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MORNINGS IN SPRING.
Call up Him that left half told
And sage DUNBAR. The bard has run his race,
Recall the days,
It has been beautifully observed by Warton, in his History of English Poetry, that CHAUCER may be resembled to “a genial day in an English Spring: A brilliant sun enlivens the face of nature with an unusual lustre: the sudden appearance of cloudless skies, and the unexpected warmth of a tepid atmosphere, after the gloom and the inclemencies of a
tedious winter, fill our hearts with the visionary prospect of a speedy summer; and we fondly anticipate a long continuance of gentle gales and vernal serenity. But winter returns with redoubled horrors: the clouds condense more formidably than before ; and those tender buds and early blossoms which were called forth by the transient gleam of a temporary sunshine are nipped by frosts, and torn by tempests."
Thus, “ most of the poets,” he adds, “ that immediately succeeded Chaucer, seem rather relapsing into barbarism, than availing themselves of those striking ornaments which his judgment and imagination had disclosed. They appear to have been insensible to his vigour of versification, and his flights of fancy. It was not, indeed, likely that a poet should soon arise equal to Chaucer : and it must be remembered that the national distractions which ensued had no small share in obstructing the exercise of those studies which delight in peace and repose. His successors, however, approach him in no degree of proportion *.”
This exquisite illustration is one amongst a series from the pen of the same critic, which has con
* Vol. ii. 4to. edit. p. 51.
tributed to place the genius and character of the writings of Chaucer in their proper point of view. It had previously been supposed, from a too partial acquaintance with the works of our bard, that humour and delineation of character were the departments in which he could alone establish a claim to excellence; but it has been amply proved by the nistorian of our poetry, that to these provinces of his art were added the more peculiarly poetical ones which originate in a display not only of inventive and descriptive powers, but occasionally of those which unfold the emotions of pity and terror.
It will, therefore, be barely sufficient in this place to remind the reader, that whilst a vast majority of the Canterbury Tales and their Prologues exhibit the richest vein of humorous characterization, an equal opulency is discoverable both in these and other parts of his works, in the serious and more elevated flights of fancy and of feeling. Thus, as faithful delineations of the beauties of nature, what can be more fresh and distinct than many of the landscapes which he has given us in the Flower and Leaf, the Romaunt of the Rose, and the Complaint of the Black Knight? How splendid, and, at the same time, how frequently terrific and sublime is the imagery, and even the incidents, in the wild but powerfully written tales of Palamon and Arcite, and Cambuscan, and with what deep and commiserating sympathy do we hang over the pathetic narratives of Troilus and Crescda and Patient Griseldis!
It is evident that a union of talents of this wide range must necessarily be of rare occurrence ; nor can we wonder that a century should elapse before a poet in any high degree approaching the genius of Chaucer made his appearance in our island *.
Amongst those who may be reckoned the immediate successors of Chaucer, Lydgate is without doubt entitled, on the score at least of descriptive and pathetic powers, to more notice than he has yet obtained. In universality of genius, and especially in the departments of humour and characterpainting, he is immeasurably below his great predecessor ; but there is a perspicuity in his diction, and a circumstantiality in his narration, which are sometimes truly pleasing, and he has given us several proofs of the exquisite tenderness of his heart. He has experienced, therefore, hard measure from Warton, when he declares him to have been “seldom pathetic,” (Hist. of English Poetry, vol. ii. p. 58); and still harder from Percy, Ritson, and Pinkerton, who have absolutely loaded him with contempt. It was reserved for Gray to do justice to this forgotten bard, who, though buried, as it were, beneath an immense mass of occasional, and therefore, in general, uninteresting verses, has every now and then a
Not, indeed, until DUNBAR arose in the sister kingdom, had we another instance of the combination
passage of truly redeeming power. Two instances of this kind are quoted by our great lyric poet, of which the second is beyond all praise, and shows how deeply the Monk of Bury could enter into the distresses of love and maternal fondness.
“ Canace, condemned to death by Eolus her father, sends to her guilty brother Macareus the last testimony of her unhappy passion :
“Out of her swoonè when she did abbraide,
Knowing no mean but death in her distresse,
Cause of my sorrowe, roote of my heavinesse,
"I hold himn strictly twene my armè's twein,
Thou and nature laidè on me this charge ;