away by his own eloquence, he forgets that he began by explaining
the trick of the whole thing. No doubt, as he himself had said, he has
used the tale often enough as a means of extorting money, and with the
most convincing fervour he begs the pilgrims--with his confession fresh in
their minds--to beware of covetousness, and to press forward and make
their offerings to his holy relics. So naturally have we been led on step
by step, so easily has he passed from cynicism to sermon, and from sermon
to application, that it is something of a shock when the Host, instead of
hastening to kiss the relics as he is bidden, responds to the invitation
with a coarse jest. The anger of the Pardoner at this indignity is
explicable only on the ground that he was so consummate an actor that he
had literally forgotten himself in his part. A hypocrite he undoubtedly
is, but not the crude, deliberate hypocrite whom the later satirists of
the Puritans delighted to draw, nor even the Pecksniffian hypocrite who,
while he retains his mask, even in private, never loses consciousness of
the fact that it is a mask; he has something of the artistic temperament,
and his failure to impress the pilgrims gives him a real, though
momentary, jar. The subtle irony with which the whole picture is drawn is
perfect in its restraint. The vulgar rogue is sufficiently represented by
the Friar. The Pardoner is of higher intelligence, and while we condemn
him we recognise his ability.

The suggestion that the various birds in the _Parlement of Foules_
represent courtiers of the day, has already been noticed. If it is true,
the satire is of so genial and playful a kind that even the goose can
scarcely have been hurt by it. More than once Chaucer draws an amusing
picture of a gossiping, foolish crowd, but while it is evident that he has
no very high opinion of the intelligence of people in the mass, there is
no trace of bitterness in his descriptions. The well-meaning busybodies
who come to comfort Criseyde are as helplessly incompetent as "the goos,
the cokkow, and the doke," but though fussy and self-centred, they have
too much real kindliness for it to be possible not to feel a certain
affection for them. Perhaps the best of all Chaucer's crowds is that in
the _Squieres Tale_ which gathers to look at the horse of brass, and the
other magic gifts:--

  Diverse folk diversely they demed;
  As many hedes, as many wittes ther been.
  They murmureden as dooth a swarm of been,[122]
  And maden skiles after hir fantasyes,[123]
  Rehersinge of thise olde poetryes,
  And seyden, it was lyk the Pegasee,
  The hors that hadde winges for to flee;
  Or elles it was the Grekes hors Synon,[124]
  That broghte Troye to destruccion,
  As men may in thise olde gestes rede.
  "Myn herte," quod oon, "is evermore in drede;
  I trowe som men of armes been ther-inne,
  That shapen[125] hem this citee for to winne.
  It were right good that al swich thing were knowe."
  Another rowned[126] to his felawe lowe,
  And seyde, "He lyeth, it is rather lyk
  An apparance y-maad by som magyk
  As jogelours pleyen at thise festes grete."
  Of sondry doutes thus they jangle and trete,
  As lewed[127] peple demeth comunly
  Of thinges that been maad more subtilly,
  Than they can in her lewedness comprehende:
  They demen gladly to the badder ende.

With equal learning they discuss the mirror and sword and ring, and having
paraded their knowledge of "sondry harding of metal," "fern-asshen glass"
and similar wonderful inventions, come to no conclusion.

(4) _Humour._--If it is difficult to draw a hard-and-fast line round other
elements of comedy, and detach wit from satire, or satire from farce, it
is still harder to attempt to isolate humour and discuss it as a separate
and distinct property. Humour is the sympathetic appreciation of the
comic, the faculty which enables us to love while we laugh, and to love
the better for our laughter. Something has already been said of the
softening influence of comedy. It is humour which enables us to see the
other person's point of view, to distinguish between crimes and
misdemeanours, so that we no more wish to convert Sir Toby from the error
of his ways than to reduce the fat boy's appetite. Above all, it is humour
which points out those endearing peculiarities, those little foibles and
harmless weaknesses which give Parson Adams and the Vicar of Wakefield so
warm a place in our affections. There is no sting in such laughter, no
conscious superiority; on the contrary, it contains an element of
tenderness. Obviously humour is distinct from satire, but it can be
distinguished from farce and wit only by insisting on the externals when
speaking of them. Humour is indeed the soul of all comedy. Satire, being
destructive, not constructive, is in a class apart, but even satire--as we
have seen in Chaucer's picture of a crowd--may become so softened by
humour that it loses the element of caricature and serves only to give a
keener edge to wit.

Chaucer's whole point of view is that of the humorist. To the tragic
writer things apparently trifling in themselves may be fraught with deep
significance. A chance movement, a momentary impulse, may set fire to the
train which brings about the catastrophe, or may reveal some subtle shade
of character which it is essential that we should see. But the tragedian
has no time to waste on trifles for their own sake. If Shakespeare shows
us the sleepy porter unbarring the gate of Macbeth's castle, or the
grave-diggers of Elsinore singing at their work, it is not because he
wants our thoughts to dwell on either the one or the other. They have
their place as part of the tragedy, and it is the sense of tragedy, not
the triviality of the incident which is uppermost in our mind. But the
comic poet saunters gaily through life pausing to notice every trifle as
he passes. He views the world as the unaccustomed traveller views a
foreign country; the old women at their cottage doors, the peasants
plodding behind their patient oxen in the field, the very names above the
shops, all are interesting. There is no such thing as a dull person, the
mere fashion in which a man walks or wears his clothes is worth recording,
not because it throws any subtle light upon his character, but because it
is unusual and therefore quaint, because, in fact, the unexpected is
manifesting itself in these homely details.

Chaucer possesses this faculty of amused observation in a pre-eminent
degree. Again and again he contrives to invest some perfectly trifling and
commonplace incident with an air of whimsicality, and by so doing to make
it at once realistic and remote. We are never wholly absorbed by what
amuses us, in the sense that we are absorbed by what appeals to our tragic
emotions. Laughter implies a certain detachment, whereas in tragedy we
feel with those concerned with an intensity which often causes us to lose
all consciousness of our own individuality. We may be surprised to find
the tears in our eyes, but we are always conscious of our laughter.

This homely, whimsical point of view shows itself in a thousand minute
touches. Friar John, in the _Somnours Tale_, goes to call on friend
Thomas:--

  And fro the bench he droof awey the cat,
  And leyde adoun his potente[128] and his hat,
  And eek his scrippe, and sette him softe adoun....

The rout pursues dan Russel the fox:--

  And cryden, "Out! harrow! and weylawey!
  Ha, ha, the fox!" and after him they ran,
  And eek with staves many another man;
  Ran Colle our dogge, and Talbot, and Gerland,
  And Malkin, with a distaf in her 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 brekke.
  They yelleden as feendes doon in hellë;
  The dokes[129] cryden as men wolde hem quelle;[130]
  The gees for fere flowen[131] over the trees;
  Out of the hyve cam the swarm of bees....

There is nothing wildly farcical in any of this. Friar John does not sit
on the cat; the men and dogs do not tumble over each other. The humour
consists in the point of view which finds such incidents worth recording.
It is not what he says, but the way he says it; not what he sees, but the
way he sees it.

As to the sympathetic quality of humour, that is even more obvious in all
Chaucer's work. It is sympathy that lies at the bottom of a tolerance so
wide that it hardly finds it necessary to forgive. When Chaucer needs a
melodramatic villain or villainess such as Apius, or Alle's mother, he can
depict one, but except when it affords opportunity for comedy he usually
touches an evil character but lightly. His heart lies in the pure poetry
of such women as Constance and Dorigen, or in broadly comic effect: he has
no desire to sound the depths of human nature or to dwell upon the darker
and more terrible side of life. Shakespeare's comedy is often touched with
a suggestion of something faintly tragic. Even Falstaff is by no means a
wholly comic figure, and the wisdom of Jaques, with all its affectation,
contains a truth that goes beneath the surface. Chaucer seldom shows us
the revealing power of comedy, but, like Shakespeare, he is not afraid to
blend gaiety and gravity in the same person. From one point of view the
_Book of the Duchesse_ is surely the most cheerful elegy ever written.
Chaucer does not tell off certain low-class characters for comic effect,
he allows even the noblest and best a sense of humour. When we think of
the serious and lachrymose heroines of romance, we feel that Chaucer's
women owe half their vitality to the fact that they are not afraid to
laugh, that noble and high-minded as they are, they are part and parcel of
the ordinary stuff of human life.



CHAPTER VI

CHAUCER'S DESCRIPTIVE POWER


From the earliest days of pre-Conquest literature, English poetry has
always shown a strong feeling for nature. Nature, in those early days, has
something wild and terrible about her; great forests, haunted by savage
beasts and more savage men, stretch over the land; the sea-birds utter
their plaintive cries as they hover above the desolate salt-marshes;
ice-cold waves break on the iron-bound coast. Yet the sons of the
sea-kings feel the call of the sea in their blood. They know the danger
and the savagery of nature, but something in them responds to her
relentless force, and the spell of the sea holds them. They may picture
Heaven as a place where there is neither hail nor frost, and look forward
to still waters and green pastures hereafter, but on earth the welter of
the waves, and the strange calm of the rime-bound trees, draw them in
spite of themselves. In the charms and riddles a gentler note is sometimes
sounded as the poet watches a cloud of gnats "float o'er the forest
heights," or listens to the whirr of the wild-swan's wings; but on the
whole the impression left upon our minds is one of force rather than of
peace, of man putting forth his might to subdue the wild strength of
nature, and winning a bride by capture.

Often their descriptions of warfare gain an added force from the skilful
use of some natural detail. The wan raven circles above the conflicting
hosts, waiting for his prey; the water-snakes curve and curl in the
seething waters into which Beowulf plunges to meet the monster. Here
again, we have the same mingling of tragic imagination and fierce
exultation.

They delight in picturing actual battle, in describing the hiss of the
javelins through the air, and the gleam of the flashing blade. But while
they often speak of the beauty of curiously wrought armour, or of the
wealth of a king's treasure, they show little power of presenting beauty
for its own sake, and none at all of depicting the beauty of a woman.
Their heroines are fair and gracious and bear the mead cup round the hall
where the warriors feast, and unless they are in some way concerned with
causing or avenging a quarrel, that is all there is to say about them.

To the Anglo-Normans this wilder and sterner aspect of nature seems to
have made little appeal. Nature forms a charming background to many of the
love-lyrics of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but it is
a far daintier and sunnier nature than that of the Old English poets. The
time has come of the singing of birds:--

  Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
  And springth the wude nu--
          Sing cuccu![132]

In the romances certain definite conventions gradually establish
themselves. It is always May morning when the hero rides into the green
forest, and flowers, of uncertain species but gay colours, flaunt about
his path. A description of a hunt, including minute details as to the
proper method of dismembering the quarry, often finds a place--Tristram
first wins King Mark's affections by teaching his huntsmen the proper
method of cutting up a stag. Detailed descriptions of elaborate banquets
are also popular, but it is evident in these, as in the descriptions of
hunting, that the author's interest lies rather in the actual etiquette
than in any pictorial effect. Nevertheless, the romances show a growing
delight in colour and beauty. The hero and heroine must conform to a
certain conventional standard, but the standard is by no means
contemptible.

"Fair was he and slim and tall" (so we read of Aucassin in Mr.
Bourdillon's translation) "and well fashioned in legs and feet and body
arms. His hair was yellow and crisped small; and his eyes were grey and
laughing; and his face was clear and shapely; and his nose high and
well-set; and so endued was he with good condition, that there was none
bad in him, but good only."

And the fact that the gardens in which these gracious beings wander
conform to no natural laws, does not prevent them from having a charm of
their own. What could be more dainty than the following picture of a
dutiful daughter reading to her parents (from the _Chevalier au Lion_ by
Chrétien de Troyes):--

  Thrugh the hall sir Gawain gase[133]
  Intil an orchard, playn pase;[134]
  His maiden with him ledes he:
  He fand a knyght under a tree,
  Opon a cloth of gold he lay;
  Before him sat a ful fayr may;[135]
  A lady sat with them in fere[136]
  The maiden read, that they myght here
  A real romance in that place ...

Only occasionally do we hear any echo of that deeper note which sounded
through the older poets, and catch a glimpse of winter, when

  The leaves lancen from the lynde[137] and light(en) on the ground,

and

  Unblithe on bare twigs sings many a bird
  Piteously piping for pain of the cold.

    (_Sir Gawayn and the Green Knight._)

The battles and tournaments, accounts of which fill so many pages of the
romances, for the most part show considerable sameness of treatment. The
hero is beaten to his knees by the giant, or is almost overpowered by the
poisonous breath of the dragon, when with a supreme effort he recovers
himself and pierces his adversary in whatever his one vital spot may
happen to be. Now and then some flash of ingenuity lights up the story, as
when the Soldan's daughter saves Roland and Oliver and their companions
by flinging her father's plate to the besieging army, thus at once
distracting the attention of the soldiers and making her avaricious father
ready to consent to any compromise; or some touch of real feeling breaks
through all conventions, as when Sir Tristram, as he turns to meet
Marhaus, kicks away his boat, since but one of them will need any means of
leaving the isle; but for the most part the author follows the regular
lines.

Chaucer, while he shows definite traces of the conventions of his day, in
description, as in other matters, follows his own bent. Description for
its own sake has little interest for him. Again and again he cuts short
some passage which his contemporaries would have elaborated. In the
_Squieres Tale_, for instance, a banquet occurs which affords admirable
opportunity for that detailed account of ceremonial so dear to the hearts
of medieval poets. Chaucer tells us that the steward ordered spices and
wine, and then adds impatiently:--

  What nedeth yow rehercen hir array?[138]
  Ech man wot wel, that at a kinges feeste
  Hath plentee, to the moste and to the leeste,
  And deyntees mo than been in my knowing.

The dinner given by Deiphebus in _Troilus and Criseyde_ is passed over
equally perfunctorily:--

  Come eek Criseyde, al innocent of this,
  Antigone, hir sister Tarbe also;
  But flee we now prolixitee best is,
  For love of god, and lat us faste go
  Right to the effect, with oute tales mo,
  Why al this folk assembled in this place;
  And lat us of hir saluinges pace.[139]

Even the hunt in the _Book of the Duchesse_ is dismissed in little over a
dozen lines:--

  Whan we came to the forest-syde
  Every man dide, right anoon,
  As to hunting fil to doon.[140]
  The mayster-hunte anoon, fot-hoot,[141]
  With a gret horne blew three moot[142]
  At the uncoupling of his houndes.
  Within a whyl the hert [y]-founde is,
  Y-halowed and rechased faste
  Longe tyme; and at the laste
  This hert rused[143] and stal away
  Fro alle the houndes a prevy way ...

And then the poet turns to the real subject of his poem. Wordsworth
himself does not make hunting seem a tamer occupation.

Nor are Chaucer's descriptions of fighting much more convincing. He tells
us coldly that Troilus and Diomede met in battle:--

  With blody strokes and with wordes grete,

and that Troilus often beat furiously upon the helmet of Diomede, but the
stanza which follows this announcement puts the matter in a nutshell:--

  And if I hadde y-taken for to wryte
  The armes of this ilk worthy mane,
  Than wolde I of his batailles endyte.
  But for that I to wryte first began
  Of his love, I have seyd as that I can.
  His worthy dedes, who-so list hem here,
  Reed Dares, he can telle hem alle y-fere.[144]

It is emotion, not action, which interests him most. In the _Knightes
Tale_, Palamon and Arcite

  --foynen[145] ech at other wonder longe,

but Chaucer has no desire to follow the duel to its end. He remarks that
they hew at each other till they are ankle deep in blood and then leaves
them, still fighting, while he turns to Theseus. There is more vigour in
the description of the tournament at the end. Here the clash of arms does
echo through the verse, and the rapid narrative conveys a vivid sense of
the heat and clamour of battle:--

  Ther stomblen stedes stronge, and doun goth all.
  He rolleth under foot as dooth a bal.
  He foyneth on his feet with his tronchoun,
  And he him hurtleth with his hors adoun ...

Possibly the poet was recalling his own fighting days in France. Certainly
there is nothing stiff or conventional about this. But nowhere else does
he give so lengthy and detailed a description of action, and even here it
has a dramatic value, apart from its intrinsic interest, in that it
enhances the suspense. Further, Chaucer, as we know, had himself probably
superintended the erection of such lists, and the ceremonial of the
tournament may well have had a special interest for him. His use of
similes in describing action is worthy of note. He does not, like Spenser,
constantly break the narrative by introducing some beautiful picture drawn
from classical mythology, thus carrying the thoughts of the reader away
from the actual situation at the moment. His similes are few--in this
connection--and are so chosen that they add to the vividness of the whole
impression. Palamon and Arcite fight like wild boars

  That frothen whyte as foom for ire wood.

Of Arcite we are told,

  There nas no tygre in the vale of Galgopheye,
  Whan that hir whelp is stole, whan it is lyte,
  So cruel on the hunte, as is Arcite.

Such comparisons are very different from Spenser's:--

  Like as the sacred Oxe that carelesse stands
  With gilden hornes and flowry girlands crownd
  Proud of his dying honor and deare bandes,
  While th' altars fume with frankincense arownd,
  All suddeinly, with mortal stroke astownd,
  Doth groveling fall, and with his streaming gore
  Distaines the pillours and the holy grownd,
  And the faire flowres that decked him afore:
  So fell proud Marinell upon the pretious shore.

To Chaucer the interest does not lie in the pomp and pageantry, nor even
in the chivalry of it all, but in the human emotion, in Emily waiting to
know which of the lovers will claim her hand, in the knights filled with
the lust of battle, in the quondam friends who seek each other's life.
Chivalry has, indeed, little glamour in Chaucer's eyes. Gower's story of
Florent has a certain stateliness which is lacking in the _Tale of the Wyf
of Bathe_. It has none of Chaucer's digressions, none of the homeliness of
his version. A description of the elf-queen and her jolly company dancing
in the green meadows would perhaps be out of place in the mouth of the
Wife of Bath, but it is evident that Chaucer sacrifices the dainty grace
of Mab and Puck without a pang in order to allow himself a sly hit at the
"limitours and othere holy freres" who have replaced them.

The same principle underlies his description of people. In the _Book of
the Duchesse_ he gives us a detailed account of Blanche's charms; probably
he felt it incumbent on him to do so. She is fair, as a heroine should be,
but even in this, the most conventional of all his descriptions, he
contrives to give life and individuality to the conventional type:--

  For every heer [up]on hir hede,
  Soth to seyn, hit was not rede,
  Ne nouther yelw, ne broun hit nas;
  Me thoughte most lyk gold hit was.
  And whiche eyen my lady hadde!
  Debonair, goode, glade, and sadde,[146]
  Simple, of good mochel,[147] noght to wyde;

    *       *       *       *       *

  And yet more-over, thogh alle tho
  That ever lived were now a-lyve,
  [They] ne sholde have founde to discryve
  In al hir face a wikked signe;
  For hit was sad, simple, and benigne.

This is no stereotyped model of feminine beauty, but a picture of the good
fair White as she was when she lived.

In describing Cressida, Chaucer keeps fairly close to his original. We
realise her beauty rather from the effect it produces on others than from
any particular details. She is tall, but so well made that there is
nothing clumsy or "manish" about her, and she dresses in black, as beseems
a widow; this is practically all that we are told about her. The strong
impression of sensuous beauty which she undoubtedly produces, is due to
Chaucer's power of creating an atmosphere rather than to actual
description. We hear the nightingale singing her to sleep, or watch her
colour come and go as Troilus draws near, and our mind is so filled with
an image of youth and beauty that we never stop to think if she is fair or
dark. It is the same with Troilus. We get a gallant impression of him as
he rides past Cressida's window, his eyes down-cast, and a boyish shyness
tingeing his cheeks with red, but Chaucer thinks of his feelings rather
than his looks. Later in the poem, as he rides towards the palace at the
head of his men, the poet's impatience of mere description shows itself
still more clearly:--

  God woot if he sat on his hors a-right,
  Or goodly was beseyn,[148] that ilke day!
  God woot wher he was lyk a manly knight!
  What sholde I dreeche[149] or telle of his array?
  Criseyde, which that alle these thinges say,
  To telle in short, hir lyked al y-fere
  His personne, his array, his look, his chere ...

Troilus's looks are, in fact, of importance only because they win the
heart of Cressida.

But if Chaucer devotes little space to dilating upon mere beauty of
person, he has a keen eye for anything in dress, manner, or appearance
that is in the truest sense characteristic. The _Prologue_ to the
_Canterbury Tales_ shows clearly enough how trifles may reflect
personality. The grey fur that edges the Monk's sleeves, and the love-knot
of gold that fastens his hood, tell their tale, and a single glance at him
gives us considerable insight into his character:--

  His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
  And eek his face, as he had been anoint.
  He was a lord ful fat and in good point;[150]
  His eyen stepe,[151] and rollinge in his heed,
  That stemed as a forncye of a leed;[152]
  His botes souple, his hors in greet estat.[153]
  Now certainly he was a fair prelat....

The Christopher of silver that gleams on the Yeoman's green coat; the
thread-bare raiment and lean horse of the Clerk of Oxenford; the ruddy
face and white beard of the Franklin, all serve to illustrate the same
point. The very spurs of the Wife of Bath seem to have a subtle
significance of their own.

Once only does Chaucer go out of his way to give a detailed description of
one of his heroines, and the passage is worth quoting in full because not
only does it illustrate his careful observation of detail, but it shows
also a dramatic fitness which is eminently characteristic. The Miller is
describing Alisoun, and there is not a simile, among the many used, which
would not spring naturally to the lips of a peasant:--

  Fair was this yonge wyf, and ther-with-al
  As any wesele hir body gent[154] and smal.
  A ceynt[155] she werede barred al of silk,
  A barmclooth[156] eek as whyt as morne milk
  Up-on hir lendes, ful of many a gore.
  Whyt was hir smok and brouded al bifore
  And eek bihinde, on hir coler aboute,
  Of col-blak silk, with-inne and eek with-oute.
  The tapes of hir whyte voluper[157]
  Were of the same suyte of hir coler;[158]
  Hir filet brood of silk, and set ful hye:
  And sikerly she hadde a likerous ye.[159]
  Ful smale y-pulled were hir browes two,[160]
  And tho were bent, and blake as any sloo.[161]
  She was ful more blisful on to see
  Than is the newe pere-jonette[162] tree;
  And softer than the wolle is of a wether.
  And by hir girdel heeng a purs of lether
  Tasseld with silk, and perled with latoun.[163]
  In al this world, to seken up and doun,
  Ther nis no man so wys, that coude thenche
  So gay a popelote,[164] or swich a wenche.
  Ful brighter was the shyning of hir hewe
  Than in the tour the noble y-forged newe.
  But of hir song, it was as loude and yerne[165]
  As any swalwe sittinge on a berne.
  Ther-to she coude skippe and make game,
  As any kide or calf folwinge his dame.
  Her mouth was swete as bragot[166] or the meeth,[167]
  Or hord of apples leyd in hey or heeth.
  Winsinge she was, as is a joly colt,
  Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.
  A brooch she baar up-on hir lowe coler,
  As brood as is the bos of a bocler.

The poet who wrote this had used his eyes to some purpose. In certain of
his descriptions--notably that of Chauntecleer with his scarlet comb,
black bill, azure legs, white nails, and golden tail--we notice Chaucer's
love of brilliant colour, but this makes the comparative dullness and
tameness of his marvellous palaces and enchanted castles all the more
remarkable. He gives us a list of golden images, "riche tabernacles" and
"curious portreytures" which stand in the Temple of Glass, but it is a
mere auctioneer's catalogue of valuables which conveys no real impression
of beauty or strangeness. We read of Venus "fletinge in a sec," her head
crowned with roses,

  And hir comb to kembe hir heed,

and feel as if we were looking up her attributes in a classical
dictionary. The thrill of the Renaissance has not yet swept across Europe.
The gods still sleep, before awakening to their strange sweet Indian
summer of life. Classical mythology serves Chaucer as an additional
storehouse of story and illustration, but it no more intoxicates him with
rapture than does the _Gesta Romanorum_. Spenser's Temple of Venus, in
which:--

  An hundred altars round about were set,
  All flaming with their sacrifices fire,
  That with the steme thereof the Temple swet,
  Which rould in clouds to heaven did aspire,
  And in them bore true lovers vowes entire:
  And eke an hundred brazen cauldrons bright
  To bath in joy and amorous desire,
  Every of which was to a damzell bright;
  For all the Priests were damzells in soft linnen dight ...

glows with colour and warmth. Chaucer's perfunctory statement that the
windows of his chamber were well glazed and unbroken,

  That to beholde it were gret joye,

and that in the glazing was wrought

  ... al the storie of Troye,

    *       *       *       *

  Of Ector and king Pirriamus,
  Of Achilles and Lamedon,
  Of Medea and of Jason,
  Of Paris, Eleyne, and Lavyne ...

leaves us untouched.

But if Chaucer is ill at ease within four walls, and takes but scant
pleasure in looking at tapestries and pictures, the moment he slips out of
doors he becomes a different being. He is no Wordsworth noting each twig
and leaf, or watching with mystic gaze the shadows fall on the silent
hills. He is content to fill his garden with flowers of the regulation

  ... whyte, blewe, yelowe, and rede;
  And colde welle-stremes no-thing dede,
  That swommen ful of smale fisshes lighte
  With finnes rede and scales silver-brighte,

and it is probably just as well not to inquire too closely into the
natural order of either blossoms or fish. Cressida's garden is
distinguished by the neatness of its fences, and the fact that its paths
have recently been gravelled and provided with nice new benches. But even
in these trim and formal gardens the spirit of spring is abroad, and once
in the wood, Chaucer abandons himself to the sheer joy of nature. He
passes down a green glade

  Ful thikke of gras, ful softe and swete,
  With floures fele, faire under fete....

    *       *       *       *       *

  For it was, on to beholde
  As thogh the erthe envye wolde
  To be gayer than the heven
  To have mo floures, swiche seven
  As in the welken sterres be.[168]
  Hit had forgete the povertee
  That winter, through his colde morwes,
  Had mad hit suffre[n], and his sorwes;
  Al was forgeten, and that was sene.
  For al the wode was waxen grene.
  Swetnesse of dewe had mad it waxe ...

and his heart keeps tune to the song of the birds. He has something of
Milton's power of giving a general sense of freshness and sweetness, and,
again like Milton, his scenery always strikes one as peculiarly English.
He tells us that Cambinskan reigns in Syria, but his picture of the birds
singing for joy of the lusty weather and the "yonge grene," is that of a
Northern rather than an Eastern spring. His best-loved flower, the daisy,
springs in every English hedgerow.

The description of May in the Prologue to the _Legend of Good Women_ is
particularly charming. The poet declares that one thing, and one alone,
has power to take him from his books. When May comes,

  Whan that I here the smale foules singe
  And that the floures ginne for to springe,
  Farwel my studie, as lasting that sesoun.

Instead of poring over some ponderous tome, he wanders out into the
meadows to watch the daisy open to the sun:--

  And whan the sonne ginneth for to weste,
  Than closeth hit, and draweth hit to reste,
  So sore hit is afered of the night,
  Til on the morwe, that hit is dayës light.

All day long he roams till

  --closed was the flour and goon to reste,

and then he speeds swiftly home:--

  And in a litel erber that I have,
  Y-benched newe with turves fresshe y-grave,
  I bad men shulde me my couche make;
  For deyntee of the newe someres sake
  I bad hem strowe floures on my bed.

But here again it is impression rather than actual description.

True to the city-bred instinct, Chaucer sees winter rather as the king of
intimate delights and fire-side pleasures, than as having an especial
beauty of his own. The _Frankeleyns Tale_ contains a picture of December
which brings the comfort of ingle-nook and steaming cup vividly before
us:--

  The bittre frostes, with the sleet and reyn,
  Destroyed hath the grene in every yerd.
  Janus sit by the fyr, with double berd,
  And drinketh of his bugle-horn the wyn.
  Before him stant braun of the tusked swyn,
  And "Nowel" cryeth every lusty man.

We almost feel the pleasant glow of the fire, and hear the great logs hiss
and crackle.

It is impossible to read Chaucer's descriptions of nature without being
struck by his love of birds and animals, and especially of the smaller and
more helpless kinds. Birds occupy a large place in his affections. He is
perpetually pausing to call attention to them and spring is to him
pre-eminently the time when "smale fowles maken melodye." Here again he
shows little minute observation or discrimination, it is birds in general,
rather than any bird in particular, that he loves. To praise the song of a
nightingale can hardly be reckoned any proof of special bird-lore, and
except in the _Parlement of Foules_, Chaucer scarcely mentions any other
bird by name. The crow, who is the real hero of the _Maunciples Tale_, and
who distinguishes himself by singing, "cukkow! cukkow! cukkow!" can no
more be regarded as an ordinary, unsophisticated bird than can the eagle
who acts as Jove's messenger in the _Hous of Fame_, or the princess
disguised as a falcon who seeks Canace's aid. The _Parlement of Foules_,
it is true, shows that Chaucer knew the names of a considerable number of
birds, but the epithets that he applies to each show no more real
knowledge of their habits than the epithets which he (or rather,
Boccaccio) applies to the various trees, in an earlier stanza, show any
love of forestry. The oak is useful for building purposes, and the elm
makes good coffins. In like manner, the owl forebodes death, and the
swallow eats flies, or rather, if we are to believe Chaucer, bees.
Regarded as individuals, the birds are delightfully convincing: regarded
as birds they are dismissed rather carelessly, though, since it is Chaucer
who dismisses them, an occasional happy phrase redeems the passage from
dullness and monotony.

But it is not only in a love of birds, which, after all, is common to most
poets, that Chaucer shows this side of his nature. Reference has already
been made to the whelp and the squirrels which he introduces into the
_Book of the Duchesse_. The little coneys who hasten to their play in the
garden of the _Parlement of Foules_ are due in the first place to
Boccaccio, but the Italian merely tells us that they "go hither and
thither." His picture is dainty and pretty, but it lacks the half-amused
tenderness of Chaucer's. Chaucer, it is evident, loves them all, bird and
beast, sportive coney and timid roe, not forgetting the

  Squerels, and bestes smale of gentil kinde.

The following stanza affords illustration of another point in Chaucer's
descriptions. Master of melody as he is, he has not learned the subtle art
of suiting sound to sense, and producing a definite sensuous impression
by sheer music. It is impossible to read of these

  --instruments of strenges in acord

which make so ravishing a sweetness, without finding one's thoughts
involuntarily carried on to Spenser's enchanted garden in which

  Th' Angelicall soft trembling voyces made
  To th' instruments divine respondence meet....

Chaucer's little wind--"unethe it might be lesse"--which makes a soft
noise in the green leaves, is too fresh ever to blow across the flowers of
Acrasia's garden, but the Bower of Bliss casts a spell over us of which
Chaucer has not the secret. He is too frankly of this world to be at home
in fairy-land, and the note of sincerity which sounds throughout his verse
would accord ill with such intoxicating sweetness. Lady Pride and her
followers, Dame Cælia and her fair daughters, Fidelia, Speranza, and
Carita, find a natural home in Spenser's world of wonders. But Chaucer's
allegorical personages must needs either come to life and turn into actual
human beings, like the birds in the _Parlement of Foules_, or remain stiff
abstractions, like Plesaunce, and Delyt, and Gentilnesse, and the other
symbolic inhabitants of the garden of the Rose.



CHAPTER VII

SOME VIEWS OF CHAUCER'S ON MEN AND THINGS


The late fourteenth century was a time of social and political upheaval.
The Church, over-rich and over-powerful for her own good, had become
terribly corrupt. The fact that great offices of state were held by
bishops meant, of necessity, that more and more of their purely
ecclesiastical work was delegated to subordinates. In the ten years
between 1376-86, out of twenty-five bishops no fewer than thirteen held
secular offices of importance. William of Wykeham was appointed Chancellor
of England and Bishop of the great diocese of Winchester in the same
month. Spencer, Bishop of Norwich, led the English army in Flanders. No
wonder that the power of the archdeacons, the _oculi episcopi_, increased
tenfold. They frequently exercised authority in the bishop's court, and in
those days the powers of ecclesiastical courts were considerable and their
jurisdiction was wide. The sketch which prefaces the _Freres Tale_ was
probably drawn from the life:--

  Whilom ther was dwellinge in my contree
  An erchedeken, a man of heigh degree

    *       *       *       *       *

  For smale tythes and for smal offringe
  He made the peple pitously to singe.
  For er the bisshop caughte hem with his hook,
  They weren in the erchedekenes book.

Add to this the fact that one in three of the archdeacons holding office
in England at this time were foreigners, and it is easy to see how much
ill-feeling was likely to be stirred up between them and the laity. Nor
were the parish priests much better. The black death, which ravaged Europe
from time to time, had swept across England with peculiar fury in 1348.
Hundreds of the noblest and best of the clergy, who stayed gallantly by
their flocks, had been swept away. There were not enough priests to
administer the sacraments of the Church, and between this urgent necessity
for ministers to bury the dead, to baptise and marry, and the fact that
many of the richer livings had fallen into the hands of foreigners, who
cared nothing for the peasants committed to their charge, or of the great
Abbeys, which were ready enough to appoint some illiterate boor, just able
to stumble through his office, to act as their deputy at a nominal salary,
it is small wonder that crying abuses came into existence. "They have
parish churches," writes Wycliff, "apropered to worldly rich bishops and
abbots that have many thousand marks more than enow.... And yet they do
not the office of curates, neither in teaching or preaching or giving of
sacraments nor of receiving poor men in the parish: but setten an idiot
for vicar or parish priest that cannot and may not do the office of a good
curate, and yet the poor parish findeth him." Chaucer finds it among the
striking virtues of his poor Parson that:--

  He sette nat his benefice to hyre,
  And leet his sheep encombred in the myre,
  And ran to London, un-to seynt Poules
  To seken him a chaunterie for soules,[169]
  Or with a bretherhed to been withholde;
  But dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde....

and that he does not attempt to wring their last penny from his
unfortunate parishioners:--

  Ful looth were him to cursen for his tythes.[170]

Matters were further complicated by the wandering friars who recognised no
jurisdiction save that of the Pope himself, and who, having fallen far
from the noble ideal of poverty, chastity, and obedience, set by their
founders, took unscrupulous advantage of the ignorance and superstition of
the people, and, like the pardoners, often undermined the authority of the
parish priests. The custom of commuting penance for a payment in money was
spreading, and naturally opened the door to abuses of all kinds.

No wonder that Wycliff arose to thunder against these malpractices, and
that his poor preachers gained such a following. It was not, in the
majority of cases, that people had any quarrel with the doctrines of the
Church--the number of recantations and paucity of martyrs among the early
Lollards show that it was not doctrine that they wished to reform--but
injustice and oppression were inevitably arousing a widespread,
smouldering discontent which broke into flame now at this point, now at
that. As we read the history of the time, we marvel at the patience and
good-humour of the inhabitants of Merry England.

How far Chaucer was in sympathy with the Lollards it is difficult to say.
His works contain but the barest reference to their existence, and the
fact that the Host accuses the Parson of Lollardy, and that the Shipman
expresses a pious horror of heresy, cannot be said to prove anything
either way. It may be intended as a carefully concealed compliment to the
influence of Wycliff, or, as seems more probable, it may simply be a
chance reference in keeping with the spirit of the times. That the Shipman
should be so terrified lest the saintly Parson should

  ... springen cokkel in our clene corn,[171]

that he feels impelled to break into his threatened sermon with the story
of the merchant's wife and the monk, is a subtle enough piece of satire,
but whether Chaucer so intended it, or whether it is one of the happy
accidents of genius, we have no means of knowing. The Parson is a devout
Catholic, the Monk, with all his faults, is at worst but a forerunner of
the fox-hunting squarson of later days, with all the geniality and
good-fellowship of his race. If Chaucer attacks the clergy, it is only
for those things which the best Churchmen of the day were denouncing with
less wit but no less bitterness. Saints are rare at the best of times, and
Chaucer, whose mission is to paint life as he finds it, gives good measure
when he allows the Parson and the Plowman to form two of his
nine-and-twenty pilgrims.

Few things, indeed, are more striking in Chaucer than the manner in which
he combines caustic observation of the weaknesses and hypocrisies of men,
with innate reverence for all that is pure and noble. That the same man
should enjoy the coarse humour of the Friar and the Reve, and yet treat
womanhood and childhood with such tender reverence, is one of the
mysteries of human nature. Prof. Ten Brink, as has been said, believes
that Chaucer passed through a phase of intense religious feeling. "A
worldling has to reproach himself with all sorts of things," he writes,
"especially when he lives at a court like that of Edward III and is
intimate with a John of Gaunt. Chaucer ... naturally seeks in religion the
power for self-conquest and improvement. He was a faithful son of the
Church, even though he had his own opinions about many things.... He was
specially attracted by the eternal-womanly element in this system, which
finds its purest realisation in the person of the Virgin Mother Mary. In
moments when life seemed hard and weary, and when he was unable to arouse
and cheer himself with philosophy and poetry, he gladly turned for help
and consolation to the Virgin Mother." Certainly his poetry is never
sweeter or more dignified than when he is addressing this "haven of
refut," this

                        ... salvacioun
  Of hem that been in sorwe and in distresse.

Nothing better illustrates the simplicity and sincerity of Chaucer's
religious feeling, than the tale of little St. Hugh. The story of the
Christian child decoyed away and murdered by the Jews was commonly
believed in the Middle Ages. Indeed, it is said that more than one
anti-Semitic outbreak in Russia during the past forty years has been
provoked by the relation of similar tales, and we have just seen the
conclusion of a "Blood-ritual" case of the kind. The fierce racial and
religious hatred which underlies belief in the possibility of such a
thing, is in itself sufficiently terrible, and the story affords ample
opportunity for the expression of animosity towards these

  ... cursed folk of Herodes al newe,

but Chaucer's religion would appear to consist less in the denunciation of
the Church's enemies, than in affection for her saints. Dramatic justice
is meted out to the murderers, but the poet takes no delight in dwelling
on their dying agonies, or heaping abuse upon their memory. The point of
the tale lies, not in the wickedness of the Jews, but in the simple,
childish innocence and piety of Hugh, and the manner in which "Cristes
moder" deigns to honour the service of this

  ... litel clergeon[172] of seven yeer of age.

The opening invocation is one of the most beautiful of all Chaucer's
addresses to the Virgin:--

  Lady! thy bountee, thy magnificence,
  Thy vertu, and thy grete humilitee
  Ther may no tonge expresse in no science;
  For som-tyme, lady, er men praye to thee,
  Thou goost biforn, of thy benignitee,
  And getest us the light, thurgh thy preyers,
  To gyden us un-to thy sone so dere.

From beginning to end the limpid simplicity of the poem is marred by no
unnecessary word. The picture of the little boy doing his diligence to
learn the _Alma redemptoris_, although

  Noght wiste he what this Latin was to seye
  For he so yong and tendre was of age,

and going to his school-fellow to have it explained, is absolutely
natural. So is the school-fellow's hasty summary of the hymn, ending with

  "I can no more expounde in this matere;
  I lerne song, I can[173] but smal grammere."

Chaucer does not, like so many hagiographers, forget the child in the
saint. The prevailing note throughout is one of happy childhood. The
tragedy is kept in the background. We catch a glimpse of the cruel steel
as the Jews cut the boy's throat: we see the white-faced mother hastening
from place to place in search of him; but our thoughts are with St. Hugh
and the gracious Queen of Heaven who comes to aid him:--

  And in a tombe of marbul-stones clere
  Enclosen they his litel body swete;
  Ther he is now, god leve us for to mete.[174]

There is no tendency to over-elaborate the miracle or to explain it away.
Chaucer accepts the fact quietly and without comment, as he accepts the
miracles in the _Man of Lawes Tale_. In the story of Constance, indeed, it
would seem as if some momentary doubt of its possibility flashed across
his mind, for he goes out of his way to defend the miraculous element, but
the defence itself is one of simple acceptance of facts related in the
Bible, and shows none of that intellectual questioning which sometimes
manifests itself in his poetry:--

  Men mighte asken why she was nat slayn?
  Eek at the feste who mighte hir body save?
  And I answere to that demaunde agayn,
  Who saved Daniel in the horrible cave,
  Ther every wight save he, maister and knave
  Was with the leoun fret er he asterte?[175]
  No wight but god, that he bar in his herte.

    *       *       *       *       *

  Now, sith she was not at the feste y-slawe,[176]
  Who kepte hir fro drenching[177] in the see?
  Who kepte Jonas in the fisshes mawe
  Til he was spouted up at Ninivee?...

    *       *       *       *       *

It is obvious that Catholicism appeals to his emotions, and that the
shortcomings of unworthy priests no more affect his pleasure in the tender
beauty of its point of view, than the moral errors of a Benvenuto Cellini
affect our pleasure in his craftsmanship. The poet's soul responded to the
poetry of worship, a poetry which underlies all forms and ceremonies,
which no unworthiness on the part of the officiant can wholly obliterate,
no superstition render wholly absurd. He recognises and rebukes the
hypocrisy of many who minister in the name of Holy Church, but he is quick
to separate wanton friar and idle priest from the religion whose dignity
they profane. The fact that religion lies in the spirit rather than the
observance is very clearly stated in the _Romaunt of the Rose_, ll.
6225-94.

As has been said, it is on the emotional side that Catholicism appeals to
him. Intellectually he finds many difficulties, and more than once his
poetry shows a tinge of scepticism which might well have brought him into
serious difficulties had his patron been a man less powerful and less
inclined to tolerate heretical sympathies than John of Gaunt. Again and
again Chaucer comes to the edge of an abyss, and, after one glance into
the depths, turns away with a shrug of the shoulders and a
half-whimsical, half-satirical smile on his lips. Does God ordain man's
life for him, from beginning to end, and has he no choice or freedom of
action left him? Chaucer plays with the question, turns it over, makes it
a trifle ridiculous by applying it to the death of a cock, and then, as we
have seen, tosses it aside with

  I wol not han to do of swich matere;

The long disquisition on the subject--chiefly taken from his favourite
philosopher, Boëthius--which he puts into the mouth of Troilus (_Troilus
and Criseyde_, Book IV, stanzas 137-154) proves nothing, except Chaucer's
interest in the subject, which leads him to translate and insert so long a
passage, and the natural inclination to fatalism of Troilus himself.

The Prologue to the _Legend of Good Women_ begins with a characteristic
shelving of an important question:--

  A thousand tymes have I herd men telle,
  That ther is joye in heven and peyne in helle;
  And I accorde wel that hit is so;
  But natheles, yit wot I wel also,
  That ther nis noon dwelling in this contree,
  That either hath in heven or helle y-be,
  Ne may of hit non other weyes witen
  But as he hath herd seyd, or founde it writen

True, the poet goes on to protest the absurdity of refusing credence to
everything that we cannot see with our own eyes, but involuntarily we find
ourselves recalling his refusal to commit himself as to the probable fate
of Arcite's soul, and the fact that Arcite, although a hero, was a
heathen, does not seem entirely to account for it.

This tendency to dwell upon insoluble problems manifests itself also in
the strange attraction that dreams have for Chaucer. He is not content
simply to use the conventional dream setting for his poems. He is
continually harking back to the question: Do dreams contain some
mysterious warning by which men may escape a threatened fate? In the
_Nonnes Prestes Tale_ the subject is treated satirically. Pertelote's
arguments against belief in dreams are excellent, and most convincing. All
sensible people must share her opinion that Chauntecleer is probably
suffering from indigestion. Yet--the dream comes true. Only the fact that
the whole story takes place in the hen-yard makes it impossible to take it
seriously. But in _Troilus and Criseyde_, Chaucer deliberately
interpolates three, quite unnecessary, stanzas in Book V, in which he
discusses whence dreams spring:--

  For prestes of the temple tellen this,
  That dremes been the revelaciouns
  Of goddes, and as wel they telle, y-wis,
  That they ben infernals illusiouns;
  And leches[178] seyn, that of complexiouns[179]
  Proceden they, or fast, or glotonye,[180]
  Who woot in sooth thus what they signifye?...

Again in the opening lines of the _Hous of Fame_ he asks the same
question:--

  God turn us every dreem to gode!
  For hit is wonder, by the rode,
  To my wit, what causeth swevenes[181]
  Either on morwes, or on evenes;
  And why th' effect folweth of somme,
  And of somme hit shal never come....

and again, characteristically, refuses to give any opinion on the matter--

  For I of noon opinioun
  Nil as now make mencioun.

But if Chaucer is chary of committing himself on speculative matters such
as these, with regard to practical morality he has no such hesitation. It
was the fashion of the day to draw a moral from the most unlikely stories,
and Chaucer, while he never forces an application after the manner of
Gower or the compiler of the _Gesta Romanorum_, is sufficiently in
sympathy with the spirit of his age to conform to the practice when
opportunity occurs. The Somnour, who, by the way, has just had a violent
quarrel with the Friar, preaches an admirable homily against Ire,
illustrating it, after the most approved method, with an apt anecdote. The
Pardoner, as we have seen, inveighs against drunkenness, as does Chaucer
himself in the _Man of Lawes Tale_. The simple statement of Averagus--

  Southe is the hyeste thing that man may kepe--

is a sermon in itself, and the Maunciple ends his distinctly unmoral tale
with some excellent advice of his dame's:--

  My sone, keep wel thy tonge, and keep thy freend,
  A wikked tonge is worse than a fend[182]
  My sone, god of his endelees goodnesse
  Walled a tonge with teeth and lippes eek,
  For man sholde him avyse what he speke....

It would be possible to multiply instances almost indefinitely. Perhaps
the most striking of all is the sudden, unexpected moral application which
ends _Troilus and Criseyde_. We have followed the passion and sins of the
lovers, we have wept with Troilus and forgiven Cressida in spite of
ourselves, and all at once, while our minds are still tuned to the rapture
and sweetness of a love-story, Chaucer turns to bid us note the end of
life and love:--

  O yonge fresshe folkes, he or she,
  In which that love up groweth with your age,
  Repeyreth hoom from worldly vanitee,
  And of your herte up-casteth the visage
  To thilke god that after his image
  Yow made, and thinketh al nis but a fayre
  This world, that passeth sone as floures fayre.

  And loveth him, the which that right for love
  Upon a cros, our soules for to beye
  First starf, and roos,[183] and sit in heven a-bove;
  For he nil falsen no wight, dar I seye,
  That wol his herte al hoolly[184] on him leye.
  And sin he best to love is, and most meke,
  What nedeth feyned loves for to seke?

In politics, as in religion, Chaucer shows himself keenly alive to the
evils and abuses of the day, and yet no partisan. The author of _Piers
Plowman_ has left us a picture of the bitter poverty of the peasant class.
The complaint of Peace against Wrong (Passus 4), shows how he has carried
off his wife and stolen both geese and grys (pigs):--

  He maynteneth his men to murthere myne hewen,[185]
  Forstalleth my feires,[186] and fighteth in my chepyng,[187]
  And breketh up my bernes dore[188] and bereth awey my whete

    *       *       *       *       *

  I am noght hardy for hym unethe to loke;[189]

and how completely the poor were at the mercy of the rich. When a peasant
died, his lord had a right to his best possession, and if he owned not
less than three cows, the parson of the parish took the next best, a
condition of things against which we find Sir David Lyndsay protesting, as
late as 1560, in his _Satyre of the Three Estaats_. John Ball, "the mad
priest of Kent," for twenty years combined the preaching of Lollardy with
that of a kind of rough socialism, and the rude rhyme which contained the
kernel of his teaching--

  When Adam delved and Eve span,
  Who was then the gentleman?--

went the round of the Midlands and helped to fan the flame of discontent
which finally broke into the wide-spread conflagration of the Peasants'
Revolt. It was a time when new ideals were slowly struggling to find
expression, and the old order of feudalism was passing away for ever. But
while the nobles were divided by factions among themselves, and the poor
beat bleeding hands against the prison walls that hemmed them in, the
middle class was steadily increasing in wealth and prosperity, and it is
with this class that Chaucer chiefly concerns himself. The majority of the
Canterbury pilgrims are prosperous, well-to-do tradesmen and artisans:--

  Hir knyves were y-chaped[190] noght with bras
  But al with silver, wroght ful clene and well,
  Hir girdles and hir pouches every-deel.
  Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys
  To sitten in a yeldhall[191] on a deys.[192]
  Everich, for the wisdom that he can,
  Was shaply[193] for to been an alderman.
  For catel hadde they y-nogh and rente,
  And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente;
  And elles certain were they to blame.
  It is ful fair to been y-clept "_ma dame_,"
  And goon to vigilyes[194] al bifore,
  And have a mantel royalliche y-bore.

This is something very different from Langland's[195] picture of Dawe the
dykere dying of hunger, or the poor farmer dining on bean-bread and bran.
Even the Plowman seems fairly well off:--

  His tythes payed he ful faire and wel,
  Bothe of his propre swink[196] and his catel,

and the general impression is one of comfort, which even rises to a
certain mild luxury. The pilgrims are well fed and well clothed, they have
horses to ride, and can afford to call at the ale-house as they pass. They
fill the air with the sound of laughter and song as they ride, and we can
well understand the Lollard Thorpe's complaint (made more than ten years
after Chaucer wrote his _Canterbury Tales_) that, "What with the noise of
their singing, and with the sound of their piping, and with the jangling
of their Canterburie bells, and with the barking out of dogges after them
... they (_i. e._ pilgrims) make more noise than if the king came there
away with all his clarions and many other minstrels" (_Wycliff's Works_,
ed. Arnold, I. 83). Even in the tales themselves little hint is given of
the darker side of the picture. We get a glimpse of the relation between
lord and vassal, in the _Clerkes Tale_, but no comment is made on it.
Griselda is carrying her water-pot back from the well, when she hears the
marquis calling her:--

  And she set doun her water-pot anoon
  Bisyde the threshfold, in an oxes stalle,
  And doun up-on hir knees she gan to falle,
  And with sad contenance kneleth stille
  Til she had herd what was the lordes wille.

Apparently there is nothing in this incident to attract the attention of a
fourteenth-century poet. It is quite natural to kneel on the floor of the
cow-shed when your lord honours you by seeking you there and giving his
commands in person.

That Chaucer has no very high opinion of the intelligence or reliability
of a mob is shown, not only by his sketches of crowds, but by such
passages as that in the _Clerkes Tale_ where he breaks off the story to
apostrophise the people:--

  O stormy peple! unsad[197] and ever untrewe
  As undiscreet and chaunging as a vane,
  Delyting ever in rumbel that is newe,
  For lyk the mone ay wexe ye and wane;
  A ful of clapping,[198] dere y-nogh a jane[199]
  Your doom is fals, your constance yvel preveth,[200]
  A ful greet fool is he that on yow leveth.

But at the same time he realises that poverty has its rights. The earlier
version of the Prologue to the _Legend of Good Women_ contains much
excellent advice to King Richard:--

  For he that king or lord is naturel,
  Him oghte nat be tiraunt or cruel,
  As is a fermour,[201] to doon the harm he can.
  He moste thinke hit is his lige man,
  And that him oweth, of verray duetee
  Shewen his peple pleyn benignitie
  And wel to here hir excusatiouns,
  And hir compleyntes and peticiouns....

The _Lenvoy_ which ends the balade of _Lak of Stedfastnesse_ holds up a
noble ideal of kingship:--

  O prince, desyre to be honourable,
  Cherish thy folk and hate extorcioun!
  Suffre no thing, that may be reprevable
  To thyn estat, doon in thy regioun.
  Shew forth thy swerd of castigacioun,
  Dred God, do law, love trouthe and worthinesse,
  And wed thy folk agein to stedfastnesse.

And in the _Persones Tale_ the duties of the rich towards the poor are set
forth in considerable detail. Superfluity of clothing and absurdly slashed
and ornamented garments are to be avoided because "the more that clooth is
wasted, the more it costeth to the peple for the scantnesse; and
forther-over, if so be that they wolde yeven such pounsoned and
dagged[202] clothing to the povre folk, it is nat convenient to were for
hir estaat, ne suffisant to bete hir necessitee, to kepe hem fro the
distemperance of the firmament." Lords are bidden to take no pride in
their position, and do no wrong to those dependent on them: "I rede thee,
certes, that thou, lord, werke in swiche wyse with thy cherles, that they
rather love thee than drede. I woot wel ther is degree above degree, as
reson is; and skile it is that men do hir devoir ther-as is due; but
certes, extorciouns and despit of youre underlinges is dampnable."
Chaucer's inborn sense of justice will not allow him to condone
oppression, and his speculative and inquiring mind is fully conscious of
the artificiality of rank. From the Parson we might expect a homily on the
fact that "we ben alle of o fader and of o moder; and alle we been of o
nature roten and corrupt, both riche and povre," but it is more
surprising to find the Wife of Bath holding forth in the same strain. Her
tale describes the bitter feeling of Florent when he finds himself bound
to a wife old, ugly, and of base degree. The bride answers with a
disquisition on true nobility:--

  But for ye speken of swich gentillesse
  As is descended out of old richesse,
  And that therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
  Swich arrogance is nat worth a hen.
  Loke who that is most vertuous alwey,
  Privee and apert,[203] and most entendeth
  To do the gentil dedes that he can,
  An tak him for the grettest gentil man.
  Crist wol, we clayme of him our gentilesse,
  Nat of our eldres for hir old richesse.
  For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,
  For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,[204]
  Yet may they nat biquethe, for no-thing,
  To noon of us hir vertuous living,
  That made hem gentil men y-called be.

    *       *       *       *       *

  Heer may ye see wel, how that genterye
  Is nat annexed to possessioun

    *       *       *       *       *

  Redeth Senek, and redeth eek Boece,
  Ther shul ye seen express that it no drede is
  That he is gentil that doth gentil dedis.

John Ball himself could hardly go further.

Possibly Chaucer's personal experience of the occasional difficulty of
making both ends meet, quickened his sympathy with poor men. It is true
that Florent's wife, in the lines which follow those just quoted, goes on
to defend poverty against riches on the ground that it is

  A ful greet bringer out of bisinesse,

but though she calls cheerful poverty "an honest thing," she is forced to
own that at best it is "hateful good." The Man of Law, in the prologue to
his tale, speaks of it with undisguised bitterness:--

  Herken what is the sentence of the wyse:--
  "Bet is to dyen than have indigence;"
  "Thy selve neighebour wol thee despyse;"
  If thou be poore, farwel thy reverence!

    *       *       *       *       *

  If thou be povre, thy brother hateth thee,
  And all thy freendes fleen fro thee, alas!
  O riche marchaunts, ful of wele ben ye,
  O noble, O prudent folk as in this cas!

And Chaucer's lines to his empty purse show that he had no wish to share
the pleasant security of those who are able, as Florent's wife says, to
sing and play in the presence of thieves.

In yet a third respect, Chaucer shows himself able to discriminate
between the use and abuse of a thing. He can expose and denounce hypocrisy
without losing his reverence for true religion; he can point out evils in
social life, without siding wholly with nobles or people; he can laugh at
the folly which allows itself to be deluded by charlatanism, without
losing his respect for science. Two hundred years had yet to pass before
Bacon should raise science, once and for all, above the level where it lay
confused with magic and the black art. A generation to whom gunpowder was
a novelty, and spectacles an almost miraculous aid to sight, found nothing
strange in the sight of learned men seeking for the elixir of life, or the
philosopher's stone. In a world which was but just becoming dimly
conscious of the mighty forces which lie at man's command, limitations
were unknown, and the boundary line between the possible and impossible
was so uncertain as to be negligible. The populace which believed that
every sage could summon legions of devils to his assistance, was not
likely to criticise his pretensions too closely, and doubtless many a
quack saw, and seized, the opportunity for imposing on the easy credulity
of a greedy and wonder-loving people.

Chaucer shows a real interest in such rudimentary science as he was able
to pick up in the midst of his other avocations. Clocks of any kind were
rare in the fourteenth century, and the practice of telling the time by
astronomical observations was a common one. There is nothing peculiar in
noting the season or the hour by such statements as that

                    the yonge sonne
  Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne.

or,

  He wiste it was the eightetehe day
  Of April, that is messager to May;
  And sey wel that the shadwe of every tree
  Was as the lengthe the same quantitee
  That was the body erect that caused it.
  And therefore by the shadwe he took his wit
  That Phebus, which that shoon so clere and brighte,
  Degrees was fyve and fourty clombe on highte;
  And for that day, as in that latitude,
  It was ten of the clokke, he gan conclude;

but Chaucer not only follows this method with an amount of detail and a
persistency which show that he enjoyed it for its own sake, he also, as we
have seen, writes a treatise on the use of the Astrolabe, for the
instruction of his little son. The modesty and sincerity shown in the
introduction are worthy of a true scientist. After saying that he purposes
to teach little Lewis "a certain nombre of conclusions," Chaucer
continues, "I seye a certein of conclusiouns, for three causes. The furste
cause is this: truste wel that alle the conclusiouns that have ben founde,
or elles possibly mighten be founde in so noble an instrument as an
Astrolabie, ben un-knowe perfitly to any mortal man in this regioun, as I
suppose. A nother cause is this; that sothly, in any tretis of the
Astrolabie that I have seyn, there ben some conclusiouns that wole nat in
alle thinges performen hir bihestes; and some of them ben harde to thy
tendre age of ten yeer to conseyve." He then explains his reason for
writing in English instead of Latin, and finally declares: "I nam but a
lewd compilatour of the labour of olde Astrologiens, and have hit
translated in myn English only for thy doctrine; and with this swerd shall
I sleen envye." The whole _Prologue_ is well worth reading if only for the
light it throws upon Chaucer's view of education and the power it displays
of entering into a child's mind. Scattered references to astronomy,
medicine, chemistry, and even astrology, are to be found throughout the
_Canterbury Tales_. The Franklin shows himself well abreast of scientific
discovery when he speaks of

  This wyde world, which that men seye is round.

Chaucer himself in the _Prologue_ reels off a list of medicaments which
might be expected to improve the Somnour's complexion. Pertelote shows a
housewifely knowledge of the properties of herbs.

One tale, indeed, turns on the pseudo-science of the day. After the second
Nun has finished her tale of St. Cecilia the pilgrims ride in silence for
awhile, till, close to Boghton under Blee, they are joined by a Canon and
his man. The Canon's Yeoman soon begins to boast of his master's
marvellous powers, how

  That al this ground on which we ben ryding,
  Til that we come to Caunterbury toun,
  He coude al clene turne it up-so-doun,
  And pave it al of silver and of gold.

Whereupon the Host blesses himself, and asks, not unnaturally, why if the
Canon "is of so heigh prudence," he wears such poor and dirty clothes? The
Yeoman answers that

    --whan a man hath over-greet a wit
  Ful oft him happeth to misusen it;
  So dooth my lord ...

and is proceeding to dilate upon the hard share of the work that falls to
himself, when the Canon, who is nervous as to what he may be saying, with
some sharpness bids him hold his tongue. The Host, however, has no
intention of allowing his authority to be over-ridden:--

  "Ye," quod our host, "telle on, what so bityde;
  Of al his threting rekke nat a myte!"[205]
  "In feith," quod he, "namore I do but lyte."

On which the Canon sets spurs to his horse and gallops off, leaving his
character behind him, and the Yeoman settles down to tell the story of the
foolish priest and the charlatan. The false Canon borrows a mark from the
priest, promising to return it within three days:--

  And at the thridde day broghte his moneye,
  And to the preest he took his gold agayn,
  Whereof this preest was wonder glad and fayn.

The Canon protests that under no circumstances would he ever dream of
breaking his word:--

      "ther was never man yet yvel apayd
  For gold ne silver that he to me lente ...

and in token of friendship he offers, if the priest will send for some
quicksilver, to show him a marvel.

  "Sir," quod the preest, "it shal be doon y-wis."
  He bad his servant fecchen him this thing....

The Canon then orders a fire to be prepared, and with much parade makes
ready a crucible. He carefully shuts the door and pretends to be most
anxious lest any one should see what they are doing. Not till the servant
has gone out, and he and the priest are alone, does he solemnly cast
various powders on to the blazing coals, "To blynde with the preest."
Finally, while his unfortunate victim is busy blowing the fire and making
himself generally useful, the false Canon so manipulates things that an
ingot of silver appears in the crucible. He repeats the trick three times,
and so impresses "this sotted preest" that the poor dupe

              the somnee of fourty pound anon
  Of nobles fette,[206] and took hem everichon
  To this chanoun, for this ilke receit....

After which, needless to say, the Canon disappears.

The whole story teems with technical terms, with descensories, and
sublimatories, and cucurbites, with bole armoniak and orpiment, and the
like. It shows an intimate knowledge of the laboratory work of the day, of
vessels and retorts, of chemicals and minerals and their various
properties. At the same time, it proves that Chaucer was well aware of the
ease with which a very little knowledge combined with a great deal of
assurance would enable a quack to impose on the absolute ignorance of the
uninitiated. The charlatan who tried to impose upon the author of the
_Chanouns Yemannes Tale_ would soon have found out his mistake.

And yet, with all his shrewdness, Chaucer was not wholly exempt from the
superstition of his age. Such vulgar trickery as that just described would
never have imposed on him, but he is too truly fourteenth century in his
point of view always to distinguish between astronomy and astrology. The
thought that a man's destiny may be written in the stars appealed to this
lover of dreams. In the _Man of Lawes Tale_ he breaks away from his
original, to speculate on this subject:--

  Paraventure in thilke large book
  Which that men clepe the heven, y-writen was
  With sterres, when that he (_i. e._ the Soldan) his birthe took
  That he for love shulde han his deeth, allas!
  For in the sterres, clerer than is glas,
  Is writen, god wot, who-so coulde it rede,
  The deeth of every man, withouten drede.

And again, after describing the grief of Constance at parting from her
parents, he vehemently exclaims against the unfortunate conjunction of
constellations which wrought such havoc, and asks if there were no
"philosophre" to advise the emperor to consult some astrologer as to which
was the auspicious time for him to marry.

Certain aspects of Chaucer's character stand out with unmistakable
clearness in his works. The most careless reader could hardly fail to be
struck by his wide sympathies, ready humour, keen observation, and honesty
of mind. His idealism, his poetic sensitiveness to the more imaginative
side of life, are perhaps less often insisted upon, but are no less real.
He is no visionary, afraid to face the facts of life, dwelling in a world
of beauty and delight which has no counterpart on earth, but a poet who
takes no shame in human nature, whose eyes see so clearly that they are
not blinded by evil, who dares to say, with his Creator, that the world is
good. In the _Book of the Duchesse_ is a passage which explains much of
Chaucer's so-called worldliness. He is speaking of Blanche's innocent
kindliness, and how he never knew one less

  Harmful, than she was in doing;

and he adds, in words as bold as Milton's own,

  I sey nat that she ne had knowing
  What was harm; or elles she
  Had coud[207] no good, so thinketh me.

He has little respect for a fugitive and cloistered virtue. But if he is,
perhaps, over-ready to plunge into the dust and din of ordinary life, he
never forgets the wonder and mystery that lie behind the commonplace.



CHAPTER VIII

CHAUCER'S INFLUENCE


Few poets have received more immediate and widespread recognition than
Chaucer. Fifteenth-century poetry almost wholly dominated by his
influence, and one united chorus of praise and admiration rises from the
lips of his successors. Shirley, who edited the _Knightes Tale_ (amongst
other works of Chaucer's) in the first half of the fifteenth century,
speaks of him as "the laureal and most famous poete that euer was to-fore
him as in th' embelisshing of oure rude modern englisshe tonge...."
Lydgate and Occleve, the most noted poets of the period, invariably refer
to him as their master. As has already been mentioned, a large number of
poems were written in close imitation of his style, and echoes of his
verse are to be heard on every side.

It is usual to divide his followers into two groups: English Chaucerians
and Scottish Chaucerians.

The English Chaucerians, with all their admiration for their master, show
but scant understanding of his real greatness. Having little ear for
rhythm themselves, they only mangle his verse when they try to imitate it;
and while they fully recognise the debt which English versification owes
him, it is but rarely that their own lines show any hint of his sweetness
and melody. Lydgate is by far the greatest of them, and of him Professor
Saintsbury justly remarks: "It is enough to say that, even in rime royal,
his lines wander from seven to fourteen syllables, without the possibility
of allowing monosyllabic or trisyllabic feet in any fashion that shall
restore the rhythm; and that his couplets, as in the _Story of Thebes_
itself, seem often to be unaware whether they are themselves octosyllabic
or decasyllabic--four-footed, or five-footed." Instead of the suppleness
and endless variety of Chaucer's verse, we have a treatment of metre which
at its best is apt to be dull and stiff, and at its worst is intolerably
slipshod. Only by some rare chance does a momentary gleam of beauty
flicker across these pages, and a flash of poetic feeling raise the trite
and conventional language to such a level as:--

  O thoughtful herte, plonged in dystresse,
    With slomber of slouthe this longe winter's night--
  Out of the slepe of mortal hevinesse
    Awake anon! and loke upon the light
  Of thilke starr.

    (Lydgate, _Life of Our Lady_.)

Nor is the matter much more inspiring than the form that clothes it. The
English Chaucerians are worthy men, who spend their time in bewailing the
errors of their youth and offering good advice to whoso will accept it. Of
Chaucer's humour and realism they have no conception, nor do they realise
the force of his digressions. The allegorical form of his earlier poems
appeals to them, and, disregarding the movement and life of the
_Canterbury Tales_, they ramble along the paths marked out in the _Hous of
Fame_ without attending to their master's excellent advice to flee
prolixity. Lydgate, it is true, does show some narrative power. His _Troy
Book_ is obviously inspired by _Troilus and Creseyde_, and his _Story of
Thebes_ by the _Knightes Tale_, but he has neither the conciseness of
Gower nor the dramatic insight of Chaucer. Among the 114 works attributed
to him, it is only natural that some variety should be shown, and
occasionally, as in the _London Lickpenny_, a skit on contemporary life
in the City, he shows some trace of humour. _The Temple of Glas_ is a
close imitation of the _Hous of Fame_, but it lacks the shrewd sense, the
original comments on life, the subtle humour of its model. Lydgate is most
poetical when his religious feeling is touched, as in his _Life of Our
Lady_; and most human when he becomes frankly autobiographical. The
stiffness of the _Temple of Glas_ is redeemed by such passages as that in
which the author (who entered a monastery at fifteen) describes the
lamentations of those

  That were constrayned in hir tender youthe
  And in childhode, as it is ofte couthe[208]
  Yentered were into religion[209]
  Or they hade yeares of discresioun;
  That al her life cannot but complein
  In wide copes perfeccion to feine.

Occleve, who has even less poetic genius than Lydgate, is remembered
chiefly because the manuscript of his _Gouvernail of Princes_ (a poem of
good advice, addressed to Prince Hal) contains the only authentic portrait
of Chaucer--a sketch drawn in the margin by the author himself. The lines
which accompany the portrait, sufficiently illustrate the estimation in
which Chaucer was held. Their modesty and simple affection disarm
criticism.

  Symple is my goste, and scars my letterure[210]
    Unto youre excellence for to write
  My inward love, and yit in aventure
    Wol I me put, thogh I can but lyte;
  My dere maister--God his soule quyte,--[211]
  And fader, Chaucer, fayne wold have me taught,
  But I was dulle, and lerned lyte or naught.
  Allas! my worthy maister honorable,
    This londes verray tresour and richesse,
  Dethe by thy dethe hath harm irreperable
    Unto us done: hir vengeable duresse[212]
  Dispoiled hath this londe of the swetnesse
  Of rethoryk, for unto Tullius
  Was never man so lyk amenges us.

    *       *       *       *       *

  She myght have taryed hir vengeaunce a whyle,
    Tyl sum man hadde egal to thee be;
  Nay, let be that; she wel knew that this yle[213]
    May never man forth bringe like to thee,
    And her office needes do must she;
  God bad her soo, I truste as for the beste,
  O maystir, maystir, God thy soule reste!

His consciousness of the superiority of his master did not, however,
prevent him from venturing to make use of the same material, and in the
_Chaste Spouse of the Emperor Gerelaus_ he re-tells the story of
Constance.

A number of minor poets make up the list. Benedict Burgh--the shadow of
Chaucer's shadow--completed _The Secrets of the Philosophers_, a
peculiarly dull poem which Lydgate left unfinished at his death. Side by
side with him worked George Ashby, clerk of the signet to Queen Margaret,
and a little later comes Henry Bradshaw, a monk of St. Werburgh's Abbey at
Chester. They are all worthy, honest men, who utter moral platitudes with
an air of conviction; painstaking but unskilful apprentices in the
workshop of poetry, who conscientiously blunt their tools and cut their
fingers in a vain effort to do the work of master craftsmen. One curious
little development is, however, worth noticing. In the latter half of the
fifteenth century two poets, Sir George Ripley and Thomas Norton, wrote
treatises on alchemy, in verse. Ripley's _The Compound of Alchemy, or the
Twelve Gates_, and Norton's _Ordinall of Alchemy_, owe their interest in
the first place to the proof they afford that verse at the time was a
natural means of instruction rather than an end in itself; and in the
second to their adventitious connection with the _Chanouns Yemannes
Tale_. Norton endeavours to copy the Chaucerian couplet, and Professor
Saintsbury suggests that he is probably the Th. Norton whom Ascham, in his
_Scholemaster_, classes with Chaucer, Surrey, Wyatt and Phaer, as having
vainly attempted to replace accent by rhyme.

Stephen Hawes falls into a class somewhat apart. Writing at the close of
the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century, he stands at the
parting of the ways, and while his poetry shows signs of the new
influences that were at work, his heart is evidently with the old
conventions which are beginning to pass away. His chief poem, _The Pastime
of Pleasure, or the Historye of Graunde Amoure and la Bell Pucell:
containing the Knowledge of the Seven Sciences and the Course of Man's
Life in this World_, is sufficiently described by its title. It stands, as
it were, half-way between Chaucer and Spenser, at one moment clearly
recalling the love scenes of _Troilus and Criseyde_, at another reminding
us equally forcibly of the elaborate and ingenious allegory of the _Faerie
Queene_. The combination of chivalry and allegory was something new, and
though Hawes himself proved incapable of making the most of its
possibilities, English literature owes him a real debt. He never rises to
any great height. Mr. Murison, in his chapter on Hawes in Vol. II of the
_Cambridge History of Literature_, draws attention to certain verbal
resemblances between the _Passetyme of Pleasure_ and the _Faerie Queene_,
but the passages quoted serve only to show how far removed the music of
Spenser is from the speech of ordinary men. At his worst Hawes sinks
beneath the lowest level of what can possibly be allowed to pass as verse.
The dialogue between Graunde Amour and Dame Grammar defies parody:--

  "Madame," quod I, "for as much as there be
  Eight partes of speche, I would knowe right faine,
  What a noune substantive is in his degree;
  And wherefore it is so called certaine?
  To whom she answered right gentely againe
  Saing alway that a noune substantive
  Might stand without helpe of an adjective.

That the stanza of _Troilus and Criseyde_ should be used for such stuff as
this is unbearable.

The Scottish Chaucerians are of far more intrinsic importance. The
love-allegory of the _Kingis Quair_ shows the influence of Chaucer not
only in its use of the Chaucerian stanza--henceforth to be known as the
rhyme royal--but in the evidence it affords of its author's acquaintance
with the English version of the _Romance of the Rose_. Moreover, in it may
be noticed that sympathy with the freshness and joy of nature which forms
so strong a bond between Chaucer and his Scottish disciples, and is so
conspicuous by its absence in the work of the English Chaucerians. Emily
herself might well walk in the garden where

      ... on the smale grene twistis[214] sat
    The little sweete nyghtingale, and song
  So loud and clear, the hymnes consecrate
    Of loves use, now softe now loud among,
  That all the gard(e)nes and the walles rong
    Ryght of their song, and on the copill[215] next
    Of their sweet harmony, and lo the text:

  "Worschippe, ye that loveres be(ne) this May,
    For of your bliss the kalendes are begonne,
  And sing with us, away winter, away,
    Come sumer, come, the sweet season and sonne,
  Awake, for schame! that have your heavenes wonne,
    And amourously lift up your heades all,
    Thank Love that list you to his merci call;"

and the picture of Joan Beaufort,

  The fairest or the freschest yong(e) floure
  That ever I sawe, me thoght, before that houre;

has something of Chaucer's daintiness and grace.

The Scottish poets have, also, far more sense of form than the English.
Henryson's _Testament of Cressid_, written to satisfy its author's thirst
for poetic justice and to show Cressida paying the penalty of her
misdeeds, with all its conventional morality, for sincerity of feeling and
felicity of style will bear comparison with its great original. His fables
show a quick sense of humour, a combination of tenderness and realism
which recall Chaucer again and again. The feast spread by the Burgis Mouse
for the Uplandis Mouse is delightful:--

  After when they disposed were to dine,
  Withouten grace they wash'd and went to meat,
  With all the courses that cooks could define,
  Mutton and beef laid out in slices greet;
  And lordis fare thus could they counterfeit,
  Except one thing, they drank the water clear
  Instead of wine, but yet they made good cheer.

Gawain Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld, was perhaps most nearly akin to the
English Chaucerians. A scholar and a man of distinguished position, he has
none of the lightness of Henryson. He takes poetry seriously, and inclines
to trace a moral purpose even in the Æneid. His _Palice of Honour_ well
illustrates the manner in which Chaucer's successors made free with the
framework of his poems, while at the same time it shows the growing
delight in picturesque effect which was one day to break into the
Elizabethan glow of colour. The poet finds himself wandering in a dreary
wilderness and breaks out in complaint against Fortune, who has led him
there. As he laments, he sees approaching him a rout "of ladyis fair and
gudlie men":--

  Amiddes(t) whom borne in a golden chair
  O'er-fret with pearl and stones most preclair[216]
  That draw(e)n was by hackneys all milk-white
  Was set a Queen, as lily sweet of swair[217]
  In purple robe, hemmed with gems each gair[218]
  Which gemmed claspes closed all perfite[219]
  A diadem, most pleasantly polite,
  Set on the tresses of her golden hair.

The original form, which illustrates the comparatively modernness of the
language used by Chaucer, is as follows:

  Amiddes quhome, borne in ane goldin chair
  Ourfret with perle and stanis maist preclair
  That drawin was by haiknayis all milk quhite,
  Was set a Quene, as lyllie sweit of swair
  In purpor rob hemmit with gold ilk gair,
  Quhilk gemmit claspis closit all perfite.
  A diademe maist plesandlie polite.
  Set on the tressis of her giltin hair.
  And in her hand a scepter of delight.

This is Dame Sapyence, and with her come Diana, Jephtha's daughter,
Palamon, Arcite and Emily, Troilus and Cressida, David and Bathsheba,
Delilah, Cleopatra, Jacob and Rachel, Venus (whose "hair as gold or
topasis was hewit") and a number more famous lovers of antiquity. A
"ballet of inconstant love" follows. This offends Venus, and the poet is
brought before her to answer for his lack of respect. Poetry, the Muses,
and the Poets from Homer to Chaucer and Dunbar, form a Court. Calliope
pleads for him, and he is allowed to atone for his misdeed by composing "A
ballet for Venus' pleasour," which so delights the company that he is
invited to join the cavalcade. After travelling through Germany, France,
Italy, and other countries, they reach the Fountain of the Muses. Here
they alight:--

  Our horses pastured in ain pleasand plane,
  Low at the foot of ain fair grene montane,
  Amid ain mead shaddowit with cedar trees,

where

  ... beriall stremis rinnand ouir stanerie greis[220]
  Made sober noise, the shaw dinned agane
  For birdis song and sounding of the beis.[221]

In the midst of the field Douglas finds a gorgeous pavilion in which
knights and ladies are feasting, while a poet relates the brave deeds of
those who in the past proved "maist worthie of thair handis." After
listening to these heroic tales the company once more sets out. Beyond
Damascus they reach their journey's end. The poet is guided by a nymph to
the foot of a steep mountain, at the summit of which stands the Palace of
Honour. As he climbs he sees before him a dreadful abyss out of which
proceed flames. His ears are filled with the sound of terrible cries; on
either side lie dead bodies. These beings in torment are they who set out
to pursue Honour, but "fell on sleuthfull sleip," and so were "drownit in
the loch of cair." (It has been suggested by critics bent on finding an
original for the _Pilgrim's Progress_, that Bunyan found in this the idea
of his "byway to Hell.") At last he reaches the Palace, where he is shown
many treasures, including Venus' mirror, which reflects "the deidis and
fatis of euerie eirdlie wicht." Prince Honour is attended by all the
virtues, and the poem ends by contrasting worldly and heavenly honour and
commending virtue.

The gracious figure of Sapience, her dress gleaming with jewels, her head
crowned with a diadem, is very different from any being of Lydgate's or
Occleve's creation; already the first rays of Renaissance light are
showing above the horizon, and the cold gray mists of fifteenth-century
poetry are dispersing before its warmth and brilliance; but the radiance
that heralds the new era is that of sunrise, flushing the world with a
wonder of colour, rather than of that light of common day in which Chaucer
is content to walk. In the great age to come, the Elizabethans are to show
how the rapture and intoxication of beauty may be combined with the
sternest realism, but in the early sixteenth century the children of the
new birth walk with uncertain steps towards the dawn.

The poet who most clearly shows the growing love of beauty, and at the
same time is most truly in sympathy with Chaucer, is William Dunbar. No
other poet of the period has such skill in versification, such freshness
and vigour, or such variety. His humour is as all-pervading as Chaucer's.
Now he addresses a daring poem to King James, slyly laughing at one of his
numerous love affairs; now he writes the story of the _Two Friars of
Berwick_, or the _Treatise of the Two Married Women and the Widow_,
broadly comic fabliaux which might well have found a place among the
_Canterbury Tales_. One of the wittiest of his poems is the _Visitation of
St. Francis_, in which the poet describes how his patron saint appeared to
him in a dream, bidding him wear the habit of a friar. Dunbar answers
slyly that he has noticed more bishops than friars are among the saints,
so perhaps it will be as well if St. Francis, to make all sure, provides
him with a bishop's robes instead, and then he is sure to go to heaven.
Whereupon his visitant reveals himself in his true character and vanishes
in a cloud of brimstone. Two little lyrics on James Dog, Keeper of the
Queen's wardrobe, are very characteristic. In the first, "whan that he had
offendit him," each verse ends with the refrain:--

  Madame, ye have a dangerous Dog;

in the second, when the quarrel had been made up, the refrain runs:--

  He is na Dog: he is a Lamb.

As Mr. Gregory Smith points out, "Dunbar is unlike Henryson in lacking the
gentler and more intimate fun of their master. He is a satirist in the
stronger sense; more boisterous in his fun, and showing, in his wildest
frolics, an imaginative range which has no counterpart in the southern
poet"; but his sincerity and virility, his boyish sense of fun, remind us
of Chaucer again and again. The Reve would thoroughly have enjoyed telling
the story of the flying friar of Tungland who courted disaster by using
hen's feathers. Chaucerian, too, in the truest sense, is Dunbar's power of
combining this keen sense of the ridiculous with a no less keen
appreciation of beauty. The charm of his verse is incontestible, and his
skill in making effective use of burdens and refrains shows an ear
sensitive to music. _The Thistle and the Rose_, written in honour of the
marriage of James IV and Margaret Tudor, borrows its idea from the
_Parlement of Foules_, and has something of Chaucer's tenderness and
charm. Dame Nature commands all birds, beasts, and flowers to appear
before her, and after some debate proceeds to crown the thistle with
rubies, while the birds unite in singing the praises of the "freshe Rose
of colour red and white."

The _Golden Targe_, an allegorical poem of the conventional type, in which
the shield of Reason proves no defence against the arrows of Beauty,
contains a description of spring which Chaucer himself never equalled:--

  Full angel-like the birdes sang their houres
  Within their curtains green, into their boweres
    Apparelled white and red with blossoms sweet;
  Enamelled was the field with all coloures
  The pearly dropes shook in silver showeres
    While all in balm did branch and leaves flete[222]
    To part from Phœbus did Aurora weep;
  Her crystal tears I saw hang on the floweres
  Which he for love all drank up with his heat.

    *       *       *       *       *

  For mirth of May with skippes and with hoppes
  The birdes sang upon the tender croppes[223]
    With curious notes as Venus chapell clerkes;
  The rose yong, new spreding of her knoppes[224]
    War powdered bright with hevenly beriall[225] droppes
  Through beames red, burning as ruby sparkes
  The skyes rang for shouting of the larkes.

And in addition to all these, Dunbar writes serious religious poetry on
such subjects as _Love, Earthly and Divine_, draws a by no means
unimpressive picture of the _Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins_, and in his
_Lament for the Makaris_ (poets), with its haunting refrain:--

  _Timor Mortis conturbat me_

shows a sense of the transitoriness of all earthly pleasure.

Enough has already been said to show that the influences that moulded
sixteenth-century literature in England were not such as to lead its poets
to model themselves on Chaucer. In the _Golden Targe_, Dunbar gives
expression to the popular view of Chaucer in his day:--

  O reverend Chaucer, rose of rethoris[226] all,
  As in our tongue a flower imperial,
  That rose in Britain ever, who readeth right,
  Thou bear'st, of makers[227] the triumph royal;
  Thy fresh enamelled termes celestial
  This matter could illumined have full bright,
  Wert thou not of our English all the light,
  Surmounting every tongue terrestrial
  As far as Mayes morrow doth midnight?

And here again, as in Occleve, we see that it is for his language rather
than for his invention that the poet is praised. But the sixteenth
century saw the change from Middle English to Modern, a change which, for
the time being, lost men the key to Chaucer's verse. Old inflections had
gradually dropped off, the accented "e" which ends so many of Chaucer's
words had become mute, and the result was that the poets of the new age
found Chaucer's lines impossible to scan. A generation whose taste was
formed on Classical and Italian models, whose precisians urged the
necessity of discarding "bald and beggarly rhymning" in favour of the
classical system of accent, had not patience enough to rediscover the laws
that governed Chaucer's verse. It says much for the insight and genuine
poetic taste of Elizabethan critics that they one and all speak of Chaucer
with admiration and respect. Fresh editions of his works continued to
appear at frequent intervals throughout the century, and frequent
references to his name show that they were well known to the poets of the
period. To Spenser he is "The God of shepheards":--

  Who taught me homely, as I can, to make.
  He, whilst he lived, was the soueraigne head
  Of shepheards all, that been with loue ytake;

and he goes on to protest that

  ... all hys passing skil with him is fledde,
  The fame whereof doth dayly greater growe.

The famous reference in the _Faerie Queene_ to

  Dan Chaucer, well of Englishe undefyled,
  On Fames eternal beadroll worthie to be fyled,

has become part of the Chaucerian critic's stock in trade, and is as apt
and as well-known as Dryden's phrase which speaks of Chaucer as "a
perpetual fountain of good sense." Book III, canto xxv of the _Faerie
Queene_ contains a paraphrase of some of the lines on true love in the
_Frankleyns Tale_, and Book IV boldly promises to continue the story of

  Couragious Cambell, and stout Triamond,
  With Canacee and Cambine linckt in lovely bond.

Whether the Spenserian stanza is a modification of the rhyme royal or of
the stanza used by Boccaccio and Ariosto it is impossible to say--all
three are obviously related to each other--but in view of Spenser's
admiration for Chaucer, and his deliberate attempt to use "Chaucerisms,"
it is at least probable that in this respect the _Faerie Queene_ owes a
debt to _Troilus and Criseyde_. In _Mother Hubbard's Tale_ and _Colin
Clouts come home again_, Spenser is frankly, though unsuccessfully,
imitating Chaucer's style. William Browne, the poet of Tavistock, also
showed his admiration for Chaucer by an attempt to imitate him in his
_Shepheard's Pipe_, a series of eclogues modelled partly on the
_Shepherd's Calendar_ and partly on the _Canterbury Tales_. In the
concluding lines of the first eclogue, which contains the story of
Jonathas, Browne confesses his indebtedness to Occleve:--

  Scholler unto Tityrus
  Tityrus the bravest swaine
  Ever lived on plaine ...

thus using for Chaucer the name bestowed on him by Spenser.

During the seventeenth century Chaucer's fame seems to have suffered a
temporary eclipse. Between 1602 and 1687 not a single edition of his works
appeared, and the edition of 1687 is in reality no more than a re-issue of
Speght's. The poets hardly mention his name. Milton does indeed make a
reference to the _Squieres Tale_, but his works show no trace of Chaucer's
influence. Towards the end of the century, however, there was a revival of
interest. Dryden tells us that Mr. Cowley declared he had no taste of him,
but my lord of Leicester, on the other hand, was so warm an admirer of
the _Canterbury Tales_ that he thought it "little less than profanation
and sacrilege" to modernise their language, and not until his death did
Dryden venture to turn into modern English the tales of the Knight, the
Nun's Priest, and the Wife of Bath, and the character of the poor Parson
in the _Prologue_. The wigs and ruffles of the seventeenth century,
however, suit but ill the sturdy figure of the fourteenth-century poet. We
stand aghast before Dryden's Arcite, who, in the throes of death,
exclaims:--

  No language can express the smallest part
  Of what I feel, and suffer in my heart,

    *       *       *       *       *

  How I have loved; excuse my faltering tongue:
  My spirit's feeble, and my pains are strong.
  This I may say, I only grieve to die,
  Because I lose my charming Emily.

It is an excellent specimen of the poetry of 1699, but it is not Chaucer.

Dryden is, indeed, far more eighteenth than seventeenth century in
feeling, and while the authors of the eighteenth century are too really
great not to appreciate true poetry wherever they see it, their own taste
leads them to the erection of "neat Modern buildings" rather than to the
admiration of "an ancient majestick piece of Gothick Architecture," and
all attempts to combine the two must necessarily be foredoomed to failure.
Pope paraphrases the _Hous of Fame_; Prior writes _Two Imitations of
Chaucer_, viz. _Susanah and the Two Elders_, and _Earl Robert's Mice_; Gay
writes a comedy on the Wife of Bath, with Chaucer himself for hero; the
Rev. Thomas Warton, who, as professor of poetry at Oxford, ought to have
known better, writes an elegy on the death of Pope in an extraordinary
jargon which he apparently considers Chaucerian English. (See Miss
Spurgeon's _Chaucer devant la Critique_, pp. 62-75.) But while these, and
numerous other works of the same kind, prove that Chaucer was widely read
at the time, they afford no evidence at all of his having any direct
influence upon the general development of eighteenth-century poetry. His
place as an English classic is firmly established, but centuries have
passed since he wrote, and the point of view of the men of the new age
differs too widely from that of their forefathers for any imitation to be
possible, except by way of a conscious experiment. The most amazing of all
modernisations was that of 1841. Richard Hengist Horne, inspired, if we
may believe his own words, by no less a person than Wordsworth, hit on the
most unfortunate idea of issuing Chaucer's poems in two volumes done into
modern English by a sort of joint-stock company of contemporary poets.
Wordsworth himself, Leigh Hunt, Miss Barrett, Robert Browning, Alfred
Tennyson, Bulwer-Lytton and the Cowden Clarkes, were to be among the
contributors. Landor showed his usual common-sense by refusing to take any
part in it, and his letter to Horne on the subject is worth quoting:
"Indeed I _do_ admire him (Chaucer), or rather, love him.... Pardon me if
I say that I would rather see Chaucer quite alone, in the dew of his sunny
morning, than with twenty clever gentlefolks about him, arranging his
shoestrings and buttoning his doublet. I like even his _language_. I will
have no hand in breaking his dun but rich-painted glass to put in (if
clearer) much thinner panes." It is comforting to reflect that the first
volume proved a failure, and the second never saw the light.

Fortunately the labours of such scholars as Professor Skeat and Dr.
Furnivall have saved us from all fear of being left in future to the
tender mercies of the moderniser. However great may be the changes that
are to pass over our language, however strange the tongue of
fourteenth-century England may sound in the ears of our descendants,
Chaucer's English has been preserved once for all, and never again can we
lose the key to his world of harmony and delight.

  In Chaucer I am sped
  His tales I have red;
  His mater is delectable
  Solacious and commendable;
  His english wel alowed,
  So as it enprowed,[228]
  For as it is enployed
  There is no englyshe voyd--
  At those days moch commended,
  And now men wold haue amended
  His englishe where-at they barke,
  And marre all they warke;
  Chaucer, that famous Clarke
  His tearmes were not darcke,
  But pleasunt, easy, and playne;
  No worde he wrote in vayne.

    (Skelton, introductory lines to the _Book of Phillip sparow_, 1507?)



BIBLIOGRAPHY


SKEAT. _Chaucer_, text and notes, seven volumes (Clarendon Press, 1894).

W. P. KER. _English Literature: Medieval._ "Home University Library"
(Williams & Norgate, 1913).

TEN BRINK. _History of English Literature_, vol. ii, pp. 33-199.
Translated by W. Clarke Robinson, Ph.D. (George Bell & Sons, 1901).

TEN BRINK. _Language and Metre of Chaucer_, translated by M. Bentinck
Smith (Macmillan & Co., 1901).

LOUNSBURY. _Studies in Chaucer, his Life and Writings_ (James R. Osgood
McIlvaine & Co., 1892).

G. C. COULTON. _Chaucer and his England_ (Methuen, 2nd ed. 1909).

DRYDEN. Preface to the Fables. _Essays of John Dryden_, ed. W. P. Ker,
vol. ii, pp. 246-273 (Clarendon Press, 1900).

_Transactions of the Chaucer Society_ (Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co.).

A. W. WARD. _Chaucer._ "English Men of Letters."

_Cambridge History of Literature_, vol. ii (Cambridge University Press,
1908).

SCHOFIELD. _English Literature from the Norman Conquest to Chaucer_
(Macmillan & Co., 1906).

G. E. & W. H. HADOW. _Oxford Treasury of English Literature_, vol. i
(Clarendon Press, 1905).


GERMAN AND FRENCH WORKS

TEN BRINK. _Chaucer Studien_ (Trübner, 1870).

LEGOUIS. _Geoffroy Chaucer_ (Bloud et Cie., 1910) (Eng. tr. Lailavoix.
Dent, 1912).

SPURGEON. _Chaucer devant la critique_ (Hachette et Cie., 1911).



INDEX


  _A.B.C._, Chaucer's, 42, 48

  _Against Women Unconstant_, 41

  _Anelida and Arcite_, 4

  _An Amorous Compleint_, 41, 46

  Ashby George, 234


  Boccaccio, 19, 20, 39, 49, 51, 63, 69, 73, 76, 77, 248

  Boëthius's _Consolations of Philosophy_, 47, 50

  _Book of the Duchesse_, the, 12, 16, 40, 43-6, 47, 49, 50, 62, 64, 106,
      130-2, 171, 179, 183, 190, 194, 227

  Bradshaw, Henry, 234

  Browne, William, 249

  Burgh, Benedict, 234


  _Cambridge History of Literature_, the, 42, 237

  _Canterbury Tales_, the, 46, 49, 62, 67, 83, 107, 117-29, 136-41, 150,
      157, 185, 213, 214, 222-3, 231

  _Chanouns Yemannes Tale_, 223-6

  Chaucer, Agnes, 13

  ---- _Apocrypha_, 67-8

  ----, Elizabeth, 18

  ----, Geoffrey, birth, 7;
    education, 9-14;
    marriage, 15-18;
    public life, 18-30;
    death, 31

  ----, John, 8, 13, 23

  ----, Lewis, 17, 67

  _Chaucer's Originals and Analogues_, 84, 99

  Chaucer, Philippa, 15-17

  ----, Thomas, 17, 18

  Clarence, Lionel, Duke of, 13

  _Clerkes Tale_, 16, 19, 46, 125, 133, 134, 215

  _Compleint of Mars_, 50, 156

  _Compleint to his Lady_, 40

  _Compleinte unto Pitè_, 40, 46

  Coulton, G. C., _Chaucer and his England_, 18, 20

  _Court of Love_, the, 10


  Dante, 19, 20, 48, 50, 54, 101, 102, 103

  Deguileville, Guillaume de, 42, 44

  Douglas, Gawain, 12;
    influence of Chaucer on, 238-42

  Dunbar, 242-6

  Dryden, John, 248, 249, 250


  Fielding, 157

  _Frankeleyns Tale_, 128, 129, 134, 192, 210, 248

  _Freres Tale_, 197, 210

  Furnivall, Dr., 99, 252


  Gascoigne, 17

  Gaunt, John of, 15, 18, 21, 25, 43, 50, 201, 206

  Gower, John, 22, 37, 209


  Hawes, Stephen, 235-6

  Hendyng, Proverbs of, 35, 36

  Henryson, 238-9, 244

  _House of Fame_, the, 16, 21, 53-62, 128, 153, 155, 156, 188, 209, 232,
      251


  Jonson, Ben, 155


  Ker, W. P., 32, 40

  _Kingis Quair_, the, 236-7

  _Knightes Tale_, 46, 73-6, 83, 128, 132, 180, 181, 182, 229


  _Lak of Stedfastnesse_, 216

  Landor, Walter Savage, 252

  Layamon, 32, 36

  _Legend of Good Women_, the, 11, 21, 25, 42, 62, 63-7, 106, 191, 206,
      216

  Leland, 10, 14

  _Lenvoy a Scogan_, 24

  _Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton_, 16, 125

  Lounsbury, 10

  Lydgate, Portrait of mediæval schoolboy, 9;
    versification, 47, 54;
    _Temple of Glas_, 62;
    influence of Chaucer on, 229-32, 242

  _Lyf of St. Cecyle_, 46, 48, 64


  Machault, Guillaume de, 39, 67

  _Man of Lawes Tale_, 47, 85-97, 136, 205, 210, 219, 226

  _Marchantes Tale_, 15, 126

  _Maunciples Tale_, 198, 210

  _Merciles Beaute_, 40

  _Milleres Tale_, 148, 149, 186-7

  Milton, 249

  _Monkes Tale_, 48, 100-2


  _Nonne Preestes Tale_, 84, 94, 97-100, 140, 141, 153, 154, 170, 187-8,
      208

  Norton, Thomas, 234


  Occleve, 229-34, 242, 249

  _Of the Wretched Engendering of Mankind_, 46, 48, 93


  _Palamon and Arcite_, 46, 49, 64

  _Pardoners Tale_, 8, 9, 157-65

  _Parlement of Foules_, the, 16, 17, 40, 49, 50-3, 62, 64, 69, 106, 165,
      189, 193, 194, 195, 244

  _Persones Tale_, 217

  Petrarch, 19, 20, 49

  _Phisiciens Tale_, 135

  _Piers Plowman_, 33, 38, 211-12

  Pope, Alexander, 251

  _Prioresses Tale_, 202-4


  Retters, 14

  Ripley, Sir George, 234

  Rolle, Richard, 33

  _Romance of the Rose_, the, 41, 63, 70, 206, 237

  Romances, English metrical, 34, 70-2, 148, 175


  Saintsbury, 42, 230

  _Seconde Nonnes Tale_, 46, 48, 135

  Shakespeare, _Romeo and Juliet_, 78;
    _Othello_, 104, 122, 127, 132, 146, 147, 148, 152

  _Sir Thopas_, 82-3, 156

  Skeat, introductory note, vi, 24, 30, 38, 48, 54, 83, 252

  Skelton, quotation from, 253

  Snell, _Age of Chaucer_, 8

  _Somnours Tale_, 170, 210

  Speght, 10, 249

  Spenser, 181, 182, 188-9, 195, 235-6, 247, 248, 249

  _Squieres Tale_, 79-82, 133, 165, 178, 191

  Swift, 155


  Ten Brink, _History of English Literature_, 30, 40, 43, 49, 201

  _The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe_, 138-9, 182, 218

  _To Rosemounde_, 41

  _Treatise on the Astrolabe_, 67, 221-2

  Trivet, Nicholas, 84 (note), 85, 96, 97

  _Troilus and Criseyde_, 20, 41, 47, 49, 62, 65, 76-9, 82, 103, 106-17,
      118, 136, 137, 165, 179, 184, 185, 196, 207, 208-9, 211, 231, 236

  _Truth_, ballade of, 31


_Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London and Bungay._



FOOTNOTES:

[1] So that I gained but little.

[2] chidden by.

[3] faults.

[4]

  There are but three histories to which any man will listen,
  Of France, and of Britain and of Rome the Great.

[5] And had the corpse (_i. e._ Antony's) embalmed.

[6] And forth she fetched this dead corpse, and shut it in the shrine.

[7] _sterte_, sprang.

[8] God knows.

[9] contradicted.

[10] knows.

[11] or else something similar.

[12] fools.

[13] I had the thing I did not want.

[14] How he pays folk what he owes them.

[15]

  No pike ever so wallowed in a galantine
  As I wallow and am entangled in love.

[16]

  Francis Petrarch, the laureat poet,
  This clerk was called, whose rhetoric sweet
  Illumined all Italy with poetry.

[17] Till fully dazed is thy look.

[18] The box in which dead bodies are put.

[19] Suitable for pipes.

[20] Evergreen oak.

[21] Tall fir.

[22] Cypress which mourns for death, _i. e._ is often found in
churchyards.

[23] Yew-tree, of which bows are made.

[24] Aspen, suitable for making arrows.

[25] With cheerfulness.

[26] Here is no home.

[27] Keep to the highway, and let thy spirit lead thee.

[28] And there is no fear but that truth shall deliver (thee).

[29] scarcely.

[30] thus.

[31] head.

[32] death.

The passage is taken from Richard Rolle of Hampole's _Pricke of
Conscience_ (Morris and Skeat, _Specimens of Early English_, Part II, p.
108).

[33] For a comparison of the French with the English romances see
Professor Ker's volume on _Medieval Literature_ in this series, pp. 66-74.

[34] like me.

[35] obtained aught.

[36]

  He was pale as a stone ball, in a palsy he seemed,
  And clothed in rough cloth, I do not know how to describe it;
  In an under-jacket and short coat, and a knife by his side;
  The sleeves were like those of a friar's habit.

    _Piers Plowman_, V. 78-81.

[37] A pity.

[38] meadow.

[39] _i. e._ companion to another.

[40] of the most graceful shape.

[41] plowed.

[42] Thou art hard to carry.

[43] ignorant.

[44] tellers of tales or gestes.

[45] trumpet.

[46] journeys.

[47] delay.

[48] before he uttered a sound.

[49] many an hymn for your holy-days.

[50] will make fire dim.

[51] curled locks.

[52] embroidered.

[53] playing the flute.

[54] fine flour.

[55] complexion.

[56] worthless.

[57] The translations are taken from _Chaucer's Originals and Analogues_,
published by the Chaucer Society.

[58] This unusual list of the seven sciences is that given by Trivet.

[59] barbarous nation.

[60] died.

[61] commands.

[62] no matter if I am lost.

[63] grieve us but a little.

[64] sprinkled.

[65] All our joy ends in woe.

[66] maid.

[67] have pity on.

[68] rueful being.

[69] my love has gone away.

[70] eyes.

[71] Have the Greeks thus soon made you thin?

[72] Carving-tools.

[73] Slumberest thou as if in a lethargy.

[74] Friends cannot always be together.

[75] I am glad (lit. it is dear to me).

[76] And without doubt, to ease your heart.

[77] almost died for fear.

[78] the most timid person.

[79] pain.

[80] mine.

[81] be wroth with.

[82] cherish.

[83] sighed.

[84] _i. e._ I must act cautiously.

[85] jeopardy.

[86] No matter for the jangling of wicked tongues.

[87] blame.

[88] _i. e._ my name will be in everyone's mouth.

[89] penitent.

[90] lap.

[91] bless.

[92] do reverence, bow.

[93] wreak, avenge.

[94] chain.

[95] toil.

[96] desires.

[97] seems good to her.

[98] glitters.

[99] _i. e._ as my brains tell me.

[100] simply by nature.

[101] _i. e._ an unpropitious conjunction of planets.

[102] _i. e._ change of disposition.

[103] Wallacia.

[104] Possibly this refers to the sea of sand and pebbles mentioned by Sir
John Mandeville in his _Travels_. To go bareheaded was considered a great
hardship.

[105] Probably the dangerous gulf of Quarnaro in the Adriatic.

[106] hear tell.

[107] Where there was likely to be foolish behaviour.

[108]

  Let them be bread of pure wheat-flour,
  And let us wives be called barley-bread.

[109] burned.

[110]

  With scrips cramful of lies
  Intermixed with news.

[111] _bel ami_, fair friend.

[112] jests.

[113] ribaldry.

[114] learn.

[115] take trouble to speak loudly.

[116] _i. e._ I have all my sermon by heart.

[117] Wherewith to colour my sermon.

[118] If their souls go blackberrying, _i. e._ I do not care where they
go.

[119] _i. e._ curate of the parish.

[120] practised folly.

[121] kill.

[122] bees.

[123] And made guesses according to their fancy.

[124] The horse of Sinon the Greek.

[125] plot.

[126] whispered.

[127] ignorant.

[128] staff.

[129] ducks.

[130] kill.

[131] flew.

[132]

  Groweth seed and bloweth mead
  And springeth the wood now--
        Sing cuckoo.

[133] goes.

[134] steady pace.

[135] maid.

[136] together.

[137] fall quickly from the linden tree.

[138] What need is there to tell of their array?

[139] _i. e._ Let us pay no attention to their greetings.

[140] fell to hunting.

[141] hot-foot.

[142] notes on the horn.

[143] roused itself.

[144] together.

[145] thrust.

[146] grave.

[147] size.

[148] Or looked well.

[149] Why should I be tedious.

[150] condition.

[151] bright.

[152] That steamed like a furnace of lead.

[153] condition.

[154] slim.

[155] girdle.

[156] apron.

[157] strings of her white cap.

[158] matched her collar.

[159] enticing eye.

[160] her eyebrows were fine.

[161] And they were arched, and black as any sloe.

[162] A kind of early pear.

[163] studded with brass.

[164] puppet.

[165] brisk.

[166] a sweet drink.

[167] mead.

[168] To have more flowers than the seven stars in the sky.

[169] This refers to the common practice of paying a poor and often
illiterate priest to take charge of a parish while the vicar went to
London and earned a handsome and easy livelihood by saying masses for the
repose of the souls of those who had left rich relatives.

[170] He was loth to excommunicate those whose tithe was in arrears.

[171] _i. e._ sow tares in our wheat.

[172] chorister.

[173] know.

[174] God grant that we may meet.

[175] Was eaten by the lion ere he could escape.

[176] slain.

[177] drowning.

[178] doctors.

[179] temperament.

[180] gluttony.

[181] dreamers.

[182] fiend.

[183] died and rose.

[184] wholly.

[185] servants.

[186] fairs.

[187] market.

[188] breaketh down my barn door.

[189] I scarcely dare look round, on account of him.

[190] tipped.

[191] guild-hall.

[192] daïs.

[193] suitable.

[194] Service held on the vigils of Saints' Days.

[195] The name Langland is used for convenience sake, to denote the
author, or authors of _Piers Plowman_.

[196] his own labour.

[197] unstable.

[198] chatter.

[199] dear at a Jane, _i. e._ a small Genoese coin.

[200] Your judgment is false, your constancy proves evil.

[201] _i. e._ one who farms taxes.

[202] pierced and cut into points.

[203] in secret and openly.

[204] birth.

[205] do not care a farthing.

[206] fetched.

[207] known.

[208] known.

[209] Entered were into religion, _i. e._ were placed in a monastery.

[210] Simple is my mind, and little my learning.

[211] repay.

[212] revengeful cruelty.

[213] isle.

[214] twigs.

[215] stanza.

[216] precious.

[217] neck.

[218] gore.

[219] perfect.

[220] grey stones.

[221] bees.

[222] float.

[223] tree-tops.

[224] buds.

[225] drops clear as beryl.

[226] flower of all rhetoricians.

[227] poets.

[228] proved.



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_56. THE MAKING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT_

By Prof. B. W. BACON, LL.D., D.D. "Professor Bacon has boldly, and wisely,
taken his own line, and has produced, as a result, an extraordinarily
vivid, stimulating, and lucid book."--_Manchester Guardian._

_60. MISSIONS: THEIR RISE and DEVELOPMENT_

By Mrs CREIGHTON. "Very interestingly done.... Its style is simple,
direct, unhackneyed, and should find appreciation where a more fervently
pious style of writing repels."--_Methodist Recorder._

_68. COMPARATIVE RELIGION_

By Prof. J. ESTLIN CARPENTER, D.Litt., Principal of Manchester College,
Oxford. "Puts into the reader's hand a wealth of learning and independent
thought."--_Christian World._

_74. A HISTORY OF FREEDOM OF THOUGHT_

By J. B. BURY, Litt.D., LL.D., Regius Professor of Modern History at
Cambridge. "A little masterpiece, which every thinking man will
enjoy."--_The Observer._

_84. LITERATURE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT_

By Prof. GEORGE MOORE, D.D., LL.D., of Harvard. A detailed examination of
the books of the Old Testament in the light of the most recent research.


_Social Science_

_1. PARLIAMENT_

Its History, Constitution, and Practice. By Sir COURTENAY P. ILBERT,
G.C.B., K.C.S.I., Clerk of the House of Commons. "The best book on the
history and practice of the House of Commons since Bagehot's
'Constitution.'"--_Yorkshire Post._

_5. THE STOCK EXCHANGE_

By F. W. HIRST, Editor of "The Economist." "To an unfinancial mind must be
a revelation.... The book is as clear, vigorous, and sane as Bagehot's
'Lombard Street,' than which there is no higher compliment."--_Morning
Leader._

_6. IRISH NATIONALITY_

By Mrs J. R. GREEN. "As glowing as it is learned. No book could be more
timely."--_Daily News._

_10. THE SOCIALIST MOVEMENT_

By J. RAMSAY MACDONALD, M.P. "Admirably adapted for the purpose of
exposition."--_The Times._

_11. CONSERVATISM_

By LORD HUGH CECIL, M.A., M.P. "One of those great little books which
seldom appear more than once in a generation."--_Morning Post._

_16. THE SCIENCE OF WEALTH_

By J. A. HOBSON, M.A. "Mr J. A. Hobson holds an unique position among
living economists.... Original, reasonable, and illuminating."--_The
Nation._

_21. LIBERALISM_

By L. T. HOBHOUSE, M.A., Professor of Sociology in the University of
London. "A book of rare quality.... We have nothing but praise for the
rapid and masterly summaries of the arguments from first principles which
form a large part of this book."--_Westminster Gazette._

_24. THE EVOLUTION OF INDUSTRY_

By D. H. MACGREGOR, M.A., Professor of Political Economy in the University
of Leeds. "A volume so dispassionate in terms may be read with profit by
all interested in the present state of unrest."--_Aberdeen Journal._

_26. AGRICULTURE_

By Prof. W. SOMERVILLE, F.L.S. "It makes the results of laboratory work
at the University accessible to the practical farmer."--_Athenæum._

_30. ELEMENTS OF ENGLISH LAW_

By W. M. GELDART, M.A., B.C.L., Vinerian Professor of English Law at
Oxford. "Contains a very clear account of the elementary principles
underlying the rules of English Law."--_Scots Law Times._

_38. THE SCHOOL: An Introduction to the Study of Education._

By J. J. FINDLAY, M.A., Ph.D., Professor of Education in Manchester
University. "An amazingly comprehensive volume.... It is a remarkable
performance, distinguished in its crisp, striking phraseology as well as
its inclusiveness of subject-matter."--_Morning Post._

_59. ELEMENTS OF POLITICAL ECONOMY_

By S. J. CHAPMAN, M.A., Professor of Political Economy in Manchester
University. "Its importance is not to be measured by its price. Probably
the best recent critical exposition of the analytical method in economic
science."--_Glasgow Herald._

_69. THE NEWSPAPER_

By G. BINNEY DIBBLEE, M.A. (Illustrated.) The best account extant of the
organisation of the newspaper press, at home and abroad.

_77. SHELLEY, GODWIN, AND THEIR CIRCLE_

By H. N. BRAILSFORD, M.A. "Mr Brailsford sketches vividly the influence of
the French Revolution on Shelley's and Godwin's England; and the charm and
strength of his style make his book an authentic contribution to
literature."--_The Bookman._

_80. CO-PARTNERSHIP AND PROFIT-SHARING_

By ANEURIN WILLIAMS, M.A.--"A judicious but enthusiastic history, with
much interesting speculation on the future of Co-partnership."--_Christian
World._

_81. PROBLEMS OF VILLAGE LIFE_

By E. N. BENNETT, M.A. Discusses the leading aspects of the British land
problem, including housing, small holdings, rural credit, and the minimum
wage.

_83. COMMON-SENSE IN LAW_

By Prof. P. VINOGRADOFF, D.C.L.

_85. UNEMPLOYMENT_ By Prof. A. C. PIGOU, M.A.


IN PREPARATION

  _ANCIENT EGYPT._ By F. LL. GRIFFITH, M.A.
  _THE ANCIENT EAST._ By D. G. HOGARTH, M.A., F.B.A.
  _A SHORT HISTORY OF EUROPE._ By HERBERT FISHER, LL.D.
  _THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE._ By NORMAN H. BAYNES.
  _THE REFORMATION._ By President LINDSAY, LL.D.
  _A SHORT HISTORY OF RUSSIA._ By Prof. MILYOUKOV.
  _MODERN TURKEY._ By D. G. HOGARTH, M.A.
  _FRANCE OF TO-DAY._ By ALBERT THOMAS.
  _HISTORY OF SCOTLAND._ By Prof. R. S. RAIT, M.A.
  _LATIN AMERICA._ By Prof. W. R. SHEPHERD.
  _HISTORY AND LITERATURE OF SPAIN._ By J. FITZMAURICE-KELLY, F.B.A.,
      Litt.D.
  _LATIN LITERATURE._ By Prof. J. S. PHILLIMORE.
  _THE RENAISSANCE._ By Miss EDITH SICHEL.
  _ITALIAN ART OF THE RENAISSANCE._ By ROGER E. FRY.
  _LITERARY TASTE._ By THOMAS SECCOMBE.
  _CHAUCER AND HIS TIME._ By Miss G. E. HADOW.
  _WILLIAM MORRIS AND HIS CIRCLE._ By A. CLUTTON BROCK.
  _SCANDINAVIAN HISTORY & LITERATURE._ By T. C. SNOW.
  _THE MINERAL WORLD._ By Sir T. H. HOLLAND, K.C.I.E., D.Sc.
  _SEX._ By Prof. J. A. THOMSON and Prof. PATRICK GEDDES.
  _THE GROWTH OF EUROPE._ By Prof. GRENVILLE COLE.
  _BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS._ By Canon R. H. CHARLES, D.D.
  _A HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY._ By CLEMENT WEBB, M.A.
  _POLITICAL THOUGHT IN ENGLAND: From Bacon to Locke._ By G. P. GOOCH, M.A.
  _POLITICAL THOUGHT IN ENGLAND: From Bentham to J. S. Mill._ By Prof.
      W. L. DAVIDSON.
  _POLITICAL THOUGHT IN ENGLAND: From Herbert Spencer to To-day._ By
      ERNEST BARKER, M.A.
  _THE CRIMINAL AND THE COMMUNITY._ By Viscount ST. CYRES.
  _THE CIVIL SERVICE._ By GRAHAM WALLAS, M.A.
  _THE SOCIAL SETTLEMENT._ By JANE ADDAMS and R. A. WOODS.
  _GREAT INVENTIONS._ By Prof. J. L. MYRES, M.A., F.S.A.
  _TOWN PLANNING._ By RAYMOND UNWIN.


London: WILLIAMS AND NORGATE

_And of all Bookshops and Bookstalls._



Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

Punctuation has been corrected without note.

The following misprints have been corrected:
  "introduce" corrected to "introduced" (page 39)
  "n" corrected to "in" (page 56)
  "onw" corrected to "own" (page 81)
  "ess" corrected to "less" (pag 133)
  "booksihness" corrected to "bookishness" (page 139)
  "Bulwer Lytton" corrected to "Bulwer-Lytton" (page 252)
  "mong" corrected to "among" (page 252)
  "Anclida" corrected to "Anelida" (index)

Other than the corrections listed above, inconsistencies in spelling and
hyphenation have been retained from the original.





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