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GEOFFREY CHAUCER, "the morning-star of English poetry," was born at London, in 1328 or 1340-the former date being generally accepted by his biographers, while the high authority of Sharon Turner prefers that of 1340. Little is accurately known of his life. One of his biographers represents him to have studied both at Cambridge and at Oxford, while another doubts whether he was a member of any college. He is supposed to have been entered as a student at the Inner Temple; but the evidence of this is said to be merely a record that one Geoffrey Chaucer was fined two shillings for beating a Franciscan friar in Fleet Street. It is certain, however, that at an early age he had become acquainted with personages of distinction; for he was a page to King Edward III., and was rewarded by that monarch in 1367 with an annuity of twenty marks. He appears afterward to have become gentleman of the bedchamber to the king, and in 1370 was sent abroad as a royal envoy. Two years later, he was sent to Genoa to negotiate for a naval force. On his return, he was made partial comptroller of the customs of London, and was granted a daily allowance of a pitcher of wine from the king's table. He was again employed on a diplomatic mission to France in 1377, the year in which Edward III. died. Chaucer, in the mean time, had married Philippa Rouet, one of the queen's maids of honor, whose sister was the wife of a great noble -John of Gaunt, "time-honored Lancaster." This high connection secured for Chaucer the favor of the new king, Richard II., by whom he was repeatedly employed on important commissions in various parts of the kingdom. Richard was deposed in 1399; but his successor, Henry IV., the son of the Duke of Lancaster, being closely related to Chaucer by marriage, treated him with additional favor, and granted him a large increase of pension. Chaucer died in 1400, at a house which he had leased in Westminster, and was buried in the Abbey-the first of the long line of poets whose ashes make the edifice illustrious. He appears to have been an adherent of the doctrines of the reformer Wycliffe, and to have been occasionally persecuted in consequence; so that, for some years, he was an exile in France and Denmark. He resided in the latter years of his life at Woodstock, and subsequently at Donnington Castle, where he wrote his latest and greatest work, "The Canterbury Tales." The plan of this was modelled upon the "Decameron " of Boccaccio. It represents a company of twenty-nine pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury, assembling at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, and agreeing each to tell a tale in going and returning; he who should tell the best tale to be treated by the others with a supper at the
inn. The characters composing this party are exceedingly well drawn in the Prologue to the Tales, which we copy in full, and which is undoubtedly the best and most characteristic part of the work. Several of the tales have been paraphrased by Dryden and Pope; and in this volume, among the selections from Dryden, will be found his versions of "The Knight's Tale," "The Wife of Bath's Tale," and the character of the Good Parson.
Chaucer was a man of the world, as well as a. student; a soldier, courtier, and diplomatist, and all his life employed in affairs of importance and difficulty, during one of the most brilliant and also one of the most disastrous periods of English history. He began his public career in the warlike and magnificent reign of Edward III., and ended it amid the convulsions and misfortunes of that of Richard II. He had consequently a vast and varied experience of men and of affairs when in the calm evening of his life, at the age of sixty, he composed his Canterbury Tales in the quiet repose of his country home. This work affords a good idea of his character. Like Shakespeare, he seems to have possessed a cheerful and benignant disposition, fond of mirth and joviality, yet studious in the midst of a busy life. He had a keen sense of the ludicrous, and a fine capacity for comic delineation. He hated fraud and superstition, and satirized them keenly, though always with good
The latest critic of Chaucer, M. Taine, in his History of English Literature," describes him as a poet "who, by his genius, education, and life, was enabled to know and to depict a whole world; but, above all, to satisfy the chivalric world and the splendid courts which shone upon the heights. He belonged to it, though learned and versed in all branches of scholastic knowledge; and he took such part in it that his life from end to end was that of a man of the world, and a man of action. . . . Like Froissart-better than he-Chaucer could depict the character of the nobles, their mode of life, their amours, even other things, and please them by his portraiture.... Beyond the two notable characteristics which settle his place in his age and school of poetry, there are others which take him out of his age and school. If he was romantic and gay like the rest, it was after a fashion of his own. He observes characters, notes their dif ferences, studies the coherence of their parts, and endeavors to bring forward living and distinct persons-a thing unheard of in his time, but which the renovators in the sixteenth century, and first among them Shakespeare, will do afterward. It is the English good sense and aptitude for seeing the inside of things begin. ning to appear."
THE CANTERBURY TALES.
WHANNE that April with his shoures sote1
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.
And shortly, whan the sonne was gon to reste,
But natheles, while I have time and space,
A knight ther was, and that a worthy man,
At Alisandre he was whan it was wonne." Ful often time he hadde the bord begonne 12
11 I. e., in a. D. 1865, by Pierre de Lusignan, King of Cyprus, who, however, immediately abandoned it.
12 I. e., he had been placed at the head of the table; the usual compliment to extraordinary merit. When our military men wanted employment, it was usual for them to go and serve in Pruse, or Prussia, with the knights of the Teutonic order, who were in a state of constant warfare with their heathen neighbours in Lettow (Lithuania), Ruse (Russia), and elsewhere. A pagan King of Lettow is mentioned by Walsingham, pp. 180, 343.-Tyrwhitt.
Aboven alle nations in Pruce.
In Lettowe hadde he reysed 13 and in Ruce,.
This ilke worthy knight hadde ben also
But for to tellen you of his araie, His hors was good, but he ne was not gaie. Of fustian he wered a gipon,21
Alle besmotred 22 with his habergeon, For he was late ycome fro his viage, And wente for to don his pilgrimage.
With him ther was his sone a yonge squier,
Of his stature he was of even lengthe,
Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
A yeman 29 hadde he, and servantes no mo At that time, for him luste to ride so; And he was cladde in cote and hode of grene. A shefe of peacock arwes 30 bright and kene Under his belt he bare ful thriftily.