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with a sailor's usual style; the prioress, with the precision of a nun, finding herself in a somewhat mixed and secular society, and with her amiable affectation of both in the pronunciation of her French and the fashions at the table, and yet withal a natural placidity shining through her assumed stateliness. In the descriptions of the sergeant-at-law and the doctor of physic, Chaucer's skill in bringing out a characteristic trait in a very few words is especially conspicuous. Of the lawyer, it is said,—
"Discreet he was, and of great reverence;
With a memory stored with judicial decisions and the statutes of the realm, he is portrayed as the busiest of mortals; and then it is added, with that quiet humour which is for ever jetting out of Chaucer's pages,
"And yet he seeméd busier than he was.”
The doctor of physic is described as deep-versed in surgery, and in the natural magic and astrology which made so large a part of the medical practice of the Middle Ages:
"Anon he gave to the sick men his (help);
To send him drugges and his lettuaries.
For, eche of them made other for to winne,
The satire stops not with this allusion to the doctor and apothecary playing into each other's hands; for, after an imposing list of his medical authorities, one expressive line informs us that
"His study was but little on the Bible;"
a reproach on the medical profession, the justice of which I shall not assume to discuss. Sufficient is it for my purpose, in commenting on Chaucer's powers of satire, to remark that it is a reproach at one time so current that it called forth a vindication in that curious treatise, the Religio Medici of Sir Thomas Brown. The same subject, with a suggestion of the cause, is also alluded to by one of the dramatic poets of a subsequent age;—
"I have heard,-how true
I know not,-most physicians, as they grow
The most exquisitely-drawn character-most pleasing in its simplicity and grace-is that of the clergyman. I can quote no better specimen of Chaucer's descriptive style, prefacing it with a remark which may give additional interest to the passage, that it has been conjectured that the poet had the original of the portrait in his friend, the pious rector of Lutterworth, the first of the great Reformers, John Wiclif. It has also been supposed that Dryden applied his imitation of the passage to the pious Bishop Ken; and one of the commentators suggests that Goldsmith cast his eye on Chaucer's engaging description, and accordingly transferred a trait or two of the clerical character in its brighter view to the preacher in his "Deserted Village.”
THE VILLAGE CLERGYMAN.
"A good man there was of religioun,
But rich he was of holy thought and work;
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,
Wide was his parish and houses far asunder,
But he ne left nought for no rain nor thunder,
The farthest in his parish.
He sette not his benefice to hire,
And left his sheep, accumbred in the mire,
Or with a brotherhood to be withold,
Among the pilgrims going to Canterbury, and thus chance-collected at the inn at Southwark, it is agreed, at the suggestion of their host,
that, for mutual amusement, each one shall tell at least one tale in going and another on their return from Canterbury. This is the fable of the poem, in the execution of which it was contemplated by the author to connect the narratives by appropriate introductions and by episodes prompted by the incidents of the pilgrimage. It would carry me beyond my limits to enter upon anything like a critical analysis of this series of twenty-three narrative poems, which are finely introduced by the 'Knight's Tale,”—the tragic story of Palamon and Arcite. The framework of the tales is, in most, if not in every instance, borrowed from older poets, especially those of Italy; but this was a process which, as with Shakspeare, still left ample scope for originality. The mention of the great dramatic poet reminds me of another important resemblance between the constitution of his mind and Chaucer's. I mean that possession, in equal congeniality, of tragic and comic powers, which is one of the signs of the highest order of human genius. The most intelligent editor of the "Canterbury Tales," Mr. Tyrwhitt, has noticed, as a great difference, that in the serious pieces Chaucer often follows the author he borrows from with the servility of a mere translator; whereas, in the comic, he is generally satisfied with borrowing a slight hint of his subject, which he varies, enlarges, and embellishes at pleasure, and gives the whole the air and colour of an original,—a sign that his genius rather led him to compositions of the latter kind. It appears to me, however, that the admirable pathos which is so often to be met with on his pages may well impair somewhat the confidence of this opinion; and I cannot but feel that it is difficult, if not impossible, to pronounce whether the natural bent of his genius was to tragedy or comedy. Whichever opinion may be adopted, it would, indeed, be a wrong, because a partial judgment; for there is an order of imaginations, to which Chaucer's belongs, which is comprehensive of the whole range of human emotions, having at command alike both tears and smiles. How vain, for instance, and how shallow, would be the criticism which would seek to decide whether the characteristic power of the mind which 'created Hamlet and which created Falstaff was either tragic or comic, instead of a larger energy inclusive of them both! It is indeed true that there pervades the writings of Chaucer a hearty and manly cheerfulness, so easy and unaffected that it suggests the thought rather of a joyous temperament than the meditative cast of mind for which he was distinguished. It is impossible to read his poetry without being impressed with a sense of his deep insight into human nature, and, besides that, his strong and well-disciplined judgment and good, plain, practical common sense. And here let me take occasion to say that I hold that
habit of plain philosophy-the power of looking at things aright-to be a trait of true genius. In the course of these lectures I shall be able-I know that I shall be able-to show you that the freaks and caprices of the intellect, perverse notions, and morbid, distempered feelings belong to the secondary order of mind, and that it is a miserable fallacy which ascribes them to genius of the first rank. I shall have occasion to deal with the productions of spirits as glorious as any that have adorned the annals of the human mind, and from them prove that the reproach of the wrong head or the wrong heart is falsely cast upon true genius. The good sense I have spoken of as a trait of Chaucer's character is finely exhibited in the course of the tale told by the Oxford Student, the story of the patient Grisilda,—that pattern of woman's endurance, a wife chosen from humble life by a noble husband, who is led by a strange fancy to subject her patience to trials the severest his ingenuity could devise to wound a wife's and a mother's heart. The poet gives the narrative as if his own patience could ill brook the heartless trifling with the heroine :
"He had assayed her enough before,
And found her ever good. What needeth it
T' assay a wife when that there is no need,
An officer is sent to tear her child from the mother's arms and to take
it away to death. After the silence of her first amazement,
"But at last to speaken she began,
And meekly she to the sergeant pray'd,
That she might kiss her child ere that it died.
Thy soulé, little child, I him betake;
For this night shalt thou dien for my sake.'"
The tone of Chaucer toward woman is the thoughtful deference of a Christian gentleman, or, to use a term perhaps more appropriate to the age in which he flourished, a Christian knight,—a spirit as remote on
the one hand from flippant contempt as on the other from vapid and sentimental adoration. In the tale I have just quoted from, he adds,—
"Men speak of Job, and most for his humbless;
The writings of Chaucer have an interest in connection with ecclesiastical history; for, abounding as they do in keen and earnest satire of clerical and monastic abuses, they have truly been reckoned among the means by which popular sentiment was animated and prepared for the great change of the Reformation. The celebrated John Fox, the martyrologist, expressed surprise that they were suffered to elude ecclesiastical censorship, whose severity was spent on many less influential productions. Not to such abuses was the satire of Chaucer confined; and it is a proof of the vigour of his mind that in one of the Canterbury Tales," apparently prompted by a sudden indignation, he has turned the light of his genius upon the grand delusion of the Middle Ages,—the search for the philosopher's stone. The tale is a curious and elaborate representation of the sleights of alchemy, written no doubt for the purpose of rescuing the simple-minded from falling victims to vain hopes of their own and the artful impositions of others. It is conceived in a most vivid detestation of the folly and falsehood; and, with other manifestations of the same spirit, shows how largely this old poet shared that one prime element of a poet's heart,—the love of truth.
There is an important question as to the influence of Chaucer's poems on the English language. On this point, opinions the most opposite have been sustained. On the one hand, by an early etymologist he has been condemned as its chief corrupter; as having brought into the language, in the strong phrase of the writer, "cart-loads of Norman words,' -a reproach which has been repeated by many later authors; on the other hand, it is to this same Chaucer was applied the phrase so often quoted in ignorance alike of its authorship and of its application," the well of English undefiled." This tribute to his illustrious predecessor in verse was from the poet Spenser. The full examination of this subject would involve details not suited to the occasion. The Saxon and Norman languages, or, to describe them by other names, the English and French, were not then