« PreviousContinue »
Raleigh, Spenser, Shakspeare, Jonson,
Beaumont, Shirley, Carew, Lovelace, Lyly, Titchbourne.
Marlow, Danial Todge, Herrick,
GEOFFREY CHAUCER, that
worthy minstrel-monk, first in the order of Anglican poets, thus prefaces his Canterbury Tales :
Befelle, that, in that seson on a day,
At nighte was come into that hostelrie
Although written nearly five centuries ago, this work, notwithstanding its obsoleteness of style, has never been more popular among scholars than it is at this time. There is, indeed, to us of the present day, a charm in its very antiquity, as Campbell remarks,—“something picturesque in it, like the moss and ivy on some majestic ruin.”
This noble production of the early English muse, which was probably suggested by the Decameron of Boccaccio, supposes a company to have convened at the Tabard, Southwark, where they are entertained by the host, on the evening prior to their commencing pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket, at Canterbury Cathedral; and that these “nine and twenty sondry folk,” by way of beguiling time, agree amongst themselves to contribute each a tale for the entertainment of the company. The old “hostelrie,” or rather part of it, is yet extant, under the name of “The Talbot;" where may be seen a sign-post bearing the inscription,-“This is the Inne where Sir Geoffrey Chaucer and the twenty-nine pilgrims lodged in their journey to Canterbury, anno 1383.” Chaucer was given to the world in the year 1328 ; and he wrote his Canterbury Tales in the full maturity of his genius, when he had passed his sixtieth year. He was undoubtedly a laborious student, for, according to his own confession, he preferred reading to every other amusement, with the exception of “a morning walke in Maytide." He was fond of retirement, temperate in diet, “rose with the larke and lay
1 Tabard, a sleeveless coat, worn by nobles in early times, now by heralds only.
down with the lambe.” He seems to have surrendered himself to the inspiring influences of nature, and to have revelled, as festival, amid birds and Aowers: hence the rich arabesque character of his poetry, and the marvellous freshness and bloom of his pastoral pictures : witness the following :
The busy larke, the messenger of day,
the morwe gray;
Chaucer is said to have been one of the handsomest
personages attached to the gallant court of the Plantagenets.
As a court ecclesiastic he became involved in the controversies of his times, having espoused the doctrines of Wicliff; and he was, for a season, obliged to leave his native land. He afterwards returned, married Philippa, sister of the renowned John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and closed his career in the year 1400.
His tomb is one of the earliest of the illustrious dead in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Now let us bear him company in one of his morning rambles in Maytide," and mark how observant he is of all that is delicious to soul and sense :
I rose anone, and thought I wouldè gone
the lusty licour newe, Upon the herbès in the grenè mede,