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knitted them together was very simple and likely to please English people. The holiday excursions of the time were the pilgrimages, and the most famous and the pleasantest pilgrimage to go, especially for Londoners, was the three or four days' journey to see the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury. Persons of all ranks in life met and travelled together, starting from a London inn. Chaucer seized on this as the frame in which to set his pictures of life. He grouped around the jovial host of the Tabard Inn men and women of every class of society in England, set them on horseback to ride to Canterbury, and made each of them tell a tale.
No one could hit off a character better, and in his Prologue, and in the prologues to the several Tales, the whole of the new, vigorous English society which had grown up since Edward I. is painted with astonishing vividness. I see all the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales,' says Dryden, their humors, their
, features, and the very dress as distinctly as if I had supped with them at the Tabard in Southwark.' The Tales themselves take in the whole range of the poetry of the middle ages—the legend of the saint, the romance of the knight, the wonderful fables of the traveller, the coarse tale of common life, the love story, the allegory, the satirical lay, and the apologue. And they are pure tales. He has been said to have had dramatic power, but he has none. He is simply the greatest English story-teller in verse. All the best tales are told easily, sincerely, with great grace, and yet with so much homeliness that a child can understand them. Sometimes his humor is broad, sometimes sly, sometimes gay, sometimes he brings tears into our eyes, and he can make us smile or be sad as he pleases.
He had a very fine ear for the music of verse, and the tale and the verse go together like voice and music. Indeed, so softly flowing and bright are they that to read them is like listening in a meadow full of sunshine to a clear stream rippling over its bed of pebbles. The English in which they are written is almost the English of our time; and it is literary
English. Chaucer made our tongue into a true means of poetry. He did more, he welded together the French and English elements in the language and made them into one English tool for the use of literature, and all prose writers and poets in English since his day derive their tongue from the language of the Canterbury Tales. They give him honor for this, but still more for that he was the first English artist. Poetry is an art, and the artist in poetry is one who writes for pure pleasure, and for nothing else, and who desires to give to others the same fine pleasure by his poems which he had in writing them. The thing he most cares about is that the form in which he puts his thoughts or feel. ings may be perfectly fitting to the subject, and as beautiful as possible—but for this he cares very greatly; and in this Chaucer stands apart from the other poets of his time. Gower wrote with a moral object, and nothing can be duller than the form in which he puts his tales. The author of Piers the Plowman wrote with the object of reform in social and ecclesiastical affairs, and his form is uncouth and harsh. Chaucer wrote because he was full of emotion and joy in his own thoughts, and thought that others would weep and be glad with him, and the only time he ever moralizes is in the tales of the Yeoman and the Manciple. He has, then, the best right to the poet's nanie. He is the first English artist."
“ The English writers of the fourteenth century had an advantage which was altogether peculiar to their age and country. At all previous periods, the two languages had co-existed, in a great degree independently of each other, with little tendency to intermix; but in the earlier part of that century, they began to coalesce, and this process was going on with a rapidity that threatened a predominance of the French, if not a total extinction of the Saxon element. That the syntax should be English national feeling demanded; but French was so familiar and habitual to all who were able to read that probably the scholarship of the day would scarcely have been able to determine, with respect to a large proportion of the words in common use, from which of the two great wells of speech they had proceeded.
Happily, a great arbiter arose at the critical moment to determine what share of the contributions of France should be permanently annexed to the linguistic inheritance of Englishmen. Chaucer did not introduce into our language words which it had rejected as aliens before, but out of those which had been already received he invested the better portion with the rights of citizenship, and stamped them with the mint-mark of English coinage. In this way he formed a vocabulary which, with few exceptions, the taste of succeeding generations has approved. He is eminently the creator of our literary dialect, the introducer, if not the inventor, of some of our finest poetical forms; and so essential were his labors in the founding of our national literature that, without Chaucer, the seventeenth century could have produced no Milton, the nineteenth no Keats.”—Geo. P. Marsh.
Chaucer was the first great poet who really loved outward nature as the source of conscious pleasurable emotion. Chaucer took a true delight in the new green of the leaves and the return of singing birds-a delight as simple as that of Robin Hood. He has never so much as heard of the 'burthen and the mystery of all this unintelligible world.' He himself sings more like a bird than any other poet, because it never occurred to him that he ought to do so. He pours himself out in sincere joy and thankfulness. The pleasure which Chaucer takes in telling his stories has in itself the effect of consummate skill, and makes us follow all the windings of his fancy with sympathetic interest. His best tales run on like one of our inland rivers, sometimes hastening a little and turning upon itself in eddies that dimple, without retarding, the current; sometimes loitering smoothly, while here and there a quiet thought, a tender feeling, a pleasant image, or a golden hearted verse opens quietly as a water-lily, to float on the surface without breaking it into ripple.
But it is in his characters, especially, that his manner is large and free; for he is painting history, though with the fidelity of portrait. He brings out strongly the essential traits characteristic of the genius rather than of the individual. The Merchant who keeps so steady a counte nance that “There wist no wight that he was e'er in debt,' the Sergeant at Law, who seemed busier than he was,' the Doctor of Medicine whose 'study was but little on the Bible’-in all these cases it is the type and not the personage that fixes the atte In his outside accessories, it is true he sometimes seems as minute as if he were illuminating a missal. Nothing escapes his eye for the picturesque—the cut of the beard, the soil of armor on the buff jerkin, the rust on the sword, the expression of the eye. But in this he has an artistic purpose. It is here that he individualizes, and, while every touch harmonizes with and seems to complete the moral features of the character, makes us feel that we are among living men and not the abstracted images of men.”—J. R. Lowell.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. CHAUCER.—Chaucer Society's Publications ; Clar. Press Ed. of Canterbury Tales ; Prof. Lounsbury's Parlament of Foules ; English Men of Letters Series; Minto's Characteristics of Eng. Poets ; J. R. Lowell's My Study Windows ; Ward's Anthology ; Ecl. Mag., 1849, and Dec., 1866; Fort. Rev., v. 6, 1866; Quar. Rev., Jan., 1873; West. Rev., Oct, 1871.
A Clerk14 ther was of Oxenford 15 also,
That unto logik hadde longe i-go.ie * Syllables containing e with a diæresis (ë) are to be pronounced in reading and scanning
1 It chanced. ? An inn in Southwark. 3 Full. 4 Fallen by chance. 5 Entertained in the best manner. 6 Them, everyone.
7 Their. 8 Agreement. 9 Nevertheless. 10 Ere.
11 Pass on. 12 Who. 13 Rank. 14 Student. 15 Oxford. 16 Had long given himself—i a prefix used to indicate the past participle, the ge of the A.S. and the German, and the y in yclept and ychained.
As lenë was his hors as is a rake,
A good man was ther of religioun,
He cowde in litel thing han suffisaunce. 1H llow. 2 Also.
3 Uppermost short cloak. 4 Secular calling. 5 Rather. 6 Fiddle. Harp. 8 Although-philosophers were thought to be able to transmute the baser metals into gold. 9 Get. 10 Attend school. 11 Care. 12 Meaning. 13 Tending to. 14 Parson, priest. 15 Parishioners. 16 Often-times. 17 Excommunicate for failing to pay what was due him. 18 Contributions from his people.