« AnteriorContinuar »
drink blubber, but also eat fat, and land at the period of the poet's exist. even soap and the wick of lamps ence. The following extract is a sort with the greatest greediness.
of recapitulation of the work, and will In Europe, the Russians are, as serve as an excellent specimen of this far as I know, or at least have re
performance. marked, the only people that drink melted butter, like brandy, to the
HAVING accompanied Chaucer most immoderate degree, in what through his public and poetical life, they call the butter week. Yet I as far as our documents will enable have no manner of doubt, that the us, from the cradle to the tomb, it rest of the Sclavonian nations are may be gratifying to take one conlike the Russians in this particular. nected and concluding view of his Among the nations of Celtic extrac manners and habits, to survey the tion, though the common people pre. features of his mind, and the prinfer bacon, lard, and greasy soups, cipal traits of his character. yet I do not know that even the We know little of his early youth, rudest clown, in the countries that except that he was born and brought are not Sclavonian, eats pure fat up in the city of London; and we without bread, or drinks melted but seem to have sufficient indications ter or other grease. The Iceland that he was not exposed to the iners and the inhabitants of the Or- conveniences of a narrow fortune, cades form the only exception here.
and that he received all the intelFor amongst the former the taste lectual discipline and instruction for fat things is so great, that many which the metropolis of England of the common people eat tallow, or
could then afford." If he discovered drink the melted fat of oxen and in his boyish years any of those orisheep ; and others drink the fat of ginal powers which have recomwild geese, however rancid it may mended him to our present attention, be. And from this circumstance I if his progress in learning was rapid, conclude, either that the Icelanders or if any interesting anecdotes of enand the inhabitants of the Orcades terprize, good-nature, or fortitude are not of pure Norman or Celtic were repeated of him by his conorigin, but are partly descended from temporaries, these circumstances, the Finnish savages, who in ancient as might be expected, are lost to us times were
much more widely for ever, through the obscurity of spread than at present over the re the long interval of time which has gions of the North ; or even I sup
succeeded. pose that the extraordinary cold of At college, during the period of their climate begets in them their his studies at Cambridge, at Oxford, taste for fat meats, and renders and perhaps at Paris, he was indethem absolutely necessary to their fatigable in his exertions to attain a well-being. For experience teaches knowledge of what man and mind us, that animal oil is so much the had been in the ages that were wholesomer, and spirituous or in- elapsed. It perhaps never happenflammatory liquors are so much the ed that a man was so devoted to more dangerous, the nearer the books as Chaucer represents himpole, or the colder the region. self to have been at successive peri
ods of his life, without feeling a very early vocation to the pursuit of letters. Ancient history was at this time an unsubstantial and fleeting shade. The writings of the Greeks
were inaccessible to Chaucer. But The life of Chaucer, by Godwin, which he studied Latin, French, and Ita
has been lately imported from Europe, lian. Virgil was particularly his contains a great variety of curious and favourite. The adventures of roinstructive views of the state of Eng- mance, and the songs of the mins
CHARACTER OF CHAUCER.
trels, were listened to by him with large share in forming the mind of avidity. Tales of chivalry, of gene- the patron of Wicliffe; the saviour rous enterprize, and heroic adven- of the bishop of Limoges, of Hereture, had a double interest with him, ford, and of Swinderby; the genebecause he knew that, when he went rous, gallant, manly, and frank John forth into the world, the men of of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. He whom he read, a race that is now was the earnest vindicator of his extinct, would be the objects of his calumniated reputation. He is said daily observation and intercourse. to have been employed by Blanche, The whole world was then roman the heiress of Lancaster, and youthtic, scenic, and sublime. The castle ful consort of John of Gaunt, to write of the ancient baron, the magnifi- the godly verses which she chanted cence of ecclesiastical edifices, the as she dropped her beads. splendour of the tournament, the so Chaucer received in early life the lemnity of religious worship, yet un- gift of a house almost contiguous to stripped of any of its decorations, the royal palace at Woodstock. This the troops of monks and friars de- gift could have no other meaning voted to the things of an invisible than that his sovereigns were desirworld, these were the objects which ous frequently to enjoy his society, met the eye on every side. The and be exhilerated with the sallies of mind of man was not yet broken his conversation. He observed intidown into a dull uniformity. This mately the heroic Philippa ; the was the age of reformers and of rob- venerable mother of the Black bers. Pilgrimages and crusades in- Prince, of Lionel of Antwerp, and vited the consent of the pious. Chau- of John of Gaunt ; the protectress cer too had a particular turn for of the distressed, and the patroness subjects of humour. And those ad- of Froissart. Edward III and his ventures, which have since received eldest son, the victors of Cressy and their last touches from the hands of Poitiers, whose glorious forms often Boccaccio, Ariosto, La Fontaine, pass in review before our entranced and Voltaire, were not feebly sha- imaginations, were the similar friends dowed forth in the tales of the of Chaucer, and were equally known twelfth and thirteenth centuries. to him in their proudest stretch of
It was at college that Chaucer thought, and in their plainest and contracted a friendship with Gower most undisguised moments. and Strode, two young Oxonians of Chaucer was an ambassador. He great learning and talents; a friend is affirmed by Froissart to have been ship which probably lasted for the a principal in the unsuccessful atgreater part of their lives.
tempt to negotiate a marriage for Chaucer was both a lawyer and Richard prince of Wales with a soldier; but he quitted each of these daughter of France. This situation professions after a very short trial, must have afforded him an ample and having collected from the expe. opportunity of observing the temper riment a more exact knowledge of of courts, the tricks of ministers, and human nature, as it is modified by the prejudices and prepossessions of them, than he could have gained kings. merely as a spectator.
Chaucer was a minister. His Chaucer was a courtier; but he place was that of comptroller of the was a courtier in the best sense of customs. His office was probably the word, not bowing at levees, not by the water side, amidst all the depending upon the smiles and pro- bustle and confusion of trade. Trade mises of ministers, but associating was, in a considerable degree, the with their masters, and being the passion of his age, for at this time confident of the loves of the gene- Venice, Genoa, and London were rous, and at least as yet uncorrupted, powerful cities, made so by the opebecause as yet youthful, offspring of ration of commerce.
The compthose masters. He probably bad a troller of the customs was enjoined
to keep the accounts of his employ more agreeable to him than his fose ment with his own hand. Chaucer mer place of comptroller of the cus, was seldom absent from the duties toms, He occupied this situation, of his place, for we find a leave of however, only for a short time. absence to him for a month formally Being now more than sixty years recorded upon the patent rolls, and of age, he retired to his favourite only one such leave of absence has residence of Woodstock. He was yet been observed. He tells us him- tired of business and of courts, and self that he had no opportunity for wished to enjoy the pleasures of the pleasures of study, till he had privacy and nature.
He did not, made an end of all his reckonings,” however, retire to a life of indolence and the business of the day was con As he had begun his literary career cluded. This lasted twelve years. early, so he finished it late. In a
Chaucer was a patriot. He never, green and vigorous old age he plan, even in thought, departed from his ned and undertook the Canterbury allegiance to the grandson of his first Tales. One of the most extraordi, benefactors, But he bitterly de- nary specimens of active genius and plored the evil habits that prince various talent which England has had contracted, and the pernicious produced, thus appears to have been counsellors into whose hands he had the fruit of a period of life, when fallen. He saw them plotting at once common men think themselves ex the destruction of the man in the cused from further exertion. world to whom he was himself bound Chaucer was probably satisfied by the most complicated ties, and with his modest roof at Woodstock. and the ruin of the liberties of the The Canterbury Tales may be seen metropolis of which he was a native, to have been the production of a se, and which was dependent for all its rene, a cheerful, and contented mind, distinctions upon the permanence of buffeted by the world, but not brothose liberties. He embarked his all ken, and carrying off from all its in resistance to their machinations. defeatures and misadventures whatChaucer was an exile and a prie ever is most valuable in man.
Yet soner. He was fated to experience he was not so contented with Wood, the vicissitudes of human life. He stock, as to be incapable of being paid, in this instance, the debt for tempted to leave it. John of Gaunt which we are all of us in some man at this time married Chaucer's kins, ner called upon, to the condition of woman; and he told the poet that our terrestrial existence; and he now, being nearly allied to royalty, gained that knowledge, and those he must change the style in which wholesome impressions, which are he had hitherto lived. Chaucer seldom gained but through the opere consented. An ancient castle opened ation of adversity. In his exile he its ample gates, and spread out its was nearly destitute of all the com- spacious apartments, to receive him forts and conveniences of life; and as its inhabitant. Chaucer brought in his imprisonment he witnessed hither the same gay and well-temthe savage triumph of the unrelent- pered mind which had accompanied ing Thomas of Woodstock, and per- him through life: he sat under his haps saw from his window the vic- cwn oaks, and in a truly social spirit tims whom that usurper was daily named them after his benefactors dragging to execution.
and patrons. The terms upon which he was One event only was reserved for liberated froin his confinement after the concluding scene of the life of five years of oppression and difficulty, Chaucer. His sovereign was de. are such as no admirer of Chaucer posed, and the son of John of Gaunt will with pleasure contemplate. usurped the throne. Chaucer's con
Upon his restoration to liberty duct on this occasion is highly wor, Chaucer was appointed clerk of the thy of our praise. He did not oppose works, an office on many accounts the usurper; he did not wish to
involve his country in further broils. any thing above the ordinary level He was too old and too retired, to be is a matter of difficulty. able to flatter himself that he could The customary cheerfulness and contribute to redress the wrongs he serenity of the mind of Chaucer is deplored. But all the benefits of the particularly conspicuous in his delinew sovereign, and all his old con- neations of nature. They all take nections with and obligations to the their hue from the mind of the befather of that sovereign, could not holder, and are gay, animated, and extort from him a line of congratu- fresh. He usually set out upon his lation.
walk early in the morning, when Chaucer died easily and happily the world has been refreshed by reas he lived ; and, if the verses he is pose, when the grass is impearled said to have written on his death-bed with dew, and when the delicious were actually his, they may be re- scents of field and tree and flower garded as a very extraordinary are yet unpolluted by the beams of exhibition of a serene and collected the faring sun. Many instances of mind in the last period of existence. the beauty of Chaucer's landscapes If he were a lover of greatness, he we have already had occasion to cite. might be satisfied with the high rank Its sweetness intrudes itself into his of his wife's relations, and his own most sorrowful compositions. It nearness to the throne. If he felt soothes in his elegy upon the death anxious for the future prosperity of the princess Blanche, and it of his offspring and descendants, he breaks forth with peculiar lustre in must have been pleased with the his Complaint of the Black Knight. situation and prospects of his son, One exquisite example of this feawho was, in the year after his fa- ture of the poet's mind it may be ther's death, chosen speaker of the worth while to add from the poem house of commons. The remains of the Cuckow and the Nightingale, of Chaucer were interred in the re written when he was old and unpository of our kings, and the place lusty *,” and addressed, like the hallowed by his dust has ever since Legende of Gode women, to Anne been considered as the resting-place of Bohemia, who appears at this of poets.
time to have resided at Woodstock f. The placid and gentle character The poet is desirous of hearing the of Chaucer is conspicuous in all his song of the nightingale, which yet works. In this respect there is a he had not “ herde of al that yere," striking resemblance between him though it was already “ the thirde and Shakespeare. That genius, of May.” For this purpose he sets whose creative mind soared above out “ anon as he the day aspide”; all human competition, who could enter into all the peculiarities of
And unto a wodde that was fasté by man, and personate all his passions,
I wenté forthe aloné boldély, was himself characterized by a tem
And helde the way downe by a broké per peculiarly equable and serene.
side ; With an intellect incessantly active, wandering amidst the imaginary in
Til I came to a | launde of white and habitants of earth, and sea, and air,
grene, and every day engendering new mi So faire an one had I never in bene; racles to astonish mankind, he per The grounde was grene, ypoudered petually retained his true bias, and with daisye, rested upon his proper centre. It is The floures and the grevés alike hie, perhaps distinctive of a genius of the Al grene and white was nothing ellés first order, to perform his greatest wonders without that straining, agitation, and effort, that are incident to
† ver. 274. lawn. minds to which the production of
W groves, bushes.
The sweetness of Chaucer's cha- son unknown, is no evidence of a racter may also be inferred from his vulgar, indelicate, and undiscrimilong friendship with Gower, and from nating mind. It shows that he was the circumstance of his drawing up a character, not fastidious enough to toward the close of his life a treatise refuse to interest itself in trifles, and of astronomy for a boy of ten years. frank, even, and affable in his interBut a circumstance still more singu- course with mankind. lar and worthy of recollection, when Chaucer was a man of convivial we are summing up his character, dispositions. This has reasonably is that of his being eight years suitor been concluded from the grant he to a lady, probably the same whom received of a pitcher, or what we he afterward married. A number should now call four bottles of wine of traits of disposition may be deduc- daily from the royal cellar. It may ed from this anecdote. It could never fairly be inferred that this wine was have belonged to a person of a fiery designed for the poet's daily conand hot-brained temperament; it sumption. could never have belonged to a man Chaucer was a man of expensive dissipated, fickle, and inconstant habits, and of no very rigid pecuSuch things have been related of niary economy and foresight. This persons of feeble understanding and may be concluded from his frequent emasculate character. But, in a embarassments. Immediately after man of Chaucer's force, it marks the loss of his place of comptroller only persistive choice, a pursuit, not of the customs, which he had held easily repressed, yet not breaking for twelve years, and in which he out into extravagancies, a character had “ richesse suffisauntly to weive undebauched and sincere, and a love nede, and in delicious houres was deeply grounded in the most perma- wont to enjoy blisful stoundes," he nent qualities of the mind.
found himself in great poverty. Chaucer was a man of a frank “ His worldly godes were fulliche and easy temper, undeformed by dispente.” On his restoration to fahaughtiness and reserve, and readily vour, he obtained the perhaps equally entering easily into a certain degree lucrative place of clerk of the works. of social intercourse upon trivial oc- He resigned this office, and retired casions. This particular is strongly to Woodstock; yet no sooner was confirmed to us by the curious re- he settled there, and engaged in cord of his testimony in the cause of writing his Canterbury Tales, than arms between Scrope and Grosve- it became necessary that he should nor. He describes himself as walk- solicit another pension. When any ing in Friday-street, in the city of of his patrons, John of Gaunt, Anne London, and observing there the of Bohemia, or Henry IV, are dearms which he had always seen sirous of demonstrating their kindborne by the family of Scrope, hung ness to him, the first thing thought out as a sign. This inconsiderable of is a further pecuniary provision. circumstance immediately excites But. Chaucer was not less fond of an interest in the patriarch of the study than of convivial intercourse. English language and of English po- There is scarcely one of his longer etry. The Scropes were his friends. poems in which this feature of his He accosts a stranger, whom he per- character is not incidentally menceives accidentally standing by, and tioned. He reads in bed *. In the asks, What inn is that, which I ob- Parliament of Birds, he had been serve has hung out the arms of reading all day long, and it is only Scrope for its sign ?....Nay, replied nen the light fails him that he falls the other, it is no inn, nor are those asleep, and has the dream which he the arms of Scrope; they are the proceeds to relate. And in the House shield of a Cheshire family of the of Fame, the eagle tells him, name of Grosvenor. In Chaucer, the thus addressing himself to a per. * Boke of the Duchesse, ver. 47.