Page images

The holy blissful martyr for to seek
That them hath holpen when that they were sick.

Befell that in that season on a day,
In Southwark at the Tabard 1 as I lay,
Ready to wenden? on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury with devout courage;
At night was come into that hostelry
Well nine-and-twenty in a company
Of sundry folk, by aventure yfall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all
That toward Canterbury woulden ride.
The chambers and the stables weren wide, 3
And well we weren eased' atté best.

A Knight there was, and that a worthy man,
That from the time that he first began
To riden out, he loved chivalry,
Truth and honour, freedom and courtesy.
Full worthy was he in his lordés war,
And thereto had he ridden, no man farre.5
As well in Christendom as in Heatheness,
And ever honour'd for his worthiness.

With him there was his son, a younge Squire,
A lover and a lusty bachelor,
With lockés curl'd as they were laid in press;
Of twenty years of age he was I guess.
Of his statúre he was of even length,
And wonderly deliver, and great of strength;
And he had been some time in chevachie,
In Flaunders, in Artois, and in Picardie,
And borne him well, as of so little space,
In hope to standen in his lady's grace.

Embroider'd was he, as it were a mead
All full of freshé flowrés white and red:
Singing he was or floyting' all the day;
He was as fresh as is the month of May:
Short was his gown, with sleevés long and wide;
Well could he sit on horse, and fairé ride:
He couidé songés make, and well endite,
Joust and eke dance, and well pourtray and write :
So hot he loved, that by nightertale 10
He slept no more than doth the nightingale:
Courteous he was, lowly and serviceable,
And carv'd before his father at the table,

1 That is, the inn called “The Tabard.” The Tabard was a "jacket, or sleeveless coat, worn in times past by noblemen in the wars, but now only by heralds, and is called their coat of arms in service."-Speght. ? Wenden--go, make way. 3 Widespacious. 4 Eased atté best commodiously lodged. 6 Farre-farther. 6 Wonderly deliver--wonderfully active : from the French libre, free. 7 Chevachie, (French, chevauchee,) a military expedition. & Conducted himsell well, considering the short time that he had served. Floyting-futing, playing on thu fute, whistling. The squire would not, in all probability, have a flute always with him. I should therefore prefer the reading that he "whitled all the day;" as being a more natural touch of charnoter, as well as in keeping with the hilarity of youth. 10 Nightertale--night-lime. I Jn the interesting character of the “clerk" or scholar, whose poverty, delight in study, and inattention to worldly amairs are eminently conspicuous, Warton thinks that Chaucer glanoed at the Inattention paid to literature, and the unprofitableness of philosophy.

THE CLERK. A Clerk? there was of Oxenford also, That unto logic haddé long ygo.3 As leané was his horse as is a rake, And he was not right fat I undertake, But lookéd hollow, and thereto soberly. Full threadbare was his overest courtepy; For he had gotten him yet no benefice, Nor was nought worldly to have an office For him was levers have at his bed's head Twenty bookés clothéd in black or red Of Aristotle and his philosophy, Than robés rich, or fiddle or psaltry: But all be that he was a philosopher Yet haddé he but little gold in coffer, But all that he might of his friendés hent, On bookes and on learning he it spent, And busily 'gan for the soulés pray Of them that gave him wherewith to scholay.7 Of study took he mosté cure and heed; Not a word spake he more than was need, And that was said in form and reverence, And short and quick, and full of high sentence :: Sounding in moral virtue was his speech, And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.


A good Wife was there of besidé Bath, But she was some deal deaf, and that was scathe. Of cloth-making she haddé such a haunt 10 She passed them of Ypres and of Ghent. In all the parish, wife ne was there none That to the off’ring before her shouldé gone, And if there did, certain so wroth was she, That she was out of allé charity. Her coverchiefsll weren full fine of ground; I dursté swear they weigheden a pound, That on the Sunday were upon her head: Her hosed weren of fine scarlet red, Full strait ytied, and shoes full moist 12 and new Bold was her face, and fair and red of hew. She was a worthy woman all her live; Husbands at the church door had she had five.13

? That is, a scholar. 8 Ygo-part. pist, gone. 4 Overest courtepy-uppermost short cloak. & Lever-rather. Hent-catch hold of. 1 Scholay-study. 8 High sentence-I. e. lofty period. Scathe-harm, damage, 10 Haunt-custom. 11 Head-dress. 12 Moist-fresh.

18 This alludes to the old custom of the parties joining hands at the door of the church before they went up to the altar to consummate the union; and this jolly dame and good housewife is represented as having gone through that interesting ceremony five times.

A good man there was of religión,
That was a pooré Parson of a town,
But rich he was of holy thought and work;
He was also a learned man, a Clerk,
That Christés gospel truly wouldé preach;
His parishens? devoutly would he teach;
Benign he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversity full patiént,
And such he was yproved often sithés ;3
Full loth were him to cursen for his tithés;
But rather would he given out of doubt
Unto his pooré parishens about
Of his off"ring, and eke of his substánce;
He could in little thing have suffisance: 4
Wide was his parish, and houses far asunder,
But he ne left nought for no rain nor thunder,
In sickness and in mischief, to visit
The farthest in his parish much and lite5
Upon his feet, and in his hand a staff:
This noble 'nsample to his sheep he yaf,6
That first he wrought, and afterward he taught,
Out of the gospel he the wordés caught,
And this figure he added yet thereto,
That if gold rusté what should iron do?
For if a priest be foul on whom we trust,
No wonder is a lewéd? man to rust;
And shame it is, if that a priest take keep
To see a "fouléd” shepherd and clean sheep :
Well ought a priest ensample for to give
By his cleanness how his sheep should live.

He setté not his benefice to hire,
And let his sheep accumbreds in the mire,
And ran unto London unto Saint Poule's
To seeken him a chanteryg for souls,
Or with a brotherhood to be withold: 10
But dwelt at home and kepté well his fold,
So that the wolf ne made it not miscarry;
He was a shepherd and no mercenary;
As though he holy were, and virtuous,
He was to sinful men not dispitous, 11
Ne of his speeché dangerousl2 ne digne ; 13
But in his teaching díscreet and benign.

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

. Parisbeno-parishioners. 8 Sithes-times. 4 Suffisance-sufficiency. Much and le-great and small. & Yaf-gave. Lewed-ignorant. 8 Accumbred-encumbered.

• 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 Arty-four priests.-Dugdale, Hist. pref. p. 41. 10 Withold-withholden, withheld.

1 Dispitous-Inexorable, angry to excess. 19 Dangerous-sparing. 18 Digne-proud, disdainful

To drawen folk to heaven with fairéness,
By good ensample, was his business;
But it werel any person obstinate,
What so he were of high or low estate,
Him would he snibben? sharply for the nonés :3
A better pries: I trow that no where none is.
He waited after no pomp or reverence,
Ne makéd him no spiced conscience;
But Christés lore, 4 and his apostles twelve
He taught, but first he followed it himselve.

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 alott, “ 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 uneflaced. 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.

1 But it were--should it happen that any one were, &c.

2 Snibben-rebuke. i For the nones-for the occasion.

4 Lore-learning, doctrine.


And I adown 'gan looken tho,
And beheld fieldés and plainés,
Now hillés and now mountainés,
Now valleys and now forestés,
And now unnethésể great beastés,
Now riverés, now cityés,
Now townés, and now great treés
Now shippés sailing in the sea;
But thus soon in a while he
Was flowen from the ground so high
That all the world, as to mine eye,
No more yseemed than a prick,3
Or ellés was the air so thick

That I ne might it not discern. Tax FLOWER AND THE LEAF. 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 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. From 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

1 Tho-then.
2 Unnethes--not easily, with dificulty.

3 Prick-point. 4 1 stood, methought, betwixt earth, seas, and skles,

The whole creation open to my eyes.
In air self-balanced hung the globe below,
Where mountains rise, and circling oceans flow;
Here naked rocks and empty wastes are seen,
There tow'ry cities, and the forests green;
Here sailing ships delight the wand'ring eyes;
There trees, and intermingled temples rise.

Temple of Fume, lines 114-18. 6 Read_"Clarke's Tales from Chaucer," written in imitation of Lamb's "Tales from Shakspeare, and Clarke's “Riches of Chancer." Also, a critique upon Chaucer in the Retrospective Review, 12. 173; and another in the Edinburgh Review, ifj. 437; also a parallel between Chaucer and Spenser in the latter Review, xxiv. 58.

« PreviousContinue »