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that he should remember bis old age and leave off such fooleries:—
"For loves lust and lockes hore
—his cure from the wound caused by the dart of love, and his absolution, received as if by a pious Roman Catholic.
The materials for this extensive work, and the stories inserted as examples for and against the lover's passion, are drawn from various sources. Some have been taken from the Bible, a great number from Ovid's Metamorphoses, which must have been a particular favourite with the author, others from the mediæval histories of the siege of Troy, of the feats of Alexander the Great—from the oldest collections of novels, known under the name of the Gesta Romanorum, chiefly in its form as used in England—from the Pantheon and the Speculum Regum of Godfrey of Viterbo—from the romance of Sir Lancelot, and the chronicles of Cassiodorus and Isidorus. We believe that all the stories in the work may be referred with certainty to one or other of these sources, except one tale, perhaps the latest in date, taken from the apocryphal life of Pope Boniface VIII. In the sixth book the confessor enters into a long discourse on the contents of the Almagest, he explains the doctrines of the age concerning the vegetable, mineral, and animal stones, and asserts his own belief in the existence of the philosopher's stone. The seventh book contains an exposition of a great portion of Aristotle's philosophy, chiefly his physics, ethics and metaphysics, not taken from the original, but very likely borrowed from the medieval Pseudo-Aristotelian compendium, known under the name of the Secretum Secretorum.
This great amount of knowledge and science, as studied and revered in those days, gives the work the appearance of a cyclopædia, in which the author was anxious and vain enough to amass whatever he had learnt and extracted from his own library, the contents of which from what has been said before, the reader may easily imagine. The accumulation of such stores, both of narrative and scientific matter, left necessarily very little space for a display of the author's imagination, and for poetic invention. He did not possess the deep love for the beauties of external nature, nor the inimitable humour and diversified natural passion, which we admire in Chaucer. But wanting these essentially poetical attributes, he indulges freely in reasoning and moralizing on the happiness and misfortunes of love, which in former times he may have amply experienced. But however dry his poetic vein, it is not altogether without its charms. The vivacity and variety of his short verses evince a correct ear and a happy power, by the assistance of which he enhances the interest in a tale, and frequently terminates it with satisfaction to the reader.*
The style in which the Confessio Amantis is written, bears strong marks of the author's labour; but he did not succeed in blending together the two principal elements of his mother-tongue so skilfully and harmonioufly as Chaucer, whose earliest compositions show a considerable practice in the use of what was then a modern language. As Gower wrote much in French, it is but natural, that there should be in his English a large proportion of Norman-French words; even in the spelling, in which he adheres, if we go back to the more ancient MSS, to the form used by the French writers of his day. Yet the Saxon ingredient in his language is as large as in the works of his great contemporary, and comprises a considerable number of words, which at present are either
• W. W. Lloyd, in Singer's Shakespeare, vol. iv. p. 261.
obsolete, or have altogether changed their meaning. There are very few examples of alliteration and other characteristics of pure Saxonism. Some of his words, the pronunciation of which is frequently regulated by the rhyme, or may perhaps be referred to his provincial dialect, are curious. For instance, instead of I Jaw, he invariably wrote I sigh; for not, he always wrote nought. In many instances, especially where words change their vowels in deference to the preceding rhyme, he sets all rules at defiance, and verbs of the strong conjugation are frequently used indiscriminately in the present or preterite tense without the slightest regard to the sense of the period. His sentences are often diffuse, andungrammatical; and it was evidently no easy task for him to compose this long poem in English.
In spite of all these defects the Confeslio Amantis very soon became a favourite in England. Copies were transcribed for the court, the nobility, and the general reader. The work is among the earliest productions of the English press, and retained its admirers until brighter stars made their appearance above the horizon of our national literature.
We have already seen, how Chaucer characterized the style of his brother poet. Even a contemporary chronicler seems to borrow occasionally from the Confeslio Amantis. The Monk of Evesham, in the Life of Richard II. says of the prelates: "Dimiserunt oves expositas luporum rictibus, set nullus erexit baculum ad abigendum,"* which agrees with Gower's Prologue i.:
"For if the wolf come in the way,
* Ed. Hearne, p. 114.
"After the torning os the whele,
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Skelton dedicated a few lines to Gower, which are not without interest as descriptive of his poetry; in the Boke of Philip Sparrow, he fays:—
"Gowers englyfhe is olde,
And of no value is tolde;
His matter is worth gold,
And worthy to be enrold,"
and again in the Crowne of Laurell:—
"Gower, that first garnijhed our English rude,
At last Shakespeare, or whoever wrote or touched with true Shakespearean genius the play of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, took his subject directly from the story of Appollinus of Tyre, as told in the eighth book of the Confessio Amantis, and introduced in the place of Chorus old Gower himself, prologuizing and epiloguizing in his own lively metre. The words by which the drama is opened—
"To sing asong that old was sung,
* Ed. Hearne, p. 149.
III.—Manuscripts And Editions Of The Confessio
The Manuscripts of Gower's English work are very numerous; there are copies at Oxford, at Cambridge, at Dublin, in the British Museum, and in private collections. At the first-mentioned place there are no less than ten, for a short notice of which the editor is indebted to the Rev. H. O. Coxe, of the Bodleian Library.
MS. Laud, 609, MS. Bodl. 693, MS. Selden, B. 11. and MS. Corp. Chr. Coll. 67, contain the version addressed to Richard II. with the complimentary verses on Chaucer at the end.
MS. Fairfax, 3, MS. Hatton, 51, MS. Wadham Coll. 13, and MS. New Coll. 266, contain the Lancaster copy.
Besides these there are two hybrids: MS. Bodl. 294, which has the dedication to Richard at the commencement, and omits the verses on Chaucer; and MS. New Coll. 326, which is dedicated to Henry of Lancaster, and compliments Chaucer at the end. The first of these has the same scribe and illuminator throughout; the latter part of the second appears to have been written by a different hand. All these MSS. are of the fifteenth century.
The four copies at Cambridge have been briefly described byTodd,in his Illustrations of Gower and Chaucer.