« PreviousContinue »
A good man there was of religion,
He sctte not lus benefice to hire,
1 In describing the sanctity, simplicity, sincerity, paUcnce, industry, courage, and conscientious hnpsxtuUlty of this excellent parish-priest, Chaucer, as Warton observes, has shown his good sense saa rood heart. Is not Goldsmith indebted to It for some of the beautiful traits In the character of bis Village Preacher, in the Daerttd rubes r
t Pulahens—parishioners. 3 Sltbes—Umes. * Surflsance—sufficiency. s Much and lite— great and small, s Yaf—gave. 'Lewcd—Ignorant. 8 Accumbred—encumbered.
• Chantery. An endowment for the payment ot 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 ecrved by fifty-four priests.—DugdaU. /At. prt/. p. 41. "> Wltbold—wlthholden, withheld.
U Dlspttous—inexorable, angry to excess. 12 Dangerous—sparing. U Dignc—proud, disdainful. To dmwen folk to heaven with faire'ness,
By good ensample, was his business;
But it were1 any person obstinate,
What so he were of high or low estate,
Him would he snibben'2 sharply for the Hone's:8
A better priest I trow that no where none is.
He waited after no pomp or reverence,
Ne maked him no spiced conscience;
But Christes lore,4 and his apostles twelve
He taught, but first he followed it himselve.
But the Canterbury Tales are by no means the only prodnction of Chancer's muse. He has written many other poems containing passages equal to any thing found in his chief work. The following are the principal.
Thoilus Ann Chxsxihx. This is in five books, "in which the vicissitudes of love are depicted in a stmin of true poetry, with mnch pathos and simplicity of sentiment." The author calls it "a litill tmgedie." On the whole, however, it is mther tedious, from its innumemble digressions. For instance, Troilus declaims, for about one hundred lines, on the doctrine of predestination.
Romauut Op TnE 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 tmverses 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 Op 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 natuml 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 portmitures the history of ./Eneas, abridged from Virgil. After looking around him, he sees aloft, "fast by the sun," a gigantic eagle, which souses down, and bears him oft' 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 Zodiae. 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 twt hoc "dmimblv improved the wide field before
-warding her THE EAGLE'S FLIGHT WITH THE POET.
Anrl I adown 'gan looken tho,1
Tex Flower Akd The Leap. This has an instructive moral. A gentlewoman, 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 lading 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.8
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. From the Tale of Melibeus we extract the following excellent remarks
In getting of your riches, and in using of 'era, ye shulen alway have three things in your heart, that is to say, our Lord God, con
1 Tho—then. J Unnethes—not easily, with dlQlculty. 3 Prick—point.
* I stood, mcthought, betwixt earth, seas, and skies,
Temple of Fame, lines 11—18. » Bead—11 Clarke's Talcs from Chaucer," written in Imitation of Lamb's "Talcs from Shakspeare," and Clarke's "Riches of Chaucer." Also, a critique upon Chaucer in the Retrospective Review, ix. Its; and another in the Edinburgh Review, ill. «7 j alao a parallel between Chaucer and Spenser in lie latter Review, xxlv. 58.
science, and pood 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; fur, 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 Gown, one of the most ancient of the English poets, was contempomry with Chancer, his intimate friend. Where, when, or of what family he was born, is uncertain. His edncation, says Warton,1 appears to have been libeml, 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 Chancer, but he has little of his spirit, imagination, or elegance. His language is tolembly perspicuous, and his versilication often - —v" sententious turn. He has mnch 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 mat 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 alle women most desire."
Florpnt 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
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 lurn, 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 seta out on his return—pondering what to do—what answer to give 10 the luertion proposed. At length he came to a large tree, under which sat ar. "Id woman most ugly to view—
That for to speak of flesh and bone