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Above all other, I am most holde.
So that my courte yt may recorde." It has been supposed, on very slight grounds, that Chaucer's friendship for Gower met with some interruption towards the end of his life.*
Soon after his return from Italy, Chaucer appears to have been again employed on foreign service, for the records shew that he was absent from May to December 1379. In 1382 he received the appointment of comptroller of the petty customs of the port of London, in addition to his previous office of comptroller of the customs and subsidies; and in February 1385 he obtained the still greater favour of being allowed to nominate a permanent deputy, by which the poet must have been partially released from duties which can never have been agreeable to his tastes.
Several circumstances shew that Chaucer had some intimate connection with the county of Kent, where he probably held property; and he was elected a knight of the shire for that county in the parliament which met at Westminster on the 1st of October, 1386, and which closed its session on the 1st of November following ; shortly after which (before the 4th of December, 1386), Chaucer was dismissed from his employments, but for what reason we have not the slightest intimation, though it was doubtless connected with some of the petty intrigues of this intriguing reign. Probably, as Sir Harris Nicolas supposes, he had become obnoxious to the Duke of Gloucester and the other ministers who had succeeded his patron, the Duke of Lancaster, in the government; and it is well known that the proceedings of the parliament just alluded to were directed against the Duke of Lancaster's party.
We know nothing further of Chaucer's history until the year 1388, except that he continued regularly to receive his two pensions of twenty marks each ; but on the 1st of May in the latter year, the grants of these pensions were at his request cancelled, and the annuities assigned to John Scalby, which has been considered as a proof that the poet was at that time in distress, and obliged to sell his pensions. Exactly a year after this, in May 1389, on the young king's assumption of the reins of government, the Duke of Lancaster's party were restored to power, and Chaucer again appeared at court. On the 12th of July, the poet was appointed to the valuable office of clerk of the king's works at the palace of Westminster, the Tower of London, the castle of Berkhamstead, and the royal manors of Kennington, Eltham, Clarendon, Sheen, Byfleet, Childern Langley, and Feckenham, at the royal lodge of Hathenburgh in the New Forest, at the lodges in the parks of Clarendon, Childern Langley, and Feckenham, and at the mews for the king's falcons at Charing Cross. He was expressly permitted to perform his duties by deputy, and his salary was fixed at two shillings a day. Chaucer held this office, however, only two years, having been dismissed from it before the 16th of September 1391, but the cause of his removal is unknown.
During the latter years of Richard's reign Chaucer was evidently suffering from poverty; for instead of receiving, as formerly, his pension in half-yearly payments when due, we find him constantly taking sums in advance ; and as these were not always paid into his own hands, we are led to suppose that he was labouring under sickness as well as want. He was now aged as well as poor and needy; but the accession of Henry IV. came suddenly to cast a gleam of brightness on his declining days. Within four days after he came to the throne, Henry granted him, on the 3d of October, 1399, a yearly pension of forty marks, in addition to the annuity of twenty pounds which had been given him by
* See a note on the Man of Law's Tale, 1. 4498, and Sir H. Nicolas's Life of Chaucer, p. 39.
King Richard. On Christmas eve, 1399, the poet obtained the lease of a house near Westminster Abbey, where it is probable that he closed his days. His name appears in the issue rolls, as continuing to receive his pension, until the 1st of March, 1400, when it was received for him by Henry Somere, the clerk of the receipt of the exchequer, who is supposed to have been a relation of the “frere John Somere,” whose calendar is mentioned in Chaucer's treatise on the Astrolabe. Chaucer is stated, and with probable correctness, in an epitaph placed in 1550 near his grave in Westminster Abbey by Nicholas Brigham (a poet of that time), to have died on the 25th of October, 1400, at which time, according to the supposed date of his birth, he would have reached the age of seventy-two.
The above are all the circumstances of importance connected with the life of Chaucer that are known to be true. Although, in the documents in which they are found, he is looked upon only as an actor in the eventful politics of the day, we have other evidence that his poetical talents were highly appreciated by his contemporaries, as well as in the age which followed his death. By the English poets of his time, Gower and Occleve, he is spoken of in the warmest terms of praise; and that his reputation was high on the continent, we have a remarkable proof in a ballad addressed to him by the French poet Eustace Deschamps, which has been printed in Sir Harris Nicolas's Life and in my Anecdota Literaria. This latter document shews us also that Chaucer was on terms of friendship at least with the French poets of his day. Occleve not only paid a tribute of affection to his “maister" in his poetry, but he painted his portrait in the margin of the manuscript; and this portrait, evidently a good one, was copied at different times and in different forms, and was no doubt the original of all the portraits of Chaucer we now have. The best copy appears to be that in the Harleian Ms. No. 4866.
THE CANTERBURY TALES. . Chaucer's capital work is doubtless the Canterbury Tales. The idea of thus joining together a number of stories by means of a connecting narrative, or frame, appears to have originated in the East; but long before the time of Chaucer it had been made popular in Europe by the Disciplina Clericalis of Peter Alfonsi and its translations, and by the still more widely-spread romance of the Seven Sages. It is probable that the latter, of which an edition has been published by the Percy Society, gave Chaucer the hint of his plot, rather than the Decameron, with which I think it doubtful if Chaucer were acquainted. But Chaucer's plan was far superior to that of any of the similar collections which had preceded it, not only for the opportunity it afforded for diversity of style in the stories, but for the variety of character it admitted in the personages to be introduced. The general introduction to the Canterbury Tales is one of the most perfect compositions in the English language.
The Canterbury Tales appear to have been the compilation of Chaucer's latter years; for they contain allusions to events so late as the year 1386, and if (as there appears little room for doubt) there are allusions in the Man of Lawes Tale to the Confessio Amantis of Gower, this part of the work must have been composed at a still later period, as that poem is stated by its author to have been written in the sixteenth year of the reign of Richard II. i.e. 1392-3. I have used the word compilation, because it appears to me not only evident that Chaucer composed the Canterbury Tales not continuously, but in different portions which were afterwards to be joined together; but it is more than probable that he worked up into it tales which had originally been written, and perhaps published, as separate poems. Chaucer tells us, in the Legend of Good Women, that he had thus published the Knightes Tale,
“Al the love of Palamon and Arcite,
Of Thebes, though the storie is knowen lite;" as well as the life of St. Cecilia, or the Second Nonnes Tale,
" And made the life also of Saint Cecile."
It is quite clear that we possess the Canterbury Tales in an unfinished form. Tyrwhitt makes the following general observations on this subject:
“The general plan of the Canterbury Tales may be learned in a great measure from the prologue which Chaucer himself has prefixed to them. He supposes there that a company of pilgrims going to Canterbury assemble at an inn in Southwark, and agree that, for their common amusement on the road, each of them shall tell at least one tale in going to Canterbury, and another in coming back from thence; and that he who shall tell the best tales shall be treated by the rest with a supper upon their return to the same inn. This is, shortly, the fable. The characters of the pilgrims are as various as, at that time, could be found in the several departments of middle life; that is, in fact, as various as could, with any probability, be brought together, so as to form one company; the highest and the lowest ranks of society being necessarily excluded. It appears, further, that the design of Chaucer was not barely to recite the tales told by the pilgrims, but also to describe their journey, And all the remnant of their pilgrimage [ver. 726]; including, probably, their adventures at Canterbury as well as upon the road. If we add, that the tales, besides being nicely adapted to the characters of their respective relators, were intended to be connected together by suitable introductions, and interspersed with diverting episodes, and that the greatest part of them was to have been executed in verse, we shall have a tolerable idea of the extent and difficulty of the whole undertaking ; and admiring, as we must, the vigour of that genius which in an advanced age could begin so vast a work, we shall rather lament than be surprised that it has been left imperfect. In truth, if we compare those parts of the Canterbury Tales of which we are in possession, with the sketch which has been just given of the intended whole, it will be found that more than one-half is wanting. The prologue we have, perhaps, nearly complete, and the greatest part of the journey to Canterbury; but not a word of the transactions at Canterbury, or of the journey homeward, or of the epilogue, which, we may suppose, was to have concluded the work, with an account of the prize supper and the separation of the company. Even in that part which we have of the journey to Canterbury, it will be necessary to take notice of certain defects and inconsistencies, which can only be accounted for upon the supposition that the work was never finished by the author."
After a careful consideration of this question, I am inclined to believe that Chaucer not only left his grand poem in an unfinished state, but that he left it in detached portions only partially arranged, and that it was reduced to its present form after his death. This would explain satisfactorily the great variations of the manuscripts in the order of the tales, and the evident want of the connecting prologue in more than one instance. All the manuscripts agree in the order of the tales of the knight, miller, reve, and cook, and in placing them immediately after the general prologue, and it is therefore probable that they were left in that state by Chaucer. The Cookes Tale was evidently left unfinished by the author, and it was probably the person who reduced the whole to its present form that first introduced the tale of Gamelyn, to fill up what he supposed a lacuna, but whence he obtained this tale it is difficult to conjecture. Tyrwhitt is so entirely wrong in saying that this tale is not found in any manuscript of the first authority, that it occurs in the Harleian Ms. from which the present text is taken, and which I have no hesitation in stating to be the best and oldest manuscript of Chaucer I have yet met with. The style of Gamelyn would lead us to judge that it is not Chaucer's, but we can only reconcile this judgment with its being found so universally in the manuscripts, by means of the supposition of the posthumous arrangement of the Canterbury Tales, and its insertion by the arranger. I have printed the tale of Gamelyn from the same Harleian Ms. which has been the base of my text of the remainder of the poem; but I have distinguished it from the rest by printing it in smaller type, both on account of the apparently well-founded doubts of its being a genuine work of Chaucer, and in order not to interfere with the numbering of the lines in Tyrwhitt's edition, which I have thought it advisable to preserve.
After the Cookes Tale, the order of the tales differs very much in different manuscripts, until we arrive at the tale of the Manciple, with which, and the Parson's Tale, they all conclude. In the present text, I have strictly followed the Harleian manuscript, which agrees nearly with the order adopted by Tyrwhitt. The Man of Lawes Tale is not connected by its prologue with the tale which precedes it; and the Wyf of Bathes Tale evidently wants a few introductory lines, which Chaucer would have added had he lived to complete the poem. It is not improbable that in the state in which he left it, the Wife of Bath's prologue was the beginning of a portion of manuscript which contained the tales of the Wife of Bath, the Friar, and the Sompnour; and perhaps those of the Clerk, the Merchant, and the Squier, formed another portion. This latter portion appears to have been left unfinished, for the Squieres Tale breaks off abruptly in the middle, which is the more to be regretted, as it is one of Chaucer's best stories, and it is a story not found elsewhere. It appears by its prologue, that the Frankeleynes Tale was intended to follow the Squieres Tale. The Second Nonnes Tale, or the life of St. Cecilia, has no prologue, and appears to be in the same form in which it was originally written for separate publication. The prologue to the Chanones Yemannes Tale shews that this latter was intended to follow the Life of St. Cecilia. These two tales are placed, in Tyrwhitt's edition, after the tale of the Nun's Priest. Of the tales of the Doctour and the Pardoner we can only say that they were clearly intended to come together, though they are differently placed in manuscripts with respect to those which precede and follow. The tales of the Shipman, the Prioress, Chaucer's two tales of Sir Thopas and Melibeus, the Monk's tale, and the tale of the Nun's Priest, are all connected together by their prologues, and appear to have occupied another portion of Chaucer's manuscript, which also was apparently defective at the end, the prologue which was to have connected it with the next tale being unfinished. The prologue to the tale of the Manciple contains no reference to a preceding tale; but from the way in which the Cook is introduced in it, it would seem to have been composed at a time when Chaucer did not intend to introduce the Cook's tale after that of the Reve. The Parson's tale is connected by its prologue with that of the Manciple, and follows it in all the manuscripts. The old printed editions after 1542, inserted between these a poem, which was evidently misplaced, under the title of the Plowman's Tale, but on what authority it was placed there we are totally ignorant. The “retractation” at the end of the Parsones Tale was perhaps introduced by the person who arranged the text after Chaucer's death.
With the tale, or rather discourse, of the Parson, Chaucer brings his pilgrims to Canterbury; but his original plan evidently included the journey back to London. Some writer, within a few years after Chaucer's death, undertook to continue the work, and produced a ludicrous account of the proceedings of the pilgrims at Canterbury, and the story of Beryn, which was to be the first of the stories told on their return. These are printed by Urry from a manuscript of which I have not been able to trace the subsequent history, and, if it should not previously be found, I shall reprint them from Urry's edition, correcting the more apparent errors, for Urry's faithlessness to his manuscript is quite extraordinary
The immense popularity of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is proved by the number of manuscript copies still remaining. It was one of the first books printed in England, and went through a considerable number of editions before the seventeenth century. For the information of those who are interested in the biographical portion of a subject like this, I give Tyrwhitt's history of the printed editions of the Canterbury Tales, omitting some of the notes.
“ The art of printing had been invented and exercised for a considerable time, in most countries of Europe, before the art of criticism was called in to superintend and direct its operations. It is, therefore, much more to the honour of our meritorious countryman, William Caxton, that he chose to make the Canterbury Tales one of the earliest productions of his press, than it can be to his discredit that he printed them very incorrectly. He probably took the first Ms. that he could procure to print from, and it happened,
unluckily, to be one of the worst in all respects that he could possibly have met with. The very few copies of this edition which are now remaining* have no date, but Mr. Ames supposes it to have been printed in 1475 or 6.
“ It is still more to the honour of Caxton, that when he was informed of the imperfections of his edition, he very readily undertook a second, 'for to satisfy the author' (as he says himself), 'whereas tofore by ignorance he had erred in hurting and diffaming his book.' His whole account of this matter, in the preface to this second edition, is so clear and ingenuous, that I shall insert it below in his own words.† This edition is also without date, except that the preface informs us that it was printed six years after the first.
Ames mentions an edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Collected by William Caxton, and printed by Wynken de Worde at Westmestre, in 1495. Folio.' He does not appear to have seen it himself, nor have I ever met with any other authority for its existence; which however I do not mean to dispute. If there was such an edition, we may be tolerably sure that it was only a copy of Caxton's.
“This was certainly the case of both Pynson's editions. He has prefixed to both the introductory part of Caxton's Prohemye to his second edition, without the least alteration. In what follows, he says that he purposes to imprint his book [in the first edition] by a copy of the said Master Caxton and (in the second] by a copy of William Caxton's imprinting. I That the copy, mentioned in both these passages, by which Pynson purposed to imprint, was really Caxton's second edition, is evident from the slightest comparison of the three books: Pynson's first edition has no date, but is supposed (upon good grounds, I think) to have been printed not long after 1491, the year of Caxton's death. His second editions
* “ The late Mr. West was so obliging as to lend voyre me to emprynte it agayn, for to satisfy the mo a complete copy of this edition, which is now, auctour, where as tofure by ygnoraunce I erryd in as I have heard, in the King's Library. There is hurtyng and dyffamyng his book in dyverce places, another complete copy in the library of Merton in setting in somme thynges that he never sayd ne College, which is illuminated, and has a ruled line made, and leving out many thynges that he made, under every printed one, to give it the appearance, whyche ben requysite to be sette in it. And thus I suppose, of a Ms. Neither of these books, though we fyll at accord, and he full gentylly gate of hys seemingly complete, has any preface or advertise- fader the said book, and delyvered it to me, by ment."
whiche I have corrected my book, as heere after † “Preface to Caxton's second edition from a alle alonge by the ayde of almighty God shal folowe, copy in the Library of St. John's College, Oxford. whom I humbly beseche, &c. Ames, p. 55.-Whiche book I have dylygently over “Mr. Lewis, in his Life of Caxton, p. 104, has
and duly examyned to the ende that it be made published a minute account of the contents of this accordyng unto his owen makyng; for Ifynde many edition from a copy in the Library of Magdalen of the sayd bookes, whiche wryters have abrydgyd College, Cambridge, but without deciding whether it, and many thynges left out, and in some places it is the first or the second edition. have sette certayn versys that he never made ne “It is undoubtedly the second ; but the preface sette in hys booke, of whyche bookes so incorrecte is lost. There is an imperfect copy of this edition was one broughte to me VI. yere passyd, whiche I in the Museum, and another in the library of the supposed had ben veray true and correcte, and Royal Society. Both together would not make a accordyng to the same I dyde do emprynte a cer- complete one." tayn nomber of them, whyche anon were solde to “See the Prohemies to Pynson's first and second many and dyverse gentylmen, of whom one gen- editions in the preface to Urry's Chaucer. There tylman cam to me, and sayd that this book was is
complete copy of Pynson s first edition in tho not according in many places unto the book that library of the Royal Society." Gefferey Chaucer had made. To whom I answered, $ “I venture to call this Pynson's second edition, that I had made it accordyng to my copye, and by though Ames (from some notes of Bagford) speaks me was nothyng added ne mynusshyd. Thenne he of editions in 1520 and 1522. He does not appear sayd, he knewe a book whyche hys fader had much to have seen them himself. Mr. West had a copy lovyd, that was very trewe, and accordyng unto of the edition of 1526, in which the name of the his owen first book by hym made ; and sayd more, printer and the date of the impression are regularly yf I wold emprynte it agayn, he wold gete me the set down at the end of the Canterbury Tales. After same book for a copye. How be it he wyst well that follow · Troilus and Crescide' and 'the Bake of that hys fader wold not gladly departe fro it. To Fame,' at the end of which last is a note, copied whom I said, in caas that he coude gete me suche a from Caxton's edition of the same book, with this booke, trewe and correcte, yet I wold ones ende- I addition, And here foloweth another of his workes.