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ence of that master there can be no I may be believed, to his own sound judgdoubt, though perhaps it has not been, ment- that he never became in any way and is not, as adequately recognized and a satellite or retainer of the Court of acknowledged as it should be by Shake- James I., but escaped from the rapidly sperian critics and commentators. And degenerating atmosphere of the BlackMarlowe did not stand alone; he was one, friars and the Whitehall of the sevencertainly the most eminent one, of a group teenth century to his home at Stratford. whose starry lights it is not easy to see in Chaucer was not so fortunate. He was the intense brightness flowing from the attached to one of the most extravagant great sun that uprose amongst them; but and frivolous circles that ever gathered they were and are, of no faint brilliancy, round a monarch of a like description. so long as they had the firmament to However noble-natured, he could scarcely themselves, unsuffused by an overpower-| live in such company without some coning glory. But for Chaucer there were notamination. Assuredly his works have such predecessors at home or abroad. stains upon them contracted in that evil Naturally enough, it would seem that it air, much as Beaumont and Fletcher are was not till comparatively late in life that he fushed and spotted by the contagions of discovered the best vehicle of self-expres- James I.'s time. And with that Court sion. For many years his genius strug-connection it is impossible not to assogled for a fitting language. Like all ciate the extreme pecuniary difficulties, of poets, he began by imitating the models which there are only too manifest signs he found current. He dreamed dreams, at a certain period of Chaucer's life. and saw visions in the conventional Probably it was these piteous, but seemmode. He echoed whatever sweet ingly not inevitable or reproachless, dissounds reached his quick sensitive earstresses that impeded the completion of from any quarter. He translated, with a the “Canterbury Tales." The original quite touching humble-mindedness, re- design, indeed, is in itself too vast for ceived masterpieces of French and of realization. Chaucer commits the same Italian literature. Through all these la- error in this respect as Spenser does. bours his originality was gradually de- But it may well be believed that had veloping. For all his efforts his genius Chaucer matured his work, he would would not keep to the beaten path, but either have retrenched his plan, or by would perpetually strike out some new some device have brought its execution way for itself and forget the appointed within tolerable dimensions. The part route. At last he started altogether alone, that happily was written has evidently looking no longer for old footprints to re- not received the finishing touch. The trace or any established guide-posts. He Prologue itself, perhaps, was never finally discovered a fair wide country that had revised; in our opinion the “wel nyne lain untrodden for ages, over whose tracks and twenty in a companye,” of line 24,* the grass or the moss had grown, and requires correction, for the poet added to here he advanced as in some fresh new his pilgrims as his work proceeded ; in world :
| the case of the “ Persoun ” he deviates Parnassi deserta per ardua dulcis
from his programme in not telling us — Raptat amor; juvat ire jugis, qua nulla priorum "in what array that” he “was inne.” Castaliam molli devertitur orbita clivo.
Had the work been fully completed, espeChaucer's great work is but a noble cially had more of those Inter-prologues fragment. It seems certain that many been written, in which Chaucer's dramatic troubles beset the declining years of his
power more particularly displays itself, life. We think it may be doubted whether and the figures portrayed in the initial he was endowed with that excellent com- Prologue are with admirable skill shown mercial prudence which so eminently dis
in self-consistent action, being permitted tinguished Shakespeare. It was certainly a happy circumstance for Shakespeare -1 * For another solution of this difficulty see the Aldine a circumstance due in a great measure, it Chaucer, i. 209, ed. 1872.
to speak for themselves and develop their | the treasury is always overflowing, be. own natures, there can be little doubt cause all things bring them tribute. that the claims upon our admiration For skill in characterization who can would have been greatly multiplied. | be ranked between Chaucer and Shake
Chaucer then stands at a considerable speare ? Is there any work, except the disadvantage as compared with Shake-"theatre” of Shakespeare, that attempts, speare, both in respect of the dramatic with a success in any way comparable, appliances of his time and in respect of the astonishing task which Chaucer sets the works representative of his genius. himself ? He attempts to portray the enChaucer, as we have seen, found ready tire society of his age from the crown of to hand no literary form such as should its head to the sole of its foot -- from the worthily interpret his mind, and was knight, the topmost figure of mediæval many years searching before he found life, down to the ploughman and the one, and, when at last he found it, was cook; and the result is a gallery of lifesomewhat obstructed in the free use of like portraits, which has no parallel anyit by troubles and cares that divorced him where, with one exception, for variety, from his proper task. Moreover the truthfulness, humanity. These are no English of his day, though already a roughly drawn rudely featured outlines, copious and versatile tongue, was some- without expression and definiteness, only thing rude and inflexible in comparison recognizable by some impertinent symbol, with the Elizabethan language. In sev- or when we see the name attached, like eral passages it is clear that he is con- some collection of ancient kings or of scious of certain difficulties attendant on“ ancestors" where there prevails one the use of such an instrument. A true uniform vacuity of countenance, and, but instinct led him to choose English for for the costume or the legend, one cannot his service rather than French, which his distinguish the First of his house from less far-seeing contemporary Gower chose the Last. They are all drawn with an at least for his early piece, the “Specu- amazing discrimination and delicacy.* lum Meditantis," and for his “ Balades ; " There is nothing of caricature, but yet the but his choice exposed him to various individuality is perfect. That the same perplexities inseparable from the transi- pencil should have given us the Prioress tional condition of the object of it.
and the Wife of Bath, the Knight and the Fragmentary as his great work is, it is Sompnour, the Parson and the Pardoner! enough to show how consummate was his | These various beings, for beings they are, genius. Not more surely did that famous are as distinct to us now as when he who foot-print on the sands tell the lonely is- has made them immortal saw them move lander of Defoe's story of a human out through the gates of the “ Tabard," presence than Chaucer's remains assure a motley procession, nearly five hnndred us that a great poet was amongst us when years since. So far as merely external such pieces were produced.
matters go, the Society of the Middle We have said that his genius exhibits Ages is perpetuated with a minuteness a remarkable affinity to that of Shake- not approached elsewhere. We know speare - a closer affinity, we think, than exactly how it looked to the bodily eye. that of any other English poet. To Chaucer addresses himself deliberately to Chaucer belongs in a high measure what this exhaustive portrayal:marks Shakespeare supremely—a certain
But natheles whiles I have tyme and space, indefinable grace and brightness of style,
Or that I ferthere in this tale pace, an incomparable archness and vivacity,
Me thinketh it accordant to resoun an incessant elasticity and freshness, an
To telle yow alle the condicioun indescribable ease, a 'never faltering va Of cche of hem, so as it semed me, riety, an incapability of dulness. These And which they weren and of what degre, men "toil not, neither do they spin," at And eek in what array that they were inne. least so far as one can see. The mountain comes to them; they do not go to it. • Chaucer's sound taste shrunk altogether from every They wear their art “lightly, like a flow
form of caricature. His humor, boisterous enough
sometimes, at others wonderfully fine and delicate, is er." They never pant or stoop with always truthful. His " Tale of Sir Thopas" is one of
the best parodies in our language. He tells it with the
utmost possible gravity, looking as serious as Defoe or that never quit their thrones, with a world
Swift in their "driest" moments; and, only if you
watch well, can you detect a certain mischievous twintheir hands; the purple secms their kle in his eyes. Some worthy people, indeed, have not
detected this twinkle, and have soberly registered Sir proper wearing. They never cease to Topas amongst the legitimate heroes of chivalrous ro scatter their jewels for fear of poverty ; | mance.
Surely a quite unique programme ; and it notony. There is no flexibility of disposiis carried out with profound conscien- tion, no free play of nature. Moreover, tiousness and power.
This works exhibit too plainly the travail We ask, who among our poets, except and effort with which they were comShakespeare, shall be placed above posed. One seems to be taken into his Chaucer in this domain of art? In our workshop, and see him toiling and groanopinion there is not one of the Elizabeth- ing, and, in the very act of elaboration, ans that deserves that honour. There is shaping now this limb and now that. an endless variety of creative power, and The greatest master of characterization the offspring is according. Spenser is, of that age next to Shakespeare is cerin a way, a great creator; he fills the air tainly Massinger. Sir Giles Overreach around him with a population born of his and Luke are both real men. Luke is a own teeming fancy: but these children true piece of nature, not all black-souled, of Spenser are not human children, but nor all white, but of a mixed complexion. rather exquisite phantoms, with bodies, if But the area which Massinger could they may be called embodied, of no make his own was of limited dimensions. earthly tissue, mere delicate configura- | When he stepped across its limits, his tions of cloud and mist. They are very strength failed him, and he was even as ghosts, each one of whom pales and van other men. ishes if a cock crows, or any mortal sound To pass on in this necessarily rapid strikes their fine ears : —
survey to a later period. Goldsmith alone Ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
amongst our later poets has left us a porPár levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno.
trait that deserves to compare with one
by Chaucer. It is that ever-charming And yet, as man is made in the image of portrait of the Village Preacher, a not unGod, so certainly the creatures of the worthy pendant of the “ Parson.” He has poet should be made in the image of men. given us duplicates of it in prose in the There is no higher model to be aimed at.
persons of the Vicar of Wakefield and of Man is the culminating form of the world
the Man in Black. There is a tradition as we know it, or can know it. Spenser's that he
that he who sat to Chaucer for the Parson creatures may thrive in their native land was no other than Wiclif. It seems fairly of “Faerie ; ” but their “lungs cannot re-Icertain that Goldsmith's original was his ceive our air.” Something more existent own father. That was the one figure he and real are the lovely presences that owe could draw with the utmost skill, the their being to Beaumont and Fletcher
| deepest feeling. Since Goldsmith there Aspatia, Bellario, Ordella. Assuredly l has arisen in our literature no consummate Ordella is rich in sons and daughters such
portrait-painter in verse, unless an excepas she spoke of in that high dialogue with tion be made in favour of Browning. Thierry :
Scott's creative power did not come to He that reads me
him when he wrote in metre. Shelley's When I am ashes, is my son in wishes;
creations are of the Spenserian type — And those chaste dames that keep my memory, fair visions, refined immaterialities, Singing my yearly requiems, are my daughters.
Shapes that haunt Thought's wildernesses. But scarcely are she and that passing fair sisterhood of which she is one formed of Has Tennyson's Arthur human veins and human clay. They stand out from the pulses ? He lived and lives somewhat, crowd with whom they mix as shapes of perhaps, in that earliest of the Arthurian a celestial texture. One can only think books — the “Morte d'Arthur” - the supof them as white-robed sanctities. In posed relic of an Epic ; but in the later fact, they are the natural counterparts of treatments he has become more and more those grosser beings that are only too impalpable and airy. common in the plays of the authors who 1 With regard to Chaucer, as to Shakedrew them. A painter of devils inust speare, it has been disputed whether he now and then paint 'angels by way of is greater as a humorous or a pathetic relief. Perhaps it is not too much to say writer. It is a common observation that that all the characters of these writers are the gifts of humour and pathos are geneither above or below human nature. erally found together, a statement that, They cannot show us humanity without perhaps, requires some little qualification. some sort of exaggeration. Ben Jonson Ben Jonson, Addison, and Fielding, for has hardly succeeded better in this re- instance, are humorous without being spect. One grave defect in all his crea- pathetic; on the other hand, Richardson tions is what may be called their mo-l is pathetic and not humorous. Sterne's
pathos is a mere trick. Let those who that all pilgrimages were not as easy as please weep by the death-bed side of Le that one he sings of to Canterbury, that Fevre ; for our part we will not be so cheat was lightened with stories and jests; but ed of our tears. Sterne, in that famous that certain spirits must go on in darkscene, is nothing better than an exquisite ness and weariness, with aching limbs “mute” a masterpiece of mercenary and breaking hearts, through much tribmourning. One may see him, if one looks ulation. In both works, perhaps, surintently, arranging his pocket-handker- veyed from the purely ästhetic point of chief in effective folds, with one eye tear-view, there is an excess of woeful incistreaming, while the other watches that dent; the bitter cup which Constance all the proper maneuvres of woe are and Griselda have to drain seems too duly executed. Flet nec dolet. And large for mortal lips. In this regard we something of this is true of Dickens. In must remember that both these tales, the great masters of pathos our tears are though inserted into the grand work of not drawn from us ; they flow of them- Chaucer's maturity, yet were certainly selves. There is no design on the soft-written in his youth. The Man of Law, ness of our hearts, no insidious under- in his Prologue, gives us to understand mining, no painful and elaborate besiege- that the tale he proposes to narrate was ment. For writers to kill, merely to melt written by Chaucer, of whose writings he their readers with a scene of tender emo- speaks, both expressly and fully, in that tion, is unjustifiable manslaughter. There highly interesting and important passage is, in short, nothing to be said for those = “ of olde time.” A careful study of whose delight it is with malice afore- the “ Clerk's Tale" undoubtedly demonthought to spread a feast of woe and serve strates that it, too, was a previous proup little children, or any sweet human duction. In both cases, so far as the thing they can lay hands on, that their mere facts go, Chaucer closely follows his guests may enjoy the luxury of tears. authorities, much after the manner of These are the Herods of literature. Shakespeare. In the latter case the Shakespeare never slays or butchers after closeness - Petrarch's well-known letter this fashion. He would have saved Cor-to Boccaccio is the authority - is so delia if it had been in his power ; but it strict that Chaucer is compelled to speak was a moral necessity that she should die. for himself in an envoy at the conclusion. He could no more have kept alive and perhaps the most pathetic passage in blooming the fair flower of the field when Chaucer's later writings is in the evil winds blew than preserved that lovely“ Knight's Tale,” which also, however, was form from perishing amidst the wild pas- written before the noon of his genius. sions that Lear's sad error had let loose. This passage is, of course, the death of “ Sin entered into the world, and death | Arcite. The event is necessary. Arcite by sin ;” and this death falls not only on had been untrue to that solemnest of the the guilty. Goneril and Regan perish ; pacts of chivalry - the pact of sworn and so the true daughter, though with all brotherhood (see especially Palamon's our hearts we cry with the old “child- words to him in vv. 271-293, and the changed ” father, “ Cordelia, stay a little.”' quibble with which the other palliates his It cannot be otherwise. And so always conduct, vv. 295–303); and Arcite must there is nothing arbitrary in the pathetic die. His triumph in the lists had been scenes of the supreme artists. Of purely but as the flourishing of a green bay-tree. pathetic writing there are, perhaps, no The final scene is described with the utbetter specimens in all our literature than most simplicity. The evil spirits that the tales of the Clerk of Oxford and of ought never to have found a harbour in the Man of Law. Both poems aim at his heart have at last been expelled from showing how the “meek shall inherit the it, and the old fealty has returned ; and earth” – how true and genuine natures the last words of his speech to Emily, do in the end triumph, however desperate- whom he has bade take him softly in her ly defeated and crushed they may for a “armes twaye” “for love of God,” and time, or for many times, seem to be. harken what he says, are a generous comChaucer weeps himself, or grows, indeed, mendation of his rival: something impatient, as he conducts his
I have heer with my cosyn Palomon heroines along their most sad course.
Had stryf and rancour many a day i-gon The thorns of the way pierce his feet also ; and he would fain uproot them, and
# Prof. Ebert is of opinion that Chaucer's grasp of scatter soft flowers for the treading of the moral intention of the “ Knight's Tale” is less vigo his woeful wayfarers. But he knew well'orous and firm than that of Boccaccio, and it may be su.
For love of yow, and eek for jelousie. The eyes that scrutinize the world most And Jupiter so wis my sowle gye,
|keenly, though they may see infinite noTo speken of a servaunt proprely
blenesses that escape a coarser vision, With alle circumstaunces trewely,
yet certainly see also much meanness and That is to seyn, truthe, honour, and knighthede,
pravity. Hence, to speak generally, for Wysdom, humblesse, astaat, and hye kinrede, exceptions a
exceptions do not concern us, there is no Fredam, and al that longeth to that art,
such thing amongst the deep-seeing and So Jupiter have of my soule part,
really man-learned as unqualified and abAs in this world right now ne knowe I non solute admiration. And thus the supremSo worthy to be loved as Palomon,
est writers have no heroes in the ordinary That serveth you, and wol do al his lyf. acceptation of that term. There is not a And if that ye schul ever be a wyf,
hero in all Shakespeare; not even Harry Forget not Palomon, that gentil man. the Fifth is absolutely so. For a like Assuredly Chaucer was endowed in a reason, there is no quite perfect villain. very high degree with what we may call Neither monsters of perfection nor of imthe pathetic sense. It would seem to perfection find favour with them that realhave been a favourite truth with him that ly know mankind. Thus a real master Pite renneth sone in gentil herte. *
never completely identifies himself with
any one of his characters. To say that It ran “sone ” and abundantly in his own he does so is merely a façon de parler. most tender bosom. But he is never They are all his children, and it cannot merely sentimental or maudlin. We can but be that some are dearer to him than believe that the Levite of the Parable others, but not one, if he is wise, is an shed a tear or two as he crossed over to idol unto him. His irony consists in the the “other side" from where that robbed earnest, heartfelt, profound representation and wounded traveller lay, and perhaps of them, while yet he is fully alive to their subseqưently drew a moving picture of failings and failures. It is observable the sad spectacle he had so carefully only in the supremest geniuses. Men of avoided. Chaucer's pity is of no such inferior knowledge and dimmer light are quality. It springs from the depths of his more easily satisfied. They make golden nature ; nay, from the depths of Nature images for themselves and fall down and herself moving in and through her inter- worship them. Shakespeare stands outpreter.
side each one of his plays, a little apart Another respect in which Chaucer is and above the fervent figures that move not unworthy of some comparison with in them, like some Homeric god that from his greater successor is his irony. We the skies watches the furious struggle, use the word in the sense in which Dr. whose issue is irreversibly ordered by Thirlwall uses it of Sophocles in his Moipa kparain — that cannot save Sarpeexcellent paper printed in the “ Philologi- don or prolong the days of Achilles. cal Museum” some forty years ago, and Chaucer, too, in a similar way abounds in in which Schlegel, in his “ Lectures on secondary meanings. What he teaches Dramatic Literature," uses it of Shake- does not lie on the surface. He never speare, to denote that dissembling, so to resigns his judgment or ceases to be a speak, that self-retention and reticence, free agent in honour of any of the or, at least, indirect presentment, that is characters he draws. He never turns a frequent characteristic of the consum- fanatic. He hates without bigotry; he mate dramatist, or the consummate loves without folly ; he worships withwriter of any kind who aims at portraying out idolatry. This excellent temper of life in all its breadth. We are told often his mind displays itself strikingly in the enough of the universal sympathy that Prologue, which, with all its ardour, is inspires the greatest souls, and it is well ; wholly free from extravagance or selfbut let us consider that universal sympa- i abandonment. thy does not mean blind, undiscriminat- It is because his spirit enjoyed and reing, wholesale sympathy, but precisely tained this lofty freedom that it was so the opposite. Only that sympathy can tolerant and capacious. He, like Shakebe all-inclusive that is profoundly intelli- speare, was eminently a Human Catholic, gent as well as intense ; and this pro- no mere sectary. He refused to no man found intelligence is incompatible with an acknowledgment of kindred; for him any complete and unmitigated adoration. there were no poor relations whom he
forbade his house, or neighbours so fallen • This line occurs in several of his poems in the “Knight's Tale” and in the Legend of Good Wo and debased that in their faces the image men," &c.
of God in which man was made was wholly