« VorigeDoorgaan »
From Tait's Magazine. THE TYRANT'S TOMB.
It was a well-known doctrine of the ancient Egyptians, that the soul after death passed through the forms of various animals for a period of three thousand years, at the end of which time it resumed its original habitation. As, however, their ideas of a resurrection went no further than the re-animation of the body, if earisting, it became a o of supreme importance that it should be preserved during the interval, as well from the decay of nature, as from the many accidents to which its helpless condition exposed it. As a protection against the former that wondersul people had recourse to their ingenious and skilful method of embalming the dead ; and as a defence against the latter, those gigantic structures were erected, many of which still remain after a lapse of far more than three thousand years. It was under a deep impression of this belief that the tyrant Cheops, bitterly detested by his oppressed subjects, built the stupendous pile known as the great Pyramid, within whose innermost recesses, intrenched, as the surveys of science inform us, no less with marvellous cunning than with surpassing strength, he hoped to frustrate the vengeance of his enraged subjects. After its completion, however, either distrusting its security, or having all along intended it merely as a cloak to his real intentions, he gave private instructions to have his body laid in a secret place, around which the waters of the Nile were introduced; and where, for aught we know, he may be reposing to this day. The pyramid, which he originally intended for his sepulchre, is thought to have been forced soon after the death of its founder, and, at all events, was opened at an early period by one of the Caliphs, in search of the treasure it was supposed to contain.
Not less a fortress than a tomb—and built
Tyrant! thou hast but made it over sure :
The day will come when vainly thou shalt call
And cure the skill that built it too secure,
The hand of man may smite thee. A varice
Of later times, that deems no richer prize
Can be secured, than its own idol, gold,
Hath burst upon thy slumbers. Science, too, The stone from this thy sepulchre hath roll’d,
And strives, with all her potent arts can do, To take thee captive in thy last strong hold,
And thus to this great riddle find the clue.—
Yet stay for he who rear'd this fortress-tomb,
Well ! be it thou hast cheated man—what then :
REMARKABLE FEAT 1N METAL-CAsting.—We have from time to time described the progress made by Mr. Wyatt in casting the stupendous Wellington equestrian group, the largest work in bronze ever executed ; and we think one of our latest notices was that of a party of eight having dined conveniently within the cavity of the horse's hind-quarters. But after all that had been done, there came an operation of unexampled extent, difficulty, and uncertainty. This consisted in the uniting together by fusion of the two great divisions in which the horse had been cast. A few inches is perhaps the limit hitherto of such a work; but here there must be a girth of molten brass (several tons), to the length of twelve feet, poured into the junction in such a manner as to fuse each adjacent side, and combine the whole into one solid mass. The contrivance of a mould for the reception and application of the run from the furnace was exceedingly ingenious, and, as the experiment turned out, perfectly successful. From the belly to half way up the sides of the horse is as completely united as is it had been cast in one piece; and the upper portion of the body will offer no obstacle like that which has been overcome in the inferior portion of the circle. This splendid undertaking may now, therefore, be deemed to be beyond the reach of danger: and so nearly finished, that we trust the public authorities and committee will lose no time in having it erected. The world has nothing of its kind to match this production of art.—Lit. Gaz.
From the British Quarterly Review.
CHAUCER—HIS AGE AND WRITINGS.
Chaucer's Poetical Works. London, Pickering. 1845.
The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer, modernized by various hands. London, Whittaker. 1841.
Knight's Weekly Volume. No. LIV. Lives of the British Worthies, Vol. I.
CHAucer, according to the account generally received, was born in London in the year 1328, four years after the birth of his great contemporary Wycliffe. A debate has been raised on the subject of his parentage, some maintaining that his father was a knight, others that he was a merchant, and others that he was a respectable vintner who occupied premises at the corner of Kirton-lane, in the city. All the probabilities are on the side of those who argue that the poet's father was a gentleman, a man of courtly station, if not of wealth. The year of Chaucer's birth was the second year of the reign of the chivalrous Edward III. ; and the war which that monarch carried on against David II. of Scotland, the successor of Robert the Bruce, must have been the great topic of the English court during the poet's infancy. This war was followed by another of more importance—that undertaken by Edward for the purpose of establishing his pretended right to succeed Charles IV. on the throne of France. The first of Edward's French campaigns was opened in the year 1339; and from that time the war continued to be carried on for many years with little intermission. In 1346 was fought the famous battle of Creci; and ten years afterwards the victory at Creci was followed by that at Poictiers. In the same year that the battle of Creci was fought, Chaucer is believed to have written his ‘Court of Love,’ the first of his longer poems. At this time he was probably in his nineteenth year; and from a passage in the poem in which he describes himself by the name of ‘Philogenet, of Cambridge, clerk, it appears that when he wrote it he was a student at Cambridge, possibly a member of Clare, then called Soler or Scholar's Hall, with the localities about which he shows himself in his Reeve's Tale to have been well acquainted. Wol. VIII. No. II. 47
“At Trompington, not far from Cantabridge There goeth a brook, and over that a bridge, Upon the whiche bridge there stood a mill.'
Shortly after the composition of the ‘Court of Love,' the poet seems to have followed a custom then common, and removed from Cambridge to Oxford, boarding there, perhaps, like the Hendy Nicholas of his Miller's Tale, with some rich gnoof of a carpenter who let lodgings to poor scholars.’ At Oxford he became acquainted with the poet Gower, and Gower's friend, the ‘philosophical Strood.’ Whether at the same time he formed any acquaintance with Wycliffe, who entered as a commoner at Queen's College in 1340, is more a matter of conjecture than of historical certainty. Without, however, attaching any more value than it deserves, to the very scanty evidence which can be adduced in support of the opinion that Chaucer and Wycliffe became known to each other while students at Oxford, we may allow the imagination of our readers to make its own use of the supposition. In 1848-9, then, let us picture Wycliffe a man not inore than twentyfive years of age, but with the face of a hard student, and of an earnest, anxious temperament; and Chaucer, a fair complexioned youth of twenty-one, of genial, all-enjoying disposition, but of modest and diffident manners; a diligent student, too, but more diffuse in his tastes, and with less intensity and strictness of moral feeling than Wycliffe; reading the Scriptures with the literary fervor of a poet, not with the seriousness or docility of a man of God searching after the truth; regarding the world with that clear sunny spirit which reflects what it sees rather than with the severe, scrutinizing eye of a moral teacher groaning over social wrongs. To Chaucer, Wycliffe, we can suppose, would be a strange, almost mysterious man, whose grave, acute, and powerful mind bespoke him the able, honest, and truly consecrated priest. To Wycliffe, Chaucer would be a fresh-hearted and ingenuous youth, whose somewhat quaint and original remarks, as well as the reputed extent of his acquirements, would awaken a stronger feeling of interest than might be thought at all times due to a mere writer of love-verses.
In 1848-9, the terrible pestilence called ‘the Black Death' visited England, aster sweeping over the greater part of the Continent, carrying off in some countries more than a third part of the inhabitants. For five months the pestilence hung in the atmosphere of England like a hot and fetid vapor; and thousands of purple-spotted corpses lay putrefying in fields and houses. The effects produced by these five months of horror on two such minds as those of Wycliffe and Chaucer must have been widely different. The effect which the event produced on Wycliffe is happily not a secret. To his pious and earnest spirit, imbued with the doctrines of prophecy, the pestilence appeared as one of those vials of God's wrath which were to be poured out in the last days upon the earth. How could he doubt it? Were not sin and wickedness every where abounding—the state, ill-governed—the church, lazy and corrupt—the rich, luxurious and tyrannical —the poor, ignorant, brutish, and oppressed? And at a time when all men were disposed to think seriously, was not he, as a minister of God, to seek his explanation of appearances in that volume in which it is foretold how, when the end of the world is approaching, there shall be wars, and famines, and pestilences, and skies streaked with blood, and signs in the air From a mind full of such feelings the tract entitled ‘The Last Age of the Church,' the oldest of the pieces attributed to Wycliffe, evidently issued. Chaucer, who was in no sense a sceptic,
must have participated in such feelings; but that he must have whiled away the five months of pestilence in occupations of a very different nature from those of Wycliffe is evident not less from the known difference of their characters than from the fact that the composition of Chaucer which corresponds most nearly in time with Wycliffe's ‘Last Age of the Church' is his pathetic poem of ‘Troilus and Cressida.’ In the introduction to the Decameron of Boccaccio, we have an ideal glimpse into a poet's life during the great plague of 1348. The poet there describes himself as forming one of a party of ladies and gentlemen who, while the plague was at its height in Florence, retired to a beautiful villa in the neighborhood of the city, and there, ‘their ears entertained with the warbling of birds, and their eyes with the verdure of the hills and valleys, with the waving of corn-fields like the sea itself, with trees of a thousand different kinds, and with a more serene and open sky,' amused themselves talking over a thousand merry things, singing love-songs, weaving garlands of flowers, and relating pleasant sto
ries. Now, if not literally with the same
occupations as the Florentines of Boccaccio, at least, we may be sure, in an equally Epicurian spirit, with literary dainties and luscious love-romances, was the poet Chaucer beguiling the time. Ovid's Art of Love and Loris's Romaunt of the Rose were the favorite companions of the young poet while the more earnest theologian was meditating over the apocalypse and the cabalistic utterances of Abbot Joachim. For several years Chaucer appears to have led the life of a voluntary student, devouring indiscriminately all the accessible literature of the age, classical, scholastic, and romantic or Provençal. The extent and variety of his reading are proved by the quantity of odd and quaint information which he is in the habit of pouring out upon all subjects in his writings. In this habit of omnivorous reading we discern the nature of the poet or literary epicure pursuing knowledge simply because the love of acquisition is constitutional in him, and not with any immediate purpose in view, such as might be supposed to inspire an ecclesiastic or other special functionary of society at that period with the resolution to go through a course of general study. The spirit which presided over our poet's miscellaneous researches was rather that of the conscious artist, to whom all sources of language and imagery are precious, than that of the moralist who prosecutes his studies under the impulse of some special enthusiasm. We cannot but think that in Jankin, the youth of twenty, the fifth husband of the Wise of Bath, who ‘sometimes was a clerk of Oxenford,” and who ‘oftentimes would preach to his wife out of old Roman gests,' knowing, as she said
“Of more proverbs Than in this world there growen grass or herbs.'
Chaucer has, with due allowance for the difference between a married man and a bachelor, described himself as he used to pass his evenings in his lodging at Oxford.
From Oxford the tradition is that Chaucer went to Paris. After travelling through various parts of France and the Netherlands, he seems to have returned to England about the year 1355, and to have coinmenced the study of the law, a friend of his editor Speght professing to have seen the original memorandum which stated that while residing in the Inner Temple, “Geoffrey Chaucer was fined five shillings for beating a Franciscan friar in Fleetstreet.” He soon, however, abandoned the law as a profession, having, it appears, received some appointment which required his attendance at court. Chaucer is now about thirty years of age, already the author of ‘many ditties and songs glad, and in a situation where his temptations to continue the practice of composition are very great. It was the age of chivalry and gallantry, and the most chivalrous and gallant court in Europe was that of the brave English monarch. Heraldic pageants and tournaments were more frequent and splendid than they had been in any previous reign. To typify the power of the fair sex, processions were arranged in which ladies of the first distinction appeared riding on palfreys and dragging knights captive through the streets by golden chains. Luxuries unknown in former reigns were now common, the fruits of Edward's continental conquests. The court was a galaxy of beauty and chivalry There might be seen the brave monarch himself, the hero of Creci, yet in the prime of manhood; his queen, Philippa, the gentle lady who saved the lives of the burgesses of Calais; their family of seven princes and four princesses, some of them yet mere children, others already grown up, of whom the eldest was the heroic Black Prince, the junior of Chaucer by two years, and the sixth was John of Gaunt, afterwards the celebrated Duke of Lancaster, now a grave studious stripling of eighteen; and around this family group, knights and ladies innumerable. Moving through this courtly crowd we discern the figure of our poet. He is a handsome man of thirty, with a fair complexion verging towards paleness; his hair a dusky yellow, short and thin ; his beard of a forked shape and its color wheaten. His forehead is smooth and fair, and the expression of his face serene and sweet-tempered, with a lurking appearance of satire about the mouth; or, according to the host's description, “he seemeth elvish by his countenance.’ His manner is modest and taciturn; and he has a habit of always looking on the ground “as if he would find a hare.” Such he was through life, except that as he advanced in age he became corpulent. Of all the royal family, John of Gaunt seems most to have attached himself to the poet. The young prince was in love with the Lady Blanche, daughter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster; and the tradition is, that Chaucer was his confidant, and did him poet's service by writing the ‘Complaint of the
Black Knight,’ to assist him in melting the obdurate heart of the lady. The coalition was successful, and in 1359 Chaucer produced another poein entitled, ‘Chaucer's Dream,' in honor of the marriage of the prince with Lady Blanche. In this poem, however, it is not Lady Blanche, but a ‘my lady' who occupies the foreground. Attached to the court were two sisters, Catharine and Philippa, the daughters of Sir " Payne Rouet, Guienne King-at-Arms, a native of Hainault, who had come over to England in the train of Queen Philippa, aster whom, probably, his younger daughter was named. This Philippa Rouet is the lady of Chaucer's dream. The poet dreams that the newly-married prince and his lady, bring him and his lady to the parish church ‘there to conclude the marriage.' The service is ‘full y-sungen out after the custom and the guise of Holy Church's ordithe marriage feast is already begun; the tuning of a thousand instruments by the minstrels in attendance is in the ear of the dreamer, when, O misery ! he awakes—
“Then from my bed anon I leap,
The calm tenor of the poet's life was interrupted in 1359, when, having accompanied Edward III. into France, he was taken prisoner during the unfortunate campaign which ensued. His captivity in France would appear to have been of considerable duration, as it is not till the year 1365 or 1366 that we find him in England, and married to Philippa Rouet. On the 12th of September, 1366, there is an entry of a pension of ten marks for life, granted by the king to Philippa Chaucer, as a lady in the queen's household; and on the 20th of June following, Chaucer himself, as filling the post of king's valet, received a grant of twenty marks yearly, in consideration of his services. The salaries of husband and wife together would be worth about £360 of our present money—a moderate income for the newly-married couple. Thus settled in life, with good prospects for the future, the poet seems to have resumed his
literary avocations; and during the four sollowing years, several new performances were finished, including a version of the admired French poem, ‘the Romaunt of the Rose,' and other original pieces of a descriptive and chivalrous cast. Meanwhile, (to continue our parallel of the two lives,) Wycliffe is becoming a person of note in England, being already engaged in what the Romanist historian Lingard calls, ‘a fierce but ridiculous controversy with the different orders of friars.' How different, now, the occupations of the two men s—the one the pet of a luxurious court, perusing romances or scientific treatises in quiet privacy, attending jousts and pageants, if not, as seems probable from his delight in heraldic description, assisting in arranging them, composing songs and ballads of chivalry, and in praise and dispraise of women; the other a devout and calumniated priest, looking from his Bible to society, and from society back to his Bible again, and at every glance between the fair page of the one and the foul face of the other, growing more earnest, more bitter and out-spoken against those friars who ‘visiten rich men, and by hypocrisy getten
falsely their alms, and withdraw from poor
men; but they visiten rich widows for their muck, and maken them to be buried in the Friars, but poor men come not there;’ those friars, who ‘be worse enemies and slayers of man's soul than is the cruel fiend of hell himself; for they, under the habit of holiness, lead men and nourish them in sins, and be special helpers of the fiend to strangle men's souls.’ Let us not, however, do injustice to our poet. He, also, is doing a great work, if not, morally, so noble a one as Wycliffe's. Even these love ditties, and ballads in praise and dispraise of women, and heraldic descriptions of jousts and tournaments —poems, mostly of the fancy, and from which, by themselves, it would be unfair to infer the real nature of the man Chaucer —what a grand result are they helping to accomplish Not a quip, not a jest, not a simile, not a new jingle of sounds and syllables, let the intrinsic value of the sentiment of which they are the foliage and efflorescence be ever so small, but in the act of originating that quip or jest, or simile or jingle, Chaucer is struggling successfully with the tough element of an unformed language, and assisting to render it plastic for future speakers and writers. When we consider this we ought to be glad that it so happened
that the first great English poet was a rich, descriptive genius—a man whose eye took notice of and received pleasure from the minutia of external appearances, the flowers and the arrangement of the plots in a garden, the paraphernalia of a feast, the banners and scutcheons in a procession, the dresses and armor of knights in a tournament, the harnessing and caparisons of the horses. For assisting at the formation of a language and the compilation of a literary idiom, a poet with a genius for nomenclature and description like that of Chaucer, was most suitable; and for such a genius, a life of ease and luxurious courtiership was the proper training. But Chaucer was more than a mere descriptive poet, with a powerful faculty of language and a taste for rich and luscious imagery; he was a man of extensive culture, a keen and original thinker, whose feelings were all healthy and genial, and whose aspirations were all for social progress and the diffusion of sound opinion. Even those compositions of love and chivalry which he, had already produced long before he had commenced his great work, in which he was to display his ripe, autumnal nature, and perform for the age the function of a satirist and drainatist; even those compositions, frivolous as their texture may appear, and paltry the occasions which called them forth, what versatility of talent do they not display, and what a civilizing influence were they not calculated to exert over English society in the fourteenth century. Forgetting the florid beauty of the diction of some of them, omitting, also, all consideration of their value as historical pictures, what an amount of information and varied thinking do they not contain, the metrical dissemination of which would be a boon to any age or nation; what strong, good sense, what touches, nay bursts, of the truest humor, what distant reaches of reflection and sentiment; and, above all, what deep, sweet, sobbing pathos! And although the assertion of Foxe the martyrologist, that “Chaucer was a right Wicklivian, or else there never was any,’ is undoubtedly an exaggeration, yet it is evident that, like his great Italian contemporaries and predecessors, Chaucer was an antagonist of the corrupt Romish system, and that as far as was compatible with his Epicurean temperament as a poet, he sympathized with such ideas and efforts as those of the more earnest Wycliffe. Indeed, the age was one in which the