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guage in which all future English literature had to be written. It had been growing up in Robert of Brunne's work, and in the Romance of King Alexander; but it was fixed into clear form by Chaucer and Gower. It was, in fact, the English language talked in the Court and in the Court society to which these poets belonged. It was the King's English, and the fact that it was the tongue of the best and most cultivated society, as well as the great excellence of the works written in it by these poets made it at once the tongue of literature."
BIBLIOGRAPHY. WYCLIF.-F. Myers' Lectures; R. Vaughan's Life and Opinions of; W. Hanna's Wyclif and the Huguenots; N. Br. Rev., v. 20, 1853–4; Quar. Rev., v. 104, 1858; West. Rev., v. 62, 1854; Green's Hist. England, and other histories of Eng.
LESSON 10. CHAUCER. HIS FRENCH PERIOD.—“ GEOFFREY CHAUCER was the son of a vintner, of Thames Street, London, and was born, it is now believed, in 1340. He lived almost all his life in London, in the centre of its work and society. When he was sixteen, he became page to the wife of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and continued at the Court till he joined the army in France in 1359, He was taken prisoner, but was ransomed before the treaty of Bretigny in 1360. We then know nothing of his life for six years; but, from items in the Exchequer Rolls, we find that he was again connected with the Court from 1366 to 1372. It was during this time that he began to write. His first poem may have been the A, B, C, a prayer Englished from the French at the request of the Duchess Blanche. The translation of the Romaunt of the Rose has been attributed to him, but the best critics are doubtful of, or deny, his authorship of it. They are sure of only two poems, the Compleynte to Pity in 1368, and in the next year the Dethe of Blaunche the Duchesse, whose husband, John of Gaunt, was Chaucer's patron. These, written under the influence of French poetry, are classed under the name of Chaucer's first period. There are lines in them which seem
to speak of a luckless love affair, and in this broken love it has been supposed that we find the key to Chaucer's early life.
CHAUCER'S ITALIAN PERIOD.—Chaucer's second poetic period may be called the period of Italian influence, from 1372 to 1384. During these years he went for the king on no less than seven diplomatic missions. Three of these, in 1372, 74, and '78, were to Italy. At that time the great Italian literature which inspired then, and still inspires, European literature, had reached full growth, and it opened to Chaucer a new world of art. If he read the Vita Nuova, and the Divina Commedia of Dante, he knew for the first time the power and range of poetry. He read the Sonnets of Petrarca, and he learnt what is meant by 'form' in poetry. He read the tales of Boccaccio, who made Italian prose, and in them he first saw how to tell a story exquisitely. Petrarca and Boccaccio he may even have met, for they died in 1374 and 1375, but he never saw Dante, who died at Ravenna in 1321. When he came back from these journeys, he was a
He threw aside the romantic poetry of France, and laughed at it in his gay and kindly manner in the Rime of Sir Thopas, afterwards made one of the Canterbury Tales.
His chief work of this time bears witness to the influence of Italy. It was Troylus and Creseide, 1382 (?), which is a translation, with many changes and additions, of the Filostrato of Boccaccio. The additions (and he nearly doubled the poem) are stamped with his own peculiar tenderness, vividness, and simplicity. His changes from the original are all towards the side of purity, good taste, and piety. We meet the further influence of Boccaccio in the birth of some of the Canterbury Tales, and of Petrarca in the Tales themselves. To this time is now referred the tale of the Second Nun, that of the Doctor, the Man of Law, the Clerk, the Prioress, the Squire, the Franklin, Sir Thopas, and the first draft of the Knight's Tale, borrowed, with much freedom, from the Teseide of Boccaccio.
The other poems of this period were the Parlament of Foules, the Compleynt of Mars, Anelida and Arcite, Boece, and the Former Age, all between 1374 and '76, the Lines to Adam Scrivener, 1383, and the Hous of Fame, 1384 (?). In the passion with which Chaucer describes the ruined love of Troilus and Anelida, some have traced the lingering sorrow of his early love affair. But if this be true, it was now passing away, for, in the creation of Pandarus in the Troilus and in the delightful fun of the Parlament of Foules, a new Chaucer appears, the humorous poet of the Canterbury Tales. In the active business life he led during this period, he was likely to grow out of mere sentiment, for he was not only employed on service abroad but also at home. In 1374 he was Comptroller of the Wool Customs, in 1382 of the Petty Customs, and in 1386 Member of Parliament for Kent.
CHAUCER'S ENGLISH PERIOD.—It is in the next period, from 1384 to 1390, that he left behind Italian influence as he had left French, and became entirely himself, entirely English. The comparative poverty in which he now lived, and the loss of his offices, for in John of Gaunt's absence he lost Court favor, may have given him more time for study and the retired life of a poet. At least in his Legende of Good Women, the prologue to which was written in 1385, we find him a closer student than ever of books and of nature. His appointment as Clerk of the Works in 1389 brought him again into contact with men. He superintended the repairs and building at the Palace of Westminster, the Tower, and St. George's Chapel, Windsor, till July, 1391, when he was superseded, and lived on pensions allotted to him by Richard and by Henry IV., after he had sent the King in 1399 his Compleint to his Purse. Before 1390, however, he had added to his great work the tales of the Miller, the Reeve, the Cook, the Wife of Bath, the Merchant, the Friar, the Nun's Priest, the Pardoner, and perhaps the Sompnour. The Prologue was probably written in 1388. In the humor of these, in their vividness of portraiture, in their ease of narration, and in the variety of their characters, Chaucer shines supreme. A few smaller poems belong to this best time, such as Truth and the Moder of God.
During his last ten years, he wrote some small poems, and along with the Compleynte of Venus and a prose treatise on the Astrolabe, four more tales, the Canon’s-yeoman's, the Manciple's, the Monk's, and the Parsone's. The last was written the year of his death, 1400. Having done this work, he died in a house under the shadow of the Abbey of Westminster. Within the walls of the Abbey Church, the first of the poets who lie there, that'sacred and happy spirit’sleeps.
CHAUCER'S CHARACTER.—Born of the tradesman class, Chaucer was in every sense of the word one of the finest of gentlemen: tender, graceful in thought, glad of heart, humorous, and satirical without unkindness; sensitive to every change of feeling in himself and others, and therefore full of sympathy; brave in misfortune, even to mirth, and doing well and with careful honesty all he undertook. His first and great delight was in human nature, and he makes us love the noble characters in his poems and feel with kindliness towards the baser and ruder sort. He never sneers, for he had a wide charity, and we can always smile in his pages at the follies and forgive the sins of men. He had a true and chivalrous regard for women, and his wife and he must have been very happy if they fulfilled the ideal he had of marriage. He lived in aristocratic society, and yet he thought him the greatest gentleman who was 'most vertuous alway, privé, and pert (open), and most entendeth aye to do the gentil dedës that he can.' He lived frankly among men, and, as we have seen, saw many different types of men, and in his own time filled many parts as a man of the world and of business.
Yet, with all this active and observant life, he was commonly very quiet and kept much to himself. The Host in the Tales japes at him for his lonely, abstracted air. Thou lookest as thou wouldest find a hare, And ever on the ground I see thee stare.' Being a good scholar, he read morning and night alone, and he says that after his (office) work he would go home and sit at another book as dumb as a stone, till his look was dazed. While at study and when he was making of songs and ditties, nothing else that God had made’ had any interest for him. There was but one thing that roused him then, and that too he liked to enjoy alone. It was the beauty of the morning, and the fields, the woods, and streams, and flowers, and the singing of the little birds. This made his heart full of revel and solace, and, when spring came after winter, he rose with the lark and cried, “Farewell my book and my devotion. He was the first who made the love of nature a distinct element in English poetry. He was the first who, in spending the whole day gazing alone on the daisy, set going that lonely delight in natural scenery which is so special a mark of the later poets. He lived thus a double life, in and out of the world, but never a gloomy
For he was fond of mirth and good-living, and, when he grew towards age, was portly of waist, 'no poppet to embrace.' But he kept to the end his elvish countenance, the shy, delicate, half-mischievous face which looked on men from its grey hair and forked beard, and was set off by his dark-colored dress and hood. A knife and an inkhorn hung on his dress, we see a rosary in his hand, and, when he was alone, he walked swiftly.
THE CANTERBURY TALES. — Of his work it is not easy to speak briefly, because of its great variety. Enough has been said of it, with the exception of his most complete creation, the Canterbury Tales. It will be seen from the dates given above that they were not written at one time. They are not and cannot be looked on as a whole. Many were written independently, and then fitted into the framework of the Prol
At that time a number more were written, and the rest added at intervals till his death. In fact, the whole thing was done much in the same way as Mr. Tennyson has written his Idylls of the King. The manner in which he
ogue in 1388.