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accomplishment of much moment by the by in those days, when the banquets of our ancestors had more materielle and less elegance than the feasts of modern times we are next told of the sentimentality of her disposition, her dress and personal appearance.
But for to speken of hire conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
Full semely hire wimple ypinched was,
But sikerly she hadde a fayre forehed;
It was almost a spanne brode I trowe,
Ful fetise was hire cloke, as I was ware.
Another Nonne also with hire had she
The knight's tale,§ one of the best sustained and most
* Stick. + Long and well proportioned. + In soothe.
? Dryden's Palemon and Arcite, the glorious paraphrase of this tale, is familiar to every one. Warton calls it "the most animated and harmonious piece of versification in the English language."
lofty in action and gorgeous in description, appears to have been imitated from Boccacio's Theseid; but the groundwork of some of the descriptions may be found in the Thebaid of Statius. The squire's tale is a mixture of Arabian fiction and Gothic chivalry. The frankelein's is founded on the miracles of natural magic. The clerk of Oxenford tells the story of Patient Grisilde, premising that he learnt it from Petrarch, at Padua.*
The tales narrated by the nonne's preeste,† the merchant, and the wife of Bath, have been modernised by Dryden and Pope; but they are surpassed in breadth and humor by the stories of the miller and the reve, which however have a grossness of plot offensive to modern taste. The soumpnour presents us with a lively satire on the tricks and impositions of the mendicant friars; and Chaucer, in his own person, with great gravity pours forth the mock heroic Rime of Sire Thopas.
The Canterbury Tales were printed by William Caxton, the first English printer, about the year 1476, and again in 1491; and by Pynson in 1493 and 1526;
* I wol you tell a Tale which that I
Prologue to the Clerk's Tale.
But the tale, which is Boccacio's, is the last in the Decameron. Petrarch translated it into Latin.
See Dryden's Fables, the Cock and the Fox.
other of Chaucer's poems were republished by Wynken de Worde; and the standard edition of his works was printed by Godfray in 1532, and dedicated to Henry the Eighth a sure proof, when we consider the few books that issued from the press in the early days of typography, that the merit of the author was well appreciated, and that writings which had passed through so many editions must have been popularly read, and as generally enjoyed.
There are many other works of Chaucer. Among the best are, a Translation into English of the Romance of the Rose, originally composed in French by William of Lorris and John of Meun the tale of Troilus and Cresseide several legends from classical history-the House of Fame imitated by Pope-and the fable of the Flower and the Leaf, by Dryden-together with two poems called his Dreams: the one composed on the marriage, and the other on the death of Blanche, the Countess of John of Gaunt.
Chaucer had great powers of language and imagination at his command. Like Shakspeare, he was inspired by the humorous as well as the tragic muse, and caught and forcibly depicted the outlines of character. His persons are well grouped; they appear naturally assembled, and in their proper places. He has a propriety of sentiment,
* See note at the end of the volume.
and occasionally a gorgeousness of description. He mingles the things of his own with those of classic times, and the effect, though historically untrue, is generally striking and grand. With him the court of Theseus is, like the court of chivalry, peopled with knights and enlivened by the carousals and combats of his own time. His tales are well, but often inartificially told, the mechanism of the poet times is ill concealed, and he is frequently prolix; but he had to encounter all the difficulties of treading in an unbeaten path, and tuning into music a language harsh and sterile. That his humor is often licentious and coarse was the fault of the age rather than of the poet; it is just the humor in which the persons into whose mouths he puts it would indulge characters still to be found in the refinement of the present day, whose wit consists in rude allusions or boisterous mirth. His knights and maidens do not offend against delicacy, but the miller or the wife of Bath derive their merriment from the most obvious sources. Some of Chaucer's admirers have declared him to be second only to Shakspeare in power and originality; he is like water to the thirsty, refreshing and unfevering. He presents us with a true unadulterated transcript of the manners, feelings, and intelligence of his age. His models were few and simple; scorning mere imitation, he trusted to himself, and whenever he borrowed a design, he made it his own by his peculiar coloring. In the age of exaggeration his subjects preserve their due tone and proportion. His mistress was nature, and he was content
with her. He forgot neither her vices nor her virtues, her graces nor her deformities; and as he observed them he stamped them down in their own tints, and crowded the canvass of his poetry with that variety of character, yet unity of design, which a great master is alone able either to conceive or perfect.*
Contemporary with Chaucer was his friend, the 'moral,' the gentle GoWER, who in early life composed largely in French and Latin, and in his later years wrote an English poem in eight books entitled Confessio Amantis, which is a dialogue between a lover and his confessor, who is a priest of Venus. The work is wanting in unity, proportion of detail, and in that masculine vigor and originality which distinguish the productions of Chaucer. Considering the times in which he lived, Gower was a man of great attainments and lively accomplishments, but his imagination was cold and unproductive. He reasons where he should paint, he gives a moral instead of an image, he is copious where he should be impassioned and concise, while, in his eagerness for illustration, he hurries off to legends that have little connection with his subject; but his creations are delicate though faint, and his verse fluent though diffuse. He indulges in all those absurdities into which the early writers were seduced by their indiscriminate taste for classical and romantic fables; and by a strange want of judgment has made the
I would refer such of my readers as are anxious to pursue the subject to Warton's History of English poetry, Tyrwhitt's learned edition of Chaucer's Works, and the ingenious but speculative life of the poet by Godwin.