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  1. NOT in point of genius only, but even in point of time, Chaucer
  2. may claim the proud designation of "first" English poet. He
  3. wrote "The Court of Love" in 1345, and "The Romaunt of the
  4. Rose," if not also "Troilus and Cressida," probably within the
  5. next decade: the dates usually assigned to the poems of
  6. Laurence Minot extend from 1335 to 1355, while "The Vision
  7. of Piers Plowman" mentions events that occurred in 1360 and
  8. 1362 -- before which date Chaucer had certainly written "The
  9. Assembly of Fowls" and his "Dream." But, though they were
  10. his contemporaries, neither Minot nor Langland (if Langland
  11. was the author of the Vision) at all approached Chaucer in the
  12. finish, the force, or the universal interest of their works and the
  13. poems of earlier writer; as Layamon and the author of the
  14. "Ormulum," are less English than Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-
  15. Norman. Those poems reflected the perplexed struggle for
  16. supremacy between the two grand elements of our language,
  17. which marked the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; a struggle
  18. intimately associated with the political relations between the
  19. conquering Normans and the subjugated Anglo-Saxons.
  20. Chaucer found two branches of the language; that spoken by
  21. the people, Teutonic in its genius and its forms; that spoken by
  22. the learned and the noble, based on the French  Yet each branch
  23. had begun to borrow of the other -- just as nobles and people
  24. had been taught to recognise that each needed the other in the
  25. wars and the social tasks of the time; and Chaucer, a scholar, a
  26. courtier, a man conversant with all orders of society, but
  27. accustomed to speak, think, and write in the words of the
  28. highest, by his comprehensive genius cast into the simmering
  29. mould a magical amalgamant which made the two half-hostile
  30. elements unite and interpenetrate each other. Before Chaucer
  31. wrote, there were two tongues in England, keeping alive the
  32. feuds and resentments of cruel centuries; when he laid down his
  33. pen, there was practically but one speech -- there was, and ever
  34. since has been, but one people.
  35.  
  36. Geoffrey Chaucer, according to the most trustworthy traditions-
  37. for authentic testimonies on the subject are wanting -- was born
  38. in 1328; and London is generally believed to have been his
  39. birth-place. It is true that Leland, the biographer of England's
  40. first great poet who lived nearest to his time, not merely speaks
  41. of Chaucer as having been  born many years later than the date
  42. now assigned, but mentions Berkshire or Oxfordshire as the
  43. scene of his birth. So great uncertainty have some felt on the
  44. latter score, that elaborate parallels have been drawn between
  45. Chaucer, and Homer -- for whose birthplace several cities
  46. contended, and whose descent was traced to the demigods.
  47. Leland may seem to have had fair opportunities of getting at the
  48. truth about Chaucer's birth -- for Henry VIII had him, at the
  49. suppression of the monasteries throughout England, to search
  50. for records of public interest the archives of the religious
  51. houses. But it may be questioned whether he was likely to find
  52. many authentic particulars regarding the personal history of the
  53. poet in the quarters which he explored; and Leland's testimony
  54. seems to be set aside by Chaucer's own evidence as to his
  55. birthplace, and by the contemporary references which make him
  56. out an aged man for years preceding the accepted date of his
  57. death. In one of his prose works, "The Testament of Love," the
  58. poet speaks of himself in terms that strongly confirm the claim
  59. of London to the honour of giving him birth; for he there
  60. mentions "the city of London, that is to me so dear and sweet,
  61. in which I was forth growen; and more kindly love," says he,
  62. "have I to that place than to any other in earth; as every kindly
  63. creature hath full appetite to that place of his kindly engendrure,
  64. and to will rest and peace in that place to abide." This tolerably
  65. direct evidence is supported -- so far as it can be at such an
  66. interval of time -- by the learned Camden; in his Annals of
  67. Queen Elizabeth, he describes Spencer, who was certainly born
  68. in London, as being a fellow-citizen of Chaucer's -- "Edmundus
  69. Spenserus, patria Londinensis, Musis adeo arridentibus natus, ut
  70. omnes Anglicos superioris aevi poetas, ne Chaucero quidem
  71. concive excepto, superaret." <1> The records of the time notice
  72. more than one person of the name of Chaucer, who held
  73. honourable positions about the Court; and though we cannot
  74. distinctly trace the poet's relationship with any of these
  75. namesakes or antecessors, we find excellent ground for belief
  76. that his family or friends stood well at Court, in the ease with
  77. which Chaucer made his way there, and in his subsequent
  78. career.
  79.  
  80. Like his great successor, Spencer, it was the fortune of Chaucer
  81. to live under a splendid, chivalrous, and high-spirited reign.
  82. 1328 was the second year of Edward III; and, what with Scotch
  83. wars, French expeditions, and the strenuous and costly struggle
  84. to hold England in a worthy place among the States of Europe,
  85. there was sufficient bustle, bold achievement, and high ambition
  86. in the period to inspire a poet who was prepared to catch the
  87. spirit of the day. It was an age of elaborate courtesy, of high-
  88. paced gallantry, of courageous venture, of noble disdain for
  89. mean tranquillity; and Chaucer, on the whole a man of peaceful
  90. avocations, was penetrated to the depth of his consciousness
  91. with the lofty and lovely civil side of that brilliant and restless
  92. military period. No record of his youthful years, however,
  93. remains to us; if we believe that at the age of eighteen he was a
  94. student of Cambridge, it is only on the strength of a reference in
  95. his "Court of Love", where the narrator is made to say that his
  96. name is Philogenet, "of Cambridge clerk;" while he had  already
  97. told us that when he was stirred to seek the Court of Cupid he
  98. was "at eighteen year of age." According to Leland, however,
  99. he was educated at Oxford, proceeding thence to France and
  100. the Netherlands, to finish his studies; but there remains no
  101. certain evidence of his having belonged to either University. At
  102. the same time, it is not doubted that his family was of good
  103. condition; and, whether or not we accept the assertion that his
  104. father held the rank of knighthood -- rejecting the hypotheses
  105. that make him a merchant, or a vintner "at the corner of Kirton
  106. Lane" -- it is plain, from Chaucer's whole career, that he had
  107. introductions to public life, and recommendations to courtly
  108. favour, wholly independent of his genius. We have the clearest
  109. testimony that his mental training was of wide range and
  110. thorough excellence, altogether rare for a mere courtier in those
  111. days: his poems attest his intimate acquaintance with the
  112. divinity, the philosophy, and the scholarship of his time, and
  113. show him to have had the sciences, as then developed and
  114. taught, "at his fingers' ends." Another proof of Chaucer's good
  115. birth and fortune would he found in the statement that, after his
  116. University career was completed, he entered the Inner Temple -
  117. - the expenses of which could be borne only by men of noble
  118. and opulent families; but although there is a story that he was
  119. once fined two shillings for thrashing a Franciscan friar in Fleet
  120. Street, we have no direct authority for believing that the poet
  121. devoted himself to the uncongenial study of the law. No special
  122. display of knowledge on that subject appears in his works; yet
  123. in the sketch of the Manciple, in the Prologue to the Canterbury
  124. Tales, may be found indications of his familiarity with the
  125. internal economy of the Inns of Court; while numerous legal
  126. phrases and references hint that his comprehensive information
  127. was not at fault on legal matters. Leland says that he quitted the
  128. University "a ready logician, a smooth rhetorician, a pleasant
  129. poet, a grave philosopher, an ingenious mathematician, and a
  130. holy divine;" and by all accounts, when Geoffrey Chaucer
  131. comes before us authentically for the first time, at the age of
  132. thirty-one, he was possessed of knowledge and
  133. accomplishments far beyond the common standard of his day.
  134.  
  135. Chaucer at this period possessed also other qualities fitted to
  136. recommend him to favour in a Court like that of Edward III.
  137. Urry describes him, on the authority of a portrait, as being then
  138. "of a fair beautiful complexion, his lips red and full, his size of a
  139. just medium, and his port and air graceful and majestic. So,"
  140. continues the ardent biographer, -- "so that every ornament that
  141. could claim the approbation of the great and fair, his abilities to
  142. record the valour of the one, and celebrate the beauty of the
  143. other, and his wit and gentle behaviour to converse with both,
  144. conspired to make him a complete courtier."  If we believe that
  145. his "Court of Love" had received such publicity as the literary
  146. media of the time allowed in the somewhat narrow and select
  147. literary world -- not to speak of "Troilus and Cressida," which,
  148. as Lydgate mentions it first among Chaucer's works, some have
  149. supposed to be a youthful production -- we find a third and not
  150. less powerful recommendation to the favour of the great co-
  151. operating with his learning and his gallant bearing. Elsewhere
  152. <2> reasons have been shown for doubt whether "Troilus and
  153. Cressida" should not be assigned to a later period of Chaucer's
  154. life; but very little is positively known about the dates and
  155. sequence of his various works. In the year 1386, being called as
  156. witness with regard to a contest on a point of heraldry between
  157. Lord Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor, Chaucer deposed that
  158. he entered on his military career in 1359. In that year Edward
  159. III invaded France, for the third time, in pursuit of his claim to
  160. the French crown; and we may fancy that, in describing the
  161. embarkation of the knights in "Chaucer's Dream", the poet
  162. gained some of the vividness and stir of his picture from his
  163. recollections of the embarkation of the splendid and well-
  164. appointed royal host at Sandwich, on board the eleven hundred
  165. transports provided for the enterprise. In this expedition the
  166. laurels of Poitiers were flung on the ground; after vainly
  167. attempting Rheims and Paris, Edward was constrained, by cruel
  168. weather and lack of provisions, to retreat toward his ships; the
  169. fury of the elements made the retreat more disastrous than an
  170. overthrow in pitched battle; horses and men perished by
  171. thousands, or fell into the hands of the pursuing French.
  172. Chaucer, who had been made prisoner at the siege of Retters,
  173. was among the captives in the possession of France when the
  174. treaty of Bretigny -- the "great peace" -- was concluded, in
  175. May, 1360. Returning to England, as we may suppose, at the
  176. peace, the poet, ere long, fell into another and a pleasanter
  177. captivity; for his marriage is generally believed to have taken
  178. place shortly after his release from foreign durance.  He had
  179. already gained the personal friendship and favour of John of
  180. Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the King's son; the Duke, while Earl
  181. of Richmond, had courted, and won to wife after a certain
  182. delay, Blanche, daughter and co-heiress of Henry Duke of
  183. Lancaster; and Chaucer is by some believed to have written
  184. "The Assembly of Fowls" to celebrate the wooing, as he wrote
  185. "Chaucer's Dream" to celebrate the wedding, of his patron. The
  186. marriage took place in 1359, the year of Chaucer's expedition to
  187. France; and as, in "The Assembly of Fowls," the formel or
  188. female eagle, who is supposed to represent the Lady Blanche,
  189. begs that her choice of a mate may be deferred for a year, 1358
  190. and 1359 have been assigned as the respective dates of the two
  191. poems already mentioned.  In the "Dream," Chaucer
  192. prominently introduces his own lady-love, to whom, after the
  193. happy union of his patron with the Lady Blanche, he is wedded
  194. amid great rejoicing; and various expressions in the same poem
  195. show that not only was the poet high in favour with the
  196. illustrious pair, but that his future wife had also peculiar claims
  197. on their regard.  She was the younger daughter of Sir Payne
  198. Roet, a native of Hainault, who had, like many of his
  199. countrymen, been attracted to England by the example and
  200. patronage of Queen Philippa. The favourite attendant on the
  201. Lady Blanche was her elder sister Katherine: subsequently
  202. married to Sir Hugh Swynford, a gentleman of Lincolnshire;
  203. and destined, after the death of Blanche, to be in succession
  204. governess of her children, mistress of John of Gaunt, and
  205. lawfully-wedded Duchess of Lancaster. It is quite sufficient
  206. proof that Chaucer's position at Court was of no mean
  207. consequence, to find that his wife, the sister of the future
  208. Duchess of Lancaster, was one of the royal maids of honour,
  209. and even, as Sir Harris Nicolas conjectures, a god-daughter of
  210. the Queen -- for her name also was Philippa.
  211.  
  212. Between 1359, when the poet himself testifies that he was made
  213. prisoner while bearing arms in France, and September 1366,
  214. when Queen Philippa granted to her former maid of honour, by
  215. the name of Philippa Chaucer, a yearly pension of ten marks, or
  216. L6, 13s. 4d., we have no authentic mention of Chaucer, express
  217. or indirect. It is plain from this grant that the poet's marriage
  218. with Sir Payne Roet's daughter was not celebrated later than
  219. 1366; the probability is, that it closely followed his return from
  220. the wars. In 1367, Edward III. settled upon Chaucer a life-
  221. pension of twenty marks, "for the good service which our
  222. beloved Valet -- 'dilectus Valettus noster' -- Geoffrey Chaucer
  223. has rendered, and will render in time to come." Camden
  224. explains 'Valettus hospitii' to signify a Gentleman of the Privy
  225. Chamber; Selden says that the designation was bestowed "upon
  226. young heirs designed to he knighted, or young gentlemen of
  227. great descent and quality." Whatever the strict meaning of the
  228. word, it is plain that the poet's position was honourable and
  229. near to the King's person, and also that his worldly
  230. circumstances were easy, if not affluent -- for it need not be said
  231. that twenty marks in those days represented twelve or twenty
  232. times the sum in these.  It is believed that he found powerful
  233. patronage, not merely from the Duke of Lancaster and his wife,
  234. but from Margaret Countess of Pembroke, the King's daughter.
  235. To her Chaucer is supposed to have addressed the "Goodly
  236. Ballad", in which the lady is celebrated under the image of the
  237. daisy; her he is by some understood to have represented under
  238. the title of Queen Alcestis, in the "Court of Love" and the
  239. Prologue to "The Legend of Good Women;" and in her praise
  240. we may read his charming descriptions and eulogies of the daisy
  241. -- French, "Marguerite," the name of his Royal patroness. To
  242. this period of Chaucer's career we may probably attribute the
  243. elegant and courtly, if somewhat conventional, poems of "The
  244. Flower and the Leaf," "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale," &c.
  245. "The Lady Margaret," says Urry, ". . . would frequently
  246. compliment him upon his poems. But this is not to be meant of
  247. his Canterbury Tales, they being written in the latter part of his
  248. life, when the courtier and the fine gentleman gave way to solid
  249. sense and plain descriptions. In his love-pieces he was obliged
  250. to have the strictest regard to modesty and decency; the ladies
  251. at that time insisting so much upon the nicest punctilios of
  252. honour, that it was highly criminal to depreciate their sex, or do
  253. anything that might offend virtue." Chaucer, in their estimation,
  254. had sinned against the dignity and honour of womankind by his
  255. translation of the French "Roman de la Rose," and by his
  256. "Troilus and Cressida" -- assuming it to have been among his
  257. less mature works; and to atone for those offences the Lady
  258. Margaret (though other and older accounts say that it was the
  259. first Queen of Richard II., Anne of Bohemia), prescribed to him
  260. the task of writing "The Legend of Good Women" (see
  261. introductory note to that poem). About this period, too, we
  262. may place the composition of Chaucer's A. B. C., or The Prayer
  263. of Our Lady, made at the request of the Duchess Blanche, a
  264. lady of great devoutness in her private life. She died in 1369;
  265. and Chaucer, as he had allegorised her wooing, celebrated her
  266. marriage, and aided her devotions, now lamented her death, in a
  267. poem entitled "The Book of the Duchess; or, the Death of
  268. Blanche.<3>
  269.  
  270. In 1370, Chaucer was employed on the King's service abroad;
  271. and in November 1372, by the title of "Scutifer noster" -- our
  272. Esquire or Shield-bearer -- he was associated with "Jacobus
  273. Pronan," and "Johannes de Mari civis Januensis," in a royal
  274. commission, bestowing full powers to treat with the Duke of
  275. Genoa, his Council, and State.  The object of the embassy was
  276. to negotiate upon the choice of an English port at which the
  277. Genoese might form a commercial establishment; and Chaucer,
  278. having quitted England in December, visited Genoa and
  279. Florence, and returned to England before the end of November
  280. 1373 -- for on that day he drew his pension from the Exchequer
  281. in person. The most interesting point connected with this Italian
  282. mission is the question, whether Chaucer visited Petrarch at
  283. Padua. That he did, is unhesitatingly affirmed by the old
  284. biographers; but the authentic notices of Chaucer during the
  285. years 1372-1373, as shown by the researches of Sir Harris
  286. Nicolas, are confined to the facts already stated; and we are left
  287. to answer the question by the probabilities of the case, and by
  288. the aid of what faint light the poet himself affords. We can
  289. scarcely fancy that Chaucer, visiting Italy for the first time, in a
  290. capacity which opened for him easy access to the great and the
  291. famous, did not embrace the chance of meeting a poet whose
  292. works he evidently knew in their native tongue, and highly
  293. esteemed.  With Mr Wright, we are strongly disinclined to
  294. believe "that Chaucer did not profit by the opportunity . . . of
  295. improving his acquaintance with the poetry, if not the poets, of
  296. the country he thus visited, whose influence was now being felt
  297. on the literature of most countries of Western Europe." That
  298. Chaucer was familiar with the Italian language appears not
  299. merely from his repeated selection as Envoy to Italian States,
  300. but by many passages in his poetry, from "The Assembly of
  301. Fowls" to "The Canterbury Tales." In the opening of the first
  302. poem  there is a striking parallel to Dante's inscription on the
  303. gate of Hell.  The first Song of Troilus, in "Troilus and
  304. Cressida", is a nearly literal translation of Petrarch's 88th
  305. Sonnet. In the Prologue to "The Legend of Good Women",
  306. there is a reference to Dante which can hardly have reached the
  307. poet at second- hand. And in Chaucer's great work -- as in The
  308. Wife of Bath's Tale, and The Monk's Tale  -- direct reference by
  309. name is made to Dante, "the wise poet of Florence," "the great
  310. poet of Italy," as the source whence the author has quoted.
  311. When we consider the poet's high place in literature and at
  312. Court, which could not fail to make him free of the hospitalities
  313. of the brilliant little Lombard States; his familiarity with the
  314. tongue and the works of Italy's greatest bards, dead and living;
  315. the reverential regard which he paid to the memory of great
  316. poets, of which we have examples in "The House of Fame," and
  317. at the close of "Troilus and Cressida" <4>; along with his own
  318. testimony in the Prologue to The Clerk's Tale, we cannot fail to
  319. construe that testimony as a declaration that the Tale was
  320. actually told to Chaucer by the lips of Petrarch, in 1373, the
  321. very year in which Petrarch translated it into Latin, from
  322. Boccaccio's "Decameron."<5>   Mr Bell notes the objection to
  323. this interpretation, that the words are put into the mouth, not of
  324. the poet, but of the Clerk; and meets it by the counter-
  325. objection, that the Clerk, being a purely imaginary personage,
  326. could not have learned the story at Padua from Petrarch -- and
  327. therefore that Chaucer must have departed from the dramatic
  328. assumption maintained in the rest of the dialogue. Instances
  329. could be adduced from Chaucer's writings to show that such a
  330. sudden "departure from the dramatic assumption" would not be
  331. unexampled: witness the "aside" in The Wife of Bath's
  332. Prologue, where, after the jolly Dame has asserted that "half so
  333. boldly there can no man swear and lie as a woman can", the
  334. poet hastens to interpose, in his own person, these two lines:
  335.  
  336. "I say not this by wives that be wise,
  337. But if it be when they them misadvise."
  338.  
  339. And again, in the Prologue to the "Legend of Good Women,"
  340. from a description of the daisy --
  341.  
  342. "She is the clearness and the very light,
  343. That in this darke world me guides and leads,"
  344.  
  345. the poet, in the very next lines, slides into an address to his lady:
  346.  
  347. "The heart within my sorrowful heart you dreads
  348. And loves so sore, that ye be, verily,
  349. The mistress of my wit, and nothing I," &c.
  350.  
  351. When, therefore, the Clerk of Oxford is made to say that he will
  352. tell a tale --
  353.  
  354.                           "The which that I
  355. Learn'd at Padova of a worthy clerk,
  356. As proved by his wordes and his werk.
  357. He is now dead, and nailed in his chest,
  358. I pray to God to give his soul good rest.
  359. Francis Petrarc', the laureate poete,
  360. Highte this clerk, whose rhetoric so sweet
  361. Illumin'd all Itaile of poetry. . . .
  362. But forth to tellen of this worthy man,
  363. That taughte me this tale, as I began." . . .
  364.  
  365. we may without violent effort believe that Chaucer speaks in his
  366. own person, though dramatically the words are on the Clerk's
  367. lips.  And the belief is not impaired by the sorrowful way in
  368. which the Clerk lingers on Petrarch's death -- which would be
  369. less intelligible if the fictitious narrator had only read the story
  370. in the Latin translation, than if we suppose the news of
  371. Petrarch's death at Arqua in July 1374 to have closely followed
  372. Chaucer to England, and to have cruelly and irresistibly mingled
  373. itself with our poet's personal recollections of his great Italian
  374. contemporary.  Nor must we regard as without significance the
  375. manner in which the Clerk is made to distinguish between the
  376. "body" of Petrarch's tale, and the fashion in which it was set
  377. forth in writing, with a proem that seemed "a thing
  378. impertinent", save that the poet had chosen in that way to
  379. "convey his matter" -- told, or "taught," so much more directly
  380. and simply by word of mouth. It is impossible to pronounce
  381. positively on the subject; the question whether Chaucer saw
  382. Petrarch in 1373 must remain a moot-point, so long as we have
  383. only our present information; but fancy loves to dwell on the
  384. thought of the two poets conversing under the vines at Arqua;
  385. and we find in the history and the writings of Chaucer nothing
  386. to contradict, a good deal to countenance, the belief that such a
  387. meeting occurred.
  388.  
  389. Though we have no express record, we have indirect testimony,
  390. that Chaucer's Genoese mission was discharged satisfactorily;
  391. for on the 23d of April 1374, Edward III grants at Windsor to
  392. the poet, by the title of "our beloved squire" -- dilecto Armigero
  393. nostro -- unum pycher. vini, "one pitcher of wine" daily, to be
  394. "perceived" in the port of London; a grant which, on the
  395. analogy of more modern usage, might he held equivalent to
  396. Chaucer's appointment as Poet Laureate. When we find that
  397. soon afterwards the grant was commuted for a money payment
  398. of twenty marks per annum, we need not conclude that
  399. Chaucer's circumstances were poor; for it may be easily
  400. supposed that the daily "perception" of such an article of
  401. income was attended with considerable prosaic inconvenience.
  402. A permanent provision for Chaucer was made on the 8th of
  403. June 1374, when he was appointed Controller of the Customs in
  404. the Port of London, for the lucrative imports of wools, skins or
  405. "wool-fells," and tanned hides -- on condition that he should
  406. fulfil the duties of that office in person and not by deputy, and
  407. should write out the accounts with his own hand.  We have
  408. what seems evidence of Chaucer's compliance with these terms
  409. in "The House of Fame", where, in the mouth of the eagle, the
  410. poet describes himself, when he has finished his labour and
  411. made his reckonings, as not seeking rest and news in social
  412. intercourse, but going home to his own house, and there, "all so
  413. dumb as any stone," sitting "at another book," until his look is
  414. dazed; and again, in the record that in 1376 he received a grant
  415. of L731, 4s. 6d., the amount of a fine levied on one John Kent,
  416. whom Chaucer's vigilance had frustrated in the attempt to ship a
  417. quantity of wool for Dordrecht without paying the duty. The
  418. seemingly derogatory condition, that the Controller should
  419. write out the accounts or rolls ("rotulos") of his office with his
  420. own hand, appears to have been designed, or treated, as merely
  421. formal; no records in Chaucer's handwriting are known to exist
  422. -- which could hardly be the case if, for the twelve years of his
  423. Controllership (1374-1386), he had duly complied with the
  424. condition; and during that period he was more than once
  425. employed abroad, so that the condition was evidently regarded
  426. as a formality even by those who had imposed it.  Also in 1374,
  427. the Duke of Lancaster, whose ambitious views may well have
  428. made him anxious to retain the adhesion of a man so capable
  429. and accomplished as Chaucer, changed into a joint life-annuity
  430. remaining to the survivor, and charged on the revenues of the
  431. Savoy, a pension of L10 which two years before he settled on
  432. the poet's wife -- whose sister was then the governess of the
  433. Duke's two daughters, Philippa and Elizabeth, and the Duke's
  434. own mistress.  Another proof of Chaucer's personal reputation
  435. and high Court favour at this time, is his selection (1375) as
  436. ward to the son of Sir Edmond Staplegate of Bilsynton, in Kent;
  437. a charge on the surrender of which the guardian received no
  438. less a sum than L104.
  439.  
  440. We find Chaucer in 1376 again employed on a foreign mission.
  441. In 1377, the last year of Edward III., he was sent to Flanders
  442. with Sir Thomas Percy, afterwards Earl of Worcester, for the
  443. purpose of obtaining a prolongation of the truce; and in January
  444. 13738, he was associated with Sir Guichard d'Angle and other
  445. Commissioners, to pursue certain negotiations for a marriage
  446. between Princess Mary of France and the young King Richard
  447. II., which had been set on foot before the death of Edward III.
  448. The negotiation, however, proved fruitless; and in May 1378,
  449. Chaucer was selected to accompany Sir John Berkeley on a
  450. mission to the Court of Bernardo Visconti, Duke of Milan, with
  451. the view, it is supposed, of concerting military plans against the
  452. outbreak of war with France.  The new King, meantime, had
  453. shown that he was not insensible to Chaucer's merit  -- or to the
  454. influence of his tutor and the poet's patron, the Duke of
  455. Lancaster; for Richard II. confirmed to Chaucer his pension of
  456. twenty marks, along with an equal annual sum, for which the
  457. daily pitcher of wine granted in 1374 had been commuted.
  458. Before his departure for Lombardy, Chaucer -- still holding his
  459. post in the Customs -- selected two representatives or trustees,
  460. to protect his estate against legal proceedings in his absence, or
  461. to sue in his name defaulters and offenders against the imposts
  462. which he was charged to enforce. One of these trustees was
  463. called Richard Forrester; the other was John Gower, the poet,
  464. the most famous English contemporary of Chaucer, with whom
  465. he had for many years been on terms of admiring friendship --
  466. although, from the strictures passed on certain productions of
  467. Gower's in the Prologue to The Man of Law's Tale,<6> it has
  468. been supposed that in the later years of Chaucer's life the
  469. friendship suffered some diminution. To the "moral Gower" and
  470. "the philosophical Strode," Chaucer "directed" or dedicated his
  471. "Troilus and Cressida;" <7> while, in the "Confessio Amantis,"
  472. Gower introduces a handsome compliment to his greater
  473. contemporary, as the "disciple and the poet" of Venus, with
  474. whose glad songs and ditties, made in her praise during the
  475. flowers of his youth, the land was filled everywhere.  Gower,
  476. however -- a monk and a Conservative -- held to the party of
  477. the Duke of Gloucester, the rival of the Wycliffite and
  478. innovating Duke of Lancaster, who was Chaucer's patron, and
  479. whose cause was not a little aided by Chaucer's strictures on the
  480. clergy; and thus it is not impossible that political differences
  481. may have weakened the old bonds of personal friendship and
  482. poetic esteem. Returning from Lombardy early in 1379,
  483. Chaucer seems to have been again sent abroad; for the records
  484. exhibit no trace of him between May and December of that
  485. year. Whether by proxy or in person, however, he received his
  486. pensions regularly until 1382, when his income was increased
  487. by his appointment to the post of Controller of Petty Customs
  488. in the port of London.  In November 1384, he obtained a
  489. month's leave of absence on account of his private affairs, and a
  490. deputy was appointed to fill his place; and in February of the
  491. next year he was permitted to appoint a permanent deputy --
  492. thus at length gaining relief from that close attention to business
  493. which probably curtailed the poetic fruits of the poet's most
  494. powerful years. <8>
  495.  
  496. Chaucer is next found occupying a post which has not often
  497. been held by men gifted with his peculiar genius -- that of a
  498. county member. The contest between the Dukes of Gloucester
  499. and Lancaster, and their adherents, for the control of the
  500. Government, was coming to a crisis; and when the recluse and
  501. studious Chaucer was induced to offer himself to the electors of
  502. Kent as one of the knights of their shire -- where presumably he
  503. held property -- we may suppose that it was with the view of
  504. supporting his patron's cause in the impending conflict. The
  505. Parliament in which the poet sat assembled at Westminster on
  506. the 1st of October, and was dissolved on the 1st of November,
  507. 1386. Lancaster was fighting and intriguing abroad, absorbed in
  508. the affairs of his Castilian succession; Gloucester and his friends
  509. at home had everything their own way; the Earl of Suffolk was
  510. dismissed from the woolsack, and impeached by the Commons;
  511. and although Richard at first stood out courageously for the
  512. friends of his uncle Lancaster, he was constrained, by the refusal
  513. of supplies, to consent to the proceedings of Gloucester. A
  514. commission was wrung from him, under protest, appointing
  515. Gloucester, Arundel, and twelve other Peers and prelates, a
  516. permanent council to inquire into the condition of all the public
  517. departments, the courts of law, and the royal household, with
  518. absolute powers of redress and dismissal. We need not ascribe
  519. to Chaucer's Parliamentary exertions in his patron's behalf, nor
  520. to any malpractices in his official conduct, the fact that he was
  521. among the earliest victims of the commission.<9>  In December
  522. 1386, he was dismissed from both his offices in the port of
  523. London; but he retained his pensions, and drew them regularly
  524. twice a year at the Exchequer until 1388. In 1387, Chaucer's
  525. political reverses were aggravated by a severe domestic
  526. calamity: his wife died, and with her died the pension which had
  527. been settled on her by Queen Philippa in 1366, and confirmed to
  528. her at Richard's accession in 1377.  The change made in
  529. Chaucer's pecuniary position, by the loss of his offices and his
  530. wife's pension, must have been very great. It would appear that
  531. during his prosperous times he had lived in a style quite equal to
  532. his income, and had no ample resources against a season of
  533. reverse; for, on the 1st of May 1388, less than a year and a half
  534. after being dismissed from the Customs, he was constrained to
  535. assign his pensions, by surrender in Chancery, to one John
  536. Scalby.  In May 1389, Richard II., now of age, abruptly
  537. resumed the reins of government, which, for more than two
  538. years, had been ably but cruelly managed by Gloucester. The
  539. friends of Lancaster were once more supreme in the royal
  540. councils, and Chaucer speedily profited by the change. On the
  541. 12th of July he was appointed Clerk of the King's Works at the
  542. Palace of Westminster, the Tower, the royal manors of
  543. Kennington, Eltham, Clarendon, Sheen, Byfleet, Childern
  544. Langley, and Feckenham, the castle of Berkhamstead, the royal
  545. lodge of Hathenburgh in the New Forest, the lodges in the
  546. parks of Clarendon, Childern Langley, and Feckenham, and the
  547. mews for the King's falcons at Charing Cross; he received a
  548. salary of two shillings per day, and was allowed to perform the
  549. duties by deputy. For some reason unknown, Chaucer held this
  550. lucrative office <10> little more than two years, quitting it
  551. before the 16th of September 1391, at which date it had passed
  552. into the hands of one John Gedney. The next two years and a
  553. half are a blank, so far as authentic records are concerned;
  554. Chaucer is supposed to have passed them in retirement,
  555. probably devoting them principally to the composition of The
  556. Canterbury Tales. In February 1394, the King conferred upon
  557. him a grant of L20 a year for life; but he seems to have had no
  558. other source of income, and to have become embarrassed by
  559. debt, for frequent memoranda of small advances on his pension
  560. show that his circumstances were, in comparison, greatly
  561. reduced.  Things appear to have grown worse and worse with
  562. the poet; for in May 1398 he was compelled to obtain from the
  563. King letters of protection against arrest, extending over a term
  564. of two years. Not for the first time, it is true -- for similar
  565. documents had been issued at the beginning of Richard's reign;
  566. but at that time Chaucer's missions abroad, and his responsible
  567. duties in the port of London, may have furnished reasons for
  568. securing him against annoyance or frivolous prosecution, which
  569. were wholly wanting at the later date.  In 1398, fortune began
  570. again to smile upon him; he received a royal grant of a tun of
  571. wine annually, the value being about L4. Next year, Richard II
  572. having been deposed by the son of John of Gaunt <11>  --
  573. Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster -- the new King, four
  574. days after hits accession, bestowed on Chaucer a grant of forty
  575. marks (L26, 13s. 4d.) per annum, in addition to the pension of
  576. L20 conferred by Richard II. in 1394.  But the poet, now
  577. seventy-one years of age, and probably broken down by the
  578. reverses of the past few years, was not destined long to enjoy
  579. his renewed prosperity.  On Christmas Eve of 1399, he entered
  580. on the possession of a house in the garden of the Chapel of the
  581. Blessed Mary of Westminster -- near to the present site of
  582. Henry VII.'s Chapel -- having obtained a lease from Robert
  583. Hermodesworth, a monk of the adjacent convent, for fifty-three
  584. years, at the annual rent of four marks (L2, 13s. 4d.) Until the
  585. 1st of March 1400, Chaucer drew his pensions in person; then
  586. they were received for him by another hand; and on the 25th of
  587. October, in the same year, he died, at the age of seventy-two.
  588. The only lights thrown by his poems on his closing days are
  589. furnished in the little ballad called "Good Counsel of Chaucer,"
  590. -- which, though said to have been written when "upon his
  591. death-bed lying in his great anguish, "breathes the very spirit of
  592. courage, resignation, and philosophic calm; and by the
  593. "Retractation" at the end of The Canterbury Tales, which, if it
  594. was not foisted in by monkish transcribers, may be supposed the
  595. effect of Chaucer's regrets and self-reproaches on that solemn
  596. review of his life-work which the close approach of death
  597. compelled. The poet was buried in Westminster Abbey; <12>
  598. and not many years after his death a slab was  placed on a pillar
  599. near his grave, bearing the lines, taken from an epitaph or
  600. eulogy made by Stephanus Surigonus of Milan, at the request of
  601. Caxton:
  602.  
  603. "Galfridus Chaucer, vates, et fama poesis
  604. Maternae, hoc sacra sum tumulatus humo." <13>
  605.  
  606. About 1555, Mr Nicholas Brigham, a gentleman of Oxford who
  607. greatly admired the genius of Chaucer, erected the present
  608. tomb, as near to the spot where the poet lay, "before the chapel
  609. of St Benet," as was then possible by reason of the "cancelli,"
  610. <14> which the Duke of Buckingham subsequently obtained
  611. leave to remove, that room might be made for the tomb of
  612. Dryden.  On the structure of Mr Brigham, besides a full-length
  613. representation of Chaucer, taken from a portrait drawn by his
  614. "scholar" Thomas Occleve, was -- or is, though now almost
  615. illegible -- the following inscription:--
  616.  
  617.                               M. S.
  618.             QUI FUIT ANGLORUM VATES TER MAXIMUS OLIM,
  619.              GALFRIDUS CHAUCER CONDITUR HOC TUMULO;
  620.             ANNUM SI QUAERAS DOMINI, SI TEMPORA VITAE,
  621.            ECCE NOTAE SUBSUNT, QUE TIBI CUNCTA NOTANT.
  622.                         25 OCTOBRIS 1400.
  623.                     AERUMNARUM REQUIES MORS.
  624.            N. BRIGHAM HOS FECIT MUSARUM NOMINE SUMPTUS
  625.                               1556. <15>
  626.  
  627. Concerning his personal appearance and habits, Chaucer has not
  628. been reticent in his poetry. Urry sums up the traits of his aspect
  629. and character fairly thus: "He was of a middle stature, the latter
  630. part of his life inclinable to be fat and corpulent, as appears by
  631. the Host's bantering him in the journey to Canterbury, and
  632. comparing shapes with him.<16>  His face was fleshy, his
  633. features just and regular, his complexion fair, and somewhat
  634. pale, his hair of a dusky yellow, short and thin; the hair of his
  635. beard in two forked tufts, of a wheat colour; his forehead broad
  636. and smooth; his eyes inclining usually to the ground, which is
  637. intimated by the Host's words; his whole face full of liveliness, a
  638. calm, easy sweetness, and a studious Venerable aspect. . . . As
  639. to his temper, he had a mixture of the gay, the modest, and the
  640. grave. The sprightliness of his humour was more distinguished
  641. by his writings than by his appearance; which gave occasion to
  642. Margaret Countess of Pembroke often to rally him upon his
  643. silent modesty in company, telling him, that his absence was
  644. more agreeable to her than his conversation, since the first was
  645. productive of agreeable pieces of wit in his writings, <17> but
  646. the latter was filled with a modest deference, and a too distant
  647. respect.  We see nothing merry or jocose in his behaviour with
  648. his pilgrims, but a silent attention to their mirth, rather than any
  649. mixture of his own. . .  When disengaged from public affairs, his
  650. time was entirely spent in study and reading; so agreeable to
  651. him was this exercise, that he says he preferred it to all other
  652. sports and diversions.<18>  He lived within himself, neither
  653. desirous to hear nor busy to concern himself with the affairs of
  654. his neighbours. His course of living was temperate and regular;
  655. he went to rest with the sun, and rose before it; and by that
  656. means enjoyed the pleasures of the better part of the day, his
  657. morning walk and fresh contemplations.  This gave him the
  658. advantage of describing the morning in so lively a manner as he
  659. does everywhere in his works. The springing sun glows warm in
  660. his lines, and the fragrant air blows cool in his descriptions; we
  661. smell the sweets of the bloomy haws, and hear the music of the
  662. feathered choir, whenever we take a forest walk with him. The
  663. hour of the day is not easier to be discovered from the reflection
  664. of the sun in Titian's paintings, than in Chaucer's morning
  665. landscapes. . . . His reading was deep and extensive, his
  666. judgement sound and discerning. . . In one word, he was a great
  667. scholar, a pleasant wit, a candid critic, a sociable companion, a
  668. steadfast friend, a grave philosopher, a temperate economist,
  669. and a pious Christian."
  670.  
  671. Chaucer's most important poems are "Troilus and Cressida,"
  672. "The Romaunt of the Rose," and "The Canterbury Tales."  Of
  673. the first, containing 8246 lines, an abridgement, with a prose
  674. connecting outline of the story, is given in this volume. With the
  675. second, consisting of 7699 octosyllabic verses, like those in
  676. which "The House of Fame" is written, it was found impossible
  677. to deal in the present edition. The poem is a curtailed translation
  678. from the French "Roman de la Rose" -- commenced by
  679. Guillaume de Lorris, who died in 1260, after contributing 4070
  680. verses, and completed, in the last quarter of the thirteenth
  681. century, by Jean de Meun, who added some 18,000 verses. It is
  682. a satirical allegory, in which the vices of courts, the corruptions
  683. of the clergy, the disorders and inequalities of society in general,
  684. are unsparingly attacked, and the most revolutionary doctrines
  685. are advanced; and though, in making his translation, Chaucer
  686. softened or eliminated much of the satire of the poem, still it
  687. remained, in his verse, a caustic exposure of the abuses of the
  688. time, especially those which discredited the Church.
  689.  
  690. The Canterbury Tales are presented in this edition with as near
  691. an approach to completeness as regard for the popular character
  692. of the volume permitted. The 17,385 verses, of which the
  693. poetical Tales consist, have been given without abridgement or
  694. purgation -- save in a single couplet; but, the main purpose of
  695. the volume being to make the general reader acquainted with
  696. the "poems" of Chaucer and Spenser, the Editor has ventured to
  697. contract the two prose Tales -- Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus,
  698. and the Parson's Sermon or Treatise on Penitence -- so as to
  699. save about thirty pages for the introduction of Chaucer's minor
  700. pieces. At the same time, by giving prose outlines of the omitted
  701. parts, it has been sought to guard the reader against the fear
  702. that he was losing anything essential, or even valuable. It is
  703. almost needless to describe the plot, or point out the literary
  704. place, of the Canterbury Tales. Perhaps in the entire range of
  705. ancient and modern literature there is no work that so clearly
  706. and freshly paints for future times the picture of the past;
  707. certainly no Englishman has ever approached Chaucer in the
  708. power of fixing for ever the fleeting traits of his own time.  The
  709. plan of the poem had been adopted before Chaucer chose it;
  710. notably in the "Decameron" of Boccaccio -- although, there, the
  711. circumstances under which the tales were told, with the terror
  712. of the plague hanging over the merry company, lend a grim
  713. grotesqueness to the narrative, unless we can look at it
  714. abstracted from its setting.  Chaucer, on the other hand, strikes
  715. a perpetual key-note of gaiety whenever he mentions the word
  716. "pilgrimage;" and at every stage of the connecting story we
  717. bless the happy thought which gives us incessant incident,
  718. movement, variety, and unclouded but never monotonous
  719. joyousness.
  720.  
  721. The poet, the evening before he starts on a pilgrimage to the
  722. shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury, lies at the Tabard Inn, in
  723. Southwark, curious to know in what companionship he is
  724. destined to fare forward on the morrow. Chance sends him
  725. "nine and twenty in a company," representing all orders of
  726. English society, lay and clerical, from the Knight and the Abbot
  727. down to the Ploughman and the Sompnour. The jolly Host of
  728. the Tabard, after supper, when tongues are loosened and hearts
  729. are opened, declares that "not this year" has he seen such a
  730. company at once under his roof-tree, and proposes that, when
  731. they set out next morning, he should ride with them and make
  732. them sport. All agree, and Harry Bailly unfolds his scheme: each
  733. pilgrim, including the poet, shall tell two tales on the road to
  734. Canterbury, and two on the way back to London; and he whom
  735. the general voice pronounces to have told the best tale, shall be
  736. treated to a supper at the common cost -- and, of course, to
  737. mine Host's profit -- when the cavalcade returns from the saint's
  738. shrine to the Southwark hostelry. All joyously assent; and early
  739. on the morrow, in the gay spring sunshine, they ride forth,
  740. listening to the heroic tale of the brave and gentle Knight, who
  741. has been gracefully chosen by the Host to lead the spirited
  742. competition of story-telling.
  743.  
  744. To describe thus the nature of the plan, and to say that when
  745. Chaucer conceived, or at least began to execute it, he was
  746. between sixty and seventy years of age, is to proclaim that The
  747. Canterbury Tales could never be more than a fragment. Thirty
  748. pilgrims, each telling two tales on the way out, and two more
  749. on the way back -- that makes 120 tales; to say nothing of the
  750. prologue, the description of the journey, the occurrences at
  751. Canterbury, "and all the remnant of their pilgrimage," which
  752. Chaucer also undertook. No more than twenty-three of the 120
  753. stories are told in the work as it comes down to us; that is, only
  754. twenty-three of the thirty pilgrims tell the first of the two stories
  755. on the road to Canterbury; while of the stories on the return
  756. journey we have not one, and nothing is said about the doings
  757. of the pilgrims at Canterbury -- which would, if treated like the
  758. scene at the Tabard, have given us a still livelier "picture of the
  759. period." But the plan was too large; and although the poet had
  760. some reserves, in stories which he had already composed in an
  761. independent form, death cut short his labour ere he could even
  762. complete the arrangement and connection of more than a very
  763. few of the Tales. Incomplete as it is, however, the magnum
  764. opus of Chaucer was in his own time received with immense
  765. favour; manuscript copies are numerous even now -- no slight
  766. proof of its popularity; and when the invention of printing was
  767. introduced into England by William Caxton, The Canterbury
  768. Tales issued from his press in the year after the first English-
  769. printed book, "The Game of the Chesse," had been struck off.
  770. Innumerable editions have since been published; and it may
  771. fairly be affirmed, that few books have been so much in favour
  772. with the reading public of every generation as this book, which
  773. the lapse of every generation has been rendering more
  774. unreadable.
  775.  
  776. Apart from "The Romaunt of the Rose," no really important
  777. poetical work of Chaucer's is omitted from or unrepresented in
  778. the present edition. Of "The Legend of Good Women," the
  779. Prologue only is given -- but it is the most genuinely Chaucerian
  780. part of the poem.  Of "The Court of Love," three-fourths are
  781. here presented; of "The Assembly of Fowls," "The Cuckoo and
  782. the Nightingale," "The Flower and the Leaf," all; of "Chaucer's
  783. Dream," one-fourth; of "The House of Fame," two-thirds; and
  784. of the minor poems such a selection as may give an idea of
  785. Chaucer's power in the "occasional" department of verse.
  786. Necessarily, no space whatever could be given to Chaucer's
  787. prose works -- his translation of Boethius' Treatise on the
  788. Consolation of Philosophy; his Treatise on the Astrolabe,
  789. written for the use of his son Lewis; and his "Testament of
  790. Love," composed in his later years, and reflecting the troubles
  791. that then beset the poet. If, after studying in a simplified form
  792. the salient works of England's first great bard, the reader is
  793. tempted to regret that he was not introduced to a wider
  794. acquaintance with the author, the purpose of the Editor will
  795. have been more than attained.
  796.  
  797. The plan of the volume does not demand an elaborate
  798. examination into the state of our language when Chaucer wrote,
  799. or the nice questions of grammatical and metrical structure
  800. which conspire with the obsolete orthography to make his
  801. poems a sealed book for the masses. The most important
  802. element in the proper reading of Chaucer's verses -- whether
  803. written in the decasyllabic or heroic metre, which he introduced
  804. into our literature, or in the octosyllabic measure used with such
  805. animated effect in "The House of Fame," "Chaucer's Dream,"
  806. &c. -- is the sounding of the terminal "e" where it is now silent.
  807. That letter is still valid in French poetry; and Chaucer's lines can
  808. be scanned only by reading them as we would read Racine's or
  809. Moliere's. The terminal "e" played an important part in
  810. grammar; in many cases it was the sign of the infinitive -- the
  811. "n" being dropped from the end; at other times it pointed the
  812. distinction between singular and plural, between adjective and
  813. adverb. The pages that follow, however, being prepared from
  814. the modern English point of view, necessarily no account is
  815. taken of those distinctions; and the now silent "e" has been
  816. retained in the text of Chaucer only when required by the
  817. modern spelling, or by the exigencies of metre.
  818.  
  819. Before a word beginning with a vowel, or with the letter "h,"
  820. the final "e" was almost without exception mute; and in such
  821. cases, in the plural forms and infinitives of verbs, the terminal
  822. "n" is generally retained for the sake of euphony. No reader
  823. who is acquainted with the French language will find it hard to
  824. fall into Chaucer's accentuation; while, for such as are not, a
  825. simple perusal of the text according to the rules of modern
  826. verse, should remove every difficulty.
  827.  
  828.  
  829. Notes to Life of Geoffrey Chaucer
  830.  
  831.  
  832. 1. "Edmund Spenser, a native of London, was born with a Muse
  833. of such power, that he was superior to all English poets of
  834. preceding ages, not excepting his fellow-citizen Chaucer."
  835.  
  836. 2. See introduction to "The Legend of Good Women".
  837.  
  838. 3. Called in the editions before 1597 "The Dream of Chaucer".
  839. The poem, which is not included in the present edition, does
  840. indeed, like many of Chaucer's smaller works, tell the story of a
  841. dream, in which a knight, representing John of Gaunt, is found
  842. by the poet mourning the loss of his lady; but the true "Dream
  843. of Chaucer," in which he celebrates the marriage of his patron,
  844. was published for the first time by Speght in 1597. John of
  845. Gaunt, in the end of 1371, married his second wife, Constance,
  846. daughter to Pedro the Cruel of Spain; so that "The Book of the
  847. Duchess" must have been written between 1369 and 1371.
  848.  
  849. 4. Where he bids his "little book"
  850. "Subject be unto all poesy,
  851. And kiss the steps, where as thou seest space,
  852. Of Virgil, Ovid, Homer, Lucan, Stace."
  853.  
  854. 5. See note 1 to The Tale in The Clerk's Tale.
  855.  
  856. 6. See note 1 to The Man of Law's Tale.
  857.  
  858. 7. "Written," says Mr Wright, "in the sixteenth year of the reign
  859. of Richard II. (1392-1393);" a powerful confirmation of the
  860. opinion that this poem was really produced in Chaucer's mature
  861. age. See the introductory notes to it and to the Legend of Good
  862. Women.
  863.  
  864. 8. The old biographers of Chaucer, founding on what they took
  865. to be autobiographic allusions in "The Testament of Love,"
  866. assign to him between 1354 and 1389 a very different history
  867. from that here given on the strength of authentic records
  868. explored and quoted by Sir H. Nicolas. Chaucer is made to
  869. espouse the cause of John of Northampton, the Wycliffite Lord
  870. Mayor of London, whose re-election in 1384 was so
  871. vehemently opposed by the clergy, and who was imprisoned in
  872. the sequel of the grave disorders that arose. The poet, it is said,
  873. fled to the Continent, taking with him a large sum of money,
  874. which he spent in supporting companions in exile; then,
  875. returning by stealth to England in quest of funds, he was
  876. detected and sent to the Tower, where he languished for three
  877. years, being released only on the humiliating condition of
  878. informing against his associates in the plot. The public records
  879. show, however, that, all the time of his alleged exile and
  880. captivity, he was quietly living in London, regularly drawing his
  881. pensions in person, sitting in Parliament, and discharging his
  882. duties in the Customs until his dismissal in 1386. It need not be
  883. said, further, that although Chaucer freely handled the errors,
  884. the ignorance, and vices of the clergy, he did so rather as a man
  885. of sense and of conscience, than as a Wycliffite -- and there is
  886. no evidence that he espoused the opinions of the zealous
  887. Reformer, far less played the part of an extreme and self-
  888. regardless partisan of his old friend and college-companion.
  889.  
  890. 9. "The Commissioners appear to have commenced their
  891. labours with examining the accounts of the officers employed in
  892. the collection of the revenue; and the sequel affords a strong
  893. presumption that the royal administration [under Lancaster and
  894. his friends] had been foully calumniated. We hear not of any
  895. frauds discovered, or of defaulters punished, or of grievances
  896. redressed." Such is the testimony of Lingard (chap. iv., 1386),
  897. all the more valuable for his aversion from the Wycliffite
  898. leanings of John of Gaunt. Chaucer's department in the London
  899. Customs was in those days one of the most important and
  900. lucrative in the kingdom; and if mercenary abuse of his post
  901. could have been proved, we may be sure that his and his
  902. patron's enemies would not have been content with simple
  903. dismissal, but would have heavily amerced or imprisoned him.
  904.  
  905. 10. The salary was L36, 10s. per annum; the salary of the Chief
  906. Judges was L40, of the Puisne Judges about L27. Probably the
  907. Judges -- certainly the Clerk of the Works -- had fees or
  908. perquisites besides the stated payment.
  909.  
  910. 11. Chaucer's patron had died earlier in 1399, during the exile
  911. of his son (then Duke of Hereford) in France. The Duchess
  912. Constance had died in 1394; and the Duke had made reparation
  913. to Katherine Swynford -- who had already borne him four
  914. children -- by marrying her in 1396, with the approval of
  915. Richard II., who legitimated the children, and made the eldest
  916. son of the poet's sister-in-law Earl of Somerset. From this long-
  917. illicit union sprang the house of Beaufort -- that being the
  918. surname of the Duke's children by Katherine, after the name of
  919. the castle in Anjou (Belfort, or Beaufort) where they were born.
  920.  
  921. 12. Of Chaucer's two sons by Philippa Roet, his only wife, the
  922. younger, Lewis, for whom he wrote the Treatise on the
  923. Astrolabe, died young.  The elder, Thomas, married Maud, the
  924. second daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Burghersh, brother
  925. of the Bishop of Lincoln, the Chancellor and Treasurer of
  926. England. By this marriage Thomas Chaucer acquired great
  927. estates in Oxfordshire and elsewhere; and he figured
  928. prominently in the second rank of courtiers for many years. He
  929. was Chief Butler to Richard II.; under Henry IV. he was
  930. Constable of Wallingford Castle, Steward of the Honours of
  931. Wallingford and St Valery, and of the Chiltern Hundreds; and
  932. the queen of Henry IV. granted him the farm of several of her
  933. manors, a grant subsequently confirmed to him for life by the
  934. King, after the Queen's death. He sat in Parliament repeatedly
  935. for Oxfordshire, was Speaker in 1414, and in the same year
  936. went to France as commissioner to negotiate the marriage of
  937. Henry V. with the Princess Katherine. He held, before he died
  938. in 1434, various other posts of trust and distinction; but he left
  939. no heirs-male.  His only child, Alice Chaucer, married twice;
  940. first Sir John Philip; and afterwards the Duke of Suffolk --
  941. attainted and beheaded in 1450.  She had three children by the
  942. Duke; and her eldest son married the Princess Elizabeth, sister
  943. of Edward IV. The eldest son of this marriage, created Earl of
  944. Lincoln, was declared by Richard III heir-apparent to the
  945. throne, in case the Prince of Wales should die without issue; but
  946. the death of Lincoln himself, at the battle of Stoke in 1487,
  947. destroyed all prospect that the poet's descendants might
  948. succeed to the crown of England; and his family is now believed
  949. to be extinct.
  950.  
  951. 13. "Geoffrey Chaucer, bard, and famous mother of poetry, is
  952. buried in this sacred ground."
  953.  
  954. 14. Railings.
  955.  
  956. 15 Translation of the epitaph: This tomb was built for Geoffrey
  957. Chaucer, who in his time was the greatest poet of the English. If
  958. you ask the year of his death, behold the words beneath, which
  959. tell you all. Death gave him rest from his toil, 25th of October
  960. 1400.  N Brigham bore the cost of these words in the name of
  961. the Muses. 1556.
  962.  
  963. 16. See the Prologue to Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas.
  964.  
  965. 17. See the "Goodly Ballad of Chaucer," seventh stanza.
  966.  
  967. 18. See the opening of the Prologue to "The Legend of Good
  968. Women," and the poet's account of his habits in "The House of
  969. Fame".
  970.  
  971.  
  972.  
  973.                       THE CANTERBURY TALES.
  974.  
  975.  
  976.                           THE PROLOGUE.
  977.  
  978.  
  979. WHEN that Aprilis, with his showers swoot*,                       *sweet
  980. The drought of March hath pierced to the root,
  981. And bathed every vein in such licour,
  982. Of which virtue engender'd is the flower;
  983. When Zephyrus eke with his swoote breath
  984. Inspired hath in every holt* and heath                    *grove, forest
  985. The tender croppes* and the younge sun                    *twigs, boughs
  986. Hath in the Ram <1> his halfe course y-run,
  987. And smalle fowles make melody,
  988. That sleepen all the night with open eye,
  989. (So pricketh them nature in their corages*);       *hearts, inclinations
  990. Then longe folk to go on pilgrimages,
  991. And palmers <2> for to seeke strange strands,
  992. To *ferne hallows couth*  in sundry lands;     *distant saints known*<3>
  993. And specially, from every shire's end
  994. Of Engleland, to Canterbury they wend,
  995. The holy blissful Martyr for to seek,
  996. That them hath holpen*, when that they were sick.                *helped
  997.  
  998. Befell that, in that season on a day,
  999. In Southwark at the Tabard <4> as I lay,
  1000. Ready to wenden on my pilgrimage
  1001. To Canterbury with devout corage,
  1002. At night was come into that hostelry
  1003. Well nine and twenty in a company
  1004. Of sundry folk, *by aventure y-fall            *who had by chance fallen
  1005. In fellowship*, and pilgrims were they all,           into company.* <5>
  1006. That toward Canterbury woulde ride.
  1007. The chamber, and the stables were wide,
  1008. And *well we weren eased at the best.*            *we were well provided
  1009. And shortly, when the sunne was to rest,                  with the best*
  1010. So had I spoken with them every one,
  1011. That I was of their fellowship anon,
  1012. And made forword* early for to rise,                            *promise
  1013. To take our way there as I you devise*.                *describe, relate
  1014.  
  1015. But natheless, while I have time and space,
  1016. Ere that I farther in this tale pace,
  1017. Me thinketh it accordant to reason,
  1018. To tell you alle the condition
  1019. Of each of them, so as it seemed me,
  1020. And which they weren, and of what degree;
  1021. And eke in what array that they were in:
  1022. And at a Knight then will I first begin.
  1023.  
  1024. A KNIGHT there was, and that a worthy man,
  1025. That from the time that he first began
  1026. To riden out, he loved chivalry,
  1027. Truth and honour, freedom and courtesy.
  1028. Full worthy was he in his Lorde's war,
  1029. And thereto had he ridden, no man farre*,                       *farther
  1030. As well in Christendom as in Heatheness,
  1031. And ever honour'd for his worthiness
  1032. At Alisandre <6> he was when it was won.
  1033. Full often time he had the board begun
  1034. Above alle nations in Prusse.<7>
  1035. In Lettowe had he reysed,* and in Russe,                      *journeyed
  1036. No Christian man so oft of his degree.
  1037. In Grenade at the siege eke had he be
  1038. Of Algesir, and ridden in Belmarie. <8>
  1039. At Leyes was he, and at Satalie,
  1040. When they were won; and in the Greate Sea
  1041. At many a noble army had he be.
  1042. At mortal battles had he been fifteen,
  1043. And foughten for our faith at Tramissene.
  1044. In listes thries, and aye slain his foe.
  1045. This ilke* worthy knight had been also                         *same <9>
  1046. Some time with the lord of Palatie,
  1047. Against another heathen in Turkie:
  1048. And evermore *he had a sovereign price*.            *He was held in very
  1049. And though that he was worthy he was wise,                 high esteem.*
  1050. And of his port as meek as is a maid.
  1051. He never yet no villainy ne said
  1052. In all his life, unto no manner wight.
  1053. He was a very perfect gentle knight.
  1054. But for to telle you of his array,
  1055. His horse was good, but yet he was not gay.
  1056. Of fustian he weared a gipon*,                            *short doublet
  1057. Alle *besmotter'd with his habergeon,*     *soiled by his coat of mail.*
  1058. For he was late y-come from his voyage,
  1059. And wente for to do his pilgrimage.
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