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He setté not his benefice to hire,
1 In describing the sanctity, simplicity, sincerity, patience, industry, courage, and conscientious Impartiality of this excellent parish-priest, Chaucer, as Warton observes, has shown his good sense and good heart. Is not Goldsmith indebted to it for some of the beautiful traits in the character of his Village Preacher, in the Deserted Village ?
2 Parishens-parishioners. 3 Sithes—times. 4 Suffisance-sufficiency. Much and lite-great and small. 6 Yal-gave. 7 Lewed-ignorant. 8 Accumbred-encumbered.
9 Chantery. An endowment for the payment of a priest to sing mass agreeably to the appointment of the founder. There were thirty-five of these chantries established at St. Paul's, which were served by Afty-four priests.-Dugdale, Hist. pref. p. 41. 10 Withold-withholden, withheld.
11 Dispitour-inexorable, angry to excess. 12 Dangerous—sparing. 18 Digne-proud, disdainful 1 But it were-should it happen that any one were, &c.
To drawen folk to heaven with fairéness,
But the Canterbury Tales are by no means the only production of Chaucer's muse. He has written many other poems containing passages equal to any thing found in his chief work. The following are the principal.
TROILUS AND CRESEIDE. This is in five books, “ in which the vicissitudes of love are depicted in a strain of true poetry, with much pathos and simplicity of sentiment.” The author calls it “a litill tragedie.” On the whole, however, it is rather tedious, from its innumerable digressions. For instance, Troilus declaims, for about one hundred lines, on the doctrine of predestination.
ROMAUNT OF THE ROSE. This is an allegory, depicting the difficulties and dangers encountered by a lover in pursuit of the object of his affections, who is set forth under the emblem of the rose. He traverses vast ditches, scales lofty walls, and forces the gates of adamantine and almost impregnable castles. These enchanted fortresses are all inhabited by various divinities, some of which assist, and some oppose the lover's progress. Thus this poem furnishes a great variety of rich and beautiful descriptions--paintings most true to nature.
THE HOUSE OF FAME. This is represented under the form of a dream, and consists of three books. It abounds in lively and vigorous description, in disquisitions on natural philosophy, and in sketches of human nature of no com mon beauty. The poet, in a vision, sees a temple of glass, on the walls of which are displayed in portraitures the history of Æneas, abridged from Virgil. After looking around him, he sees aloft, “ fast by the sun,” a gigantic eagle, which souses down, and bears him off in his talons through the upper regions of air, leaving clouds, tempests, hail, and snow far beneath him, and at length arrives among the celestial signs of the Zodiac. Here his journey ends. The « House of Fame” is before him. It is built of materials bright as polished glass, and stands on a rock of ice of excessive height, and almost inaccessible. All the southern side of the rock is covered with the names of famous men, which were perpetually melting away by the heat of the sun; but those on the northern side remained unmelted and uneffaced. The poet then enters the building, and beholds the Goddess of Fame, seated upon a throne of sculptured carbuncle. Before her appear the various candidates for her favor; and here the poet has admirably improved the wide field before him in describing the capricious judgment of the fickle deity in awarding her favors.
Pope, in his « Temple of Fame," has imitated Chaucer to a considerable extent, as may be seen by comparing various passages in each author.
2 Snibben-rebuke. 3 For the nones-for the occasion.
4 Lore-learning, doctrine.
THE EAGLE'S FLIGHT WITH THE POET.
And I adown 'gan looken tho,
That I ne might it not discern.4 THE FLOWER AND THE LEAF. This has an instructive moral. A gentle woman, out of an arbor in a grove, seeth a great company of knights and ladies in a dance upon the green grass, the which being ended they all kneel down, and do honor to the daisy, some to the Flower and some to the Leaf. Afterward this gentlewoman learneth by one of these ladies the meaning hereof, which is this: they who honor the Flower, a thing fading with every blast, are such as look after beauty and worldly pleasure; but they that honor the Leaf, which abideth with the root, notwithstanding the winter storms and frosts, are they which follow virtue and true merit, without regarding worldly respects. Such are the chief poems of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Though Chaucer was and is known chiefly as a poet, yet in his prose he equally excels all his contemporaries, thus verifying what we believe will be found to be a universal truth, that every good poet is no less distinguished for a clear and vigorous prose style. Two of the Canterbury Tales, the Tale of Melibeus and the Parson's Tale, are in prose, but his longest unversified production is his Testament of Love, written to defend his character from the imputations cast on it by his enemies. Froin the Tale of Melibeus we extract the following excellent remarks
UPON RICHES. In getting of your riches, and in using of 'em, ye shulen alway have three things in your heart, that is to say, our Lord God, con
3 Prick-point. 4 I stood, methought, betwixt earth, seas, and skies,
The whole creation open to my eyes.
Temple of Fame, lines 11-18. 6 Read~"Clarke's Tales from Chaucer," written in imitation of Lamb's “Tales from Shakspeare, and Clarke's “Riches of Chaucer." Also, a critique upon Chaucer in the Retrospective Review, ix. 173; and another in the Edinburgh Review, lii. 437; also a paralel between Chaucer and Spenser in the latter Review, xxiv. 58.
science, and good name. First ye shulen have God in your heart, and for no riches ye shulen do nothing which may in any manner displease God that is your creator and maker; for, after the word of Solomon, it is better to have a little good with love of God, than to have muckle good and lese the love of his Lord God; and the prophet saith, that better it is to ben a good man and have little good and treasure, than to be holden a shrew and have great riches. And yet I say furthermore, that ye shulden always do your business to get your riches, so that ye get 'em with a good conscience. And the apostle saith, that there nis thing in this world, of which we shulden have so great joy, as when our conscience beareth us good witness; and the wise man saith, The substance of a man is full good when sin is not in a man's conscience. Afterward, in getting of your riches and in using of 'em, ye must have great business and great diligence that your good name be alway kept and conserved; for Solomon saith, that better it is and more it availeth a man to have a good name than for to have great riches; and therefore he saith in another place, Do great diligence (saith he) in keeping of thy friends and of thy good name, for it shall longer abide with thee than any treasure, be it never so precious; and certainly he should not be called a gentleman that, after God and good conscience all things left, ne doth his diligence and business to keepen his good name; and Cassiodore saith, that it is a sign of a gentle heart, when a man loveth and desireth to have a good name.
JOHN GOWER. Died 1408. John Gower, one of the most ancient of the English poets, was contemporary with Chaucer, his intimate friend. Where, when, or of what family he was born, is uncertain. His education, says Warton,' appears to have been liberal, and his course of reading extensive, and he tempered his severer studies by mingling with the world. By a critical cultivation of his native language, he labored to reform its irregularities, and to establish an English style. In these respects he resembled Chaucer, but he has little of his spirit, imagination, or elegance. His language is tolerably perspicuous, and his versification often harmonious, but his poetry is of a grave and sententious turn. He has much good sense, solid reflection, and useful observation; but he is serious and didactic on all occasions, preserving the tone of the scholar and the moralist on the most lively topics. Hence he is characterized by Chaucer as the « Morall Gower.” He died in 1408.
The chief work of Gower is entitled “ CONFESSIO AMANTIS," or the Confession of a Lover. It consists of a long dialogue between a Lover and his Confessor, who is a priest of Venus, and is called Genius. To make his pre
1 Read—his “History of English Poetry," 4 vols, a work of vast learning, but not unfrequently tedious from its numerous digressions.
cepts more impressive, he illustrates his injunctions by a series of apposite tales, with the morality of which the lover professes to be highly edified. One of which, entitled “Florent,” has considerable merit, and is told in Gower's best manner. As it is too long to insert in the Compendium, we will give the substance of it in prose, as near the author's language as we can, interspersing here and there a few lines of the original.
There was, in days of old, as men tell, a worthy knight by the name of Florent; nephew to the emperor, and of great strength and courage. He was also ambitious of distinction in arms, and to gain the applause of men, he would go into any regions in search of adventures. It happened upon a time when he was abroad, that, going through a narrow pass, he was attacked by a number of men, and was taken and led to a castle. In the affray, however, he had killed Branchus, the son and heir of the captain of the castle. The father and mother were ready to take vengeance on him, but remembrance of his worthiness, and his high connections, made them pause. They feared to slay him, and were in great disputes on what was best."
There was a lady in the castle of very great age, and the shrewdest of all that men then knew. She, on being asked her advice, said, that she would devise a plan that would bring about the death of Florent, and all by his own agreement, and without blame to any one. The knight is summoned, and she thus addresses him:
“ Florent, though thou art guilty of Branchus's death, no punishment shall be visited upon thee, upon this condition—that thou shalt be able to answer a question which I shall ask; and thou shalt take an oath that if thou prove unable to do this, thou shalt yield thyself up voluntarily to death. And that thou mayest have time to think of it, and to advise with others, a day shall be fixed for thee to go hence in safety, provided that at the expiration of the time agreed upon, thou return with thine answer.” The knight begs the lady to propose the question immediately, and agrees to all her conditions. She then says, “ Florent, my question is one which pertains to love,
What allé women most desire." Florent then, having taken an oath to return on a fixed day, goes forth, and returns to his uncle's court again. He tells him all that had befallen him, and asks the opinion of all the wisest men of the land upon the question to which he is bound to give an answer at the peril of his life. But he finds no two that agree. What some like, others dislike; but what to all is most pleasant, and most desired above all other
Such a thing they cannot find
By constellation ne kind, that is neither by the stars, nor by the laws of kind or nature.
At length the day arrived when Florent must return. He begs his uncle not to be angry with him, for that is a “point of his oath,” and he also entreats him not to let any one revenge his death when he shall hear of his lamentable end.
So he sets out on his return-pondering what to do what answer to give to the question proposed. At length he came to a large tree, under which sat an old woman most ugly to view
That for to speak of flesh and bone