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birds rejoicing in the fair weather, and the squirrels holding tournaments on the grass. He never exaggerates with him sorrow does not sink into despair, nor is the cup of earthly joy ever unmixed with a certain bitterness. He is never afraid of contemplating death, but represents it simply as what it really is a great change, to be regretted indeed by the survivors, but not to be regarded with fear or loathing. His lovers are not invested with the power of working miracles, nor are they exempt from the ordinary cares and employments of mortals. Bad men are not suddenly seized with fits of heroic generosity in order to get the story out of an entanglement, nor are good men such faultless monsters as to be above our interest. Like a well-bred man of the world, he laughs at the vices and follies of his time, and never suffers his satire to put him out of charity, to spoil his good manners, or to degenerate into invective.
Milton believed that he was born “ an age too late." In his time the heroic phase of the national mind had passed away, and an epic poem drawn from real life had become an impossibility. This difficulty he solved by placing his scene in the regions of pure fancy, and not only fashioning but creating materials. He could not find heroic men ; he therefore worked upon angels and devils, Chaucer, on the contrary, was what we have lately experienced so much difficulty in finding, “the right man in the right place.” The pure epic is the poetry of nations in their infancy; their poetical creed is then objective only. The valiant deeds and the generosity of chiefs, and the beauty of ladies, are the themes of their song The poetry of a people in a high state of civilization is, on the other hand, to a great extent subjective ; it is independent of outward things, or only uses them as a medium for conveying the abstractions wrought out of the very substance of the poet's mind. The Romans de Geste, and The Excursion represent the two extremes in English poetry. The popular ballads and legends which preceded Homer, but which are now lost, and the Greek Anthology, indicate the analogous phases of poetical developement in Greece; and, between the two, Homer appeared to catch and
embody the heroic spirit before it gave place to newer modes of thought, and was lost for ever. Rome has no epic poetry of its own. The Æneid is but an imitation of the true epic, and depicts thoughts and manners of which Virgil had no personal experience. Chaucer, like Homer, appeared at the critical moment when his genius had the fairest field for its display-when the heroic and imaginative was passing into the real and material phase of society. The law even establishes the reign of Richard II. as the limit of authentic history, and pronounces all anterior to it as “ time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary." It is a vast region of mystery, in which accurate analysis is at fault ; but in which poetry finds a congenial home, and delights to expatiate. It produced the pure epic of an infant nation in abundance ; our library shelves groan under loads of Romans de Geste; and just as these were beginning to lose their vitality, Chaucer caught the spirit which yet remained to them, and combined their objectiveness with that subjective art which is characteristic of a later age. The result was, that he was hailed by his contemporaries as a great master-that every great poet who has arisen since his time, without exception, Shakspeare, Spenser, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Wordsworth, Southey, ('oleridge--has acknowledged his transcendant merit, either in express terms, or by borrowing from him. We may, therefore, now consider his inauguration on a pedestal in our national literary pantheon as a fait accompli.
But, though his title to occupy a place in the first rank of the poets of England is thus generally acknowledged by students, though many of the most happy and striking thoughts of his successors may be traced to him, it must be acknowledged that the circle of his readers is contracted. For this neglect may be assigned two reasons-his indelicacy, and the supposed obsoleteness of his language. With regard to the first, we may observe that, of the Canterbury Tales, consisting of a prologue and twentyfour distinct poems, seven may be pronounced too broad for modern taste, and that in the dramatic dialogues between the host and the company, the boisterous comments of the former are sometimes as coarse as Falstaff's jokes. We have all read Horace, Juvenal, Martial, Homer, Herodotus, and Aristophanes, at school and college, and Shakspeare, Dryden, and Pope soon after ; and to suppose that the stories which Chaucer puts into the mouths of his lower personages could taint an imagination which had passed through such an ordeal, is about as reasonable as if a man, accustomed to drink raw spirits, should refuse a glass of claret for fear it should make him tipsy. The objectionable parts of Chaucer's poetry are by no means the best ; and if any one is afraid of suffering his eyes to fall upon them, we can only repeat Chaucer's own advice :And therefore whoso list it not to hear, Turn over the leaf, and choose another tale ; For he shall find enough, both great and smale, Of storial thing that toucheth gentilesse, And eke morality and holiness.
In the other poems of this voluminious writer there are not above three or four passages which could offend the most fastidious ; while the general tendency of his writings is not only moral, but even religious. Now, the general tendency is the really important point ; for that virtue must be frail, indeed, which is endangered by the occasional slips of a moral writer; while, on the contrary, a poet may, like Pope, be scrupulously within rule in his language, and yet the tendency of his writings may be to corrupt the mind which they do not shock, and all the readier because they do not shock it.
The objection arising from the obsoleteness of Chaucer's language is not so easily met. There are some to whom the facilities for observing the formation of English, afforded by poems written by a master of our language, at a time when its component parts were not so thoroughly fixed into each other as at present, is a recommendation rather than the reverse. There are many persons who think, and adduce plausible reasons for the opinion, that the English of the fourteenth century, retaining as it does the inflections of nouns and verbs, and the philosophical disposition of the several parts of a sentence which mark the classical languages and the modern German, is
really a finer language than the modern English, which, like a patois, relies almost entirely on the use of prepositions, pronouns, and auxiliary verbs, to indicate the distinctions of case, person, mood, and tense. However this may be, it is certain that to call a language which in these respects resembles the Greek and Latin, barbarous, as Warton and others of the last century do, is simply ignorance only equalled by that of the English groom who was convinced that all Frenchmen were fools because they called a horse a shovel (cheval). To the general charge of obsoleteness, we must, therefore, reply with the “ angel of the schools," Distinguo. We must distinguish between what is essentially obsolete, and what is merely accidentally so. In the first place, Chaucer makes use of some few words which are now disused ; so far he is obsolete, and the only remedy for this is to betake ourselves to the glossary. But this is an annoyance to which even the readers of Shakespeare are exposed. Secondly, the German inflections of verbs and nouns are retained ; as for instance, I holp is the past tense of the verb to help ; and if the reader does not know enough of the analogy of his own language, to enable him to discover at once the origin of such a form, he must also go to the glossary for this, or, indeed, ought rather to go back to his accidence. But the third and greatest difficulty, in fact the only real one, is merely accidental, and easily remedied. It is this that even the commonest words are not always spelt or pronounced as at present, but follow the spelling and pronunciation of the Saxon and French,
In the introduction to the Annotated Edition, Mr. Bell gives several good reasons for not interfering with the old orthography. His object appears to have been in the first place to supply a desideratum in English literature, by giving the public a standard edition of this great poet's works. It is true the Canterbury Tales had been published by Tyrwhitt, with excellent notes and glossary ; and subsequently, Mr. Thomas Wright had edited for the Camden Society a much improved text of this poem. The other poems were to be found only in Speght and Urry, or in the Alline edition, in which they were reprinted from Speght, with all his absurd corruptions of the text and errors of punctuation ; and as if to render this edition perfectly useless, there was no glossary. In order to secure a correct and authentic text for this edition, we learn from Mr. Bell's introduction, that the MSS. in the British Museum, in the Bodleian, in the public library of the University of Cambridge, and in the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow, have been searched, and wherever there was a choice, that those which appeared to be the oldest have been selected as the basis of the text. We have now, at length, therefore, the means of reading Chaucer in the language, as nearly as possible, in which he wrote. We are not, perhaps, the best judge in such a case, as we had already pretty well mastered the difficulty of Chaucer's language, before we saw Mr. Bell's edition ; but we really cannot believe that any one who knows French, better still if he knows German, has read the directions given in the introduction to this edition, can, with the help of the explanatory notes and glossary, find any difficulty in understanding and appreciating the excellence of the father of English poetry. We, therefore, think Mr. Bell has done wisely in giving the public such a text as may satisfy philologists, and in trusting to the notes and glossary to make it intelligible to the general reader.
But though this edition appears to us to supply the want of a full and correct collection of the poet's works, it is not a book to lie on a drawingroom table; and we are still of opinion that a suggestion thrown out by Coleridge in his Table-Talk might be followed with advantage. “I cannot in the least allow," he observes, “any necessity for Chaucer's poetry, espe
cally the Canterbury Tales, being considered obsolete. Let a plain rule be given for sounding the final e of syllables, and for expressing the termination of such words as océan, nation, &c., as dissyllables; or let the syllables to be sounded in such cases be marked by a competent metrist. This simple expedient would, with a very few trifling exceptions, where the errors are inveterate, enable any reader to feel the perfect smoothness and harmony of Chaucer's verse." If a person so qualified as Coleridge describes were to give the prologue, and such of the Canterbury Tales as are unobjectionable, together with selections from the rest of the poems, retaining the old spelling only where it is absolutely necessary to the metre, marking the accented syllables, and accompanying the whole with very short and simple explanations in foot-notes, a charming book might be made ; and many persons, particularly ladies, would then be enabled to enjoy an intellectual pleasure from which they are now in a great measure debarred. The feasibility of this plan was proved to ourselves, by the fact that some ladies to whom we read aloud the exquisite tale of Griselda, found no difficulty in understanding it, and were charmed with its beauty and pathos. We will give our readers an opportunity of judging for themselves, by placing a passage from the Man of Law's tale in the original, in juxta-position with our modernized version ; premising that in this we are taking no greater liberty with our author, than has been taken by all modern editors with Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. If these poets were edited with their old orthography, they would be fully as unintelligible to a modern Italian as Chaucer is to a reader of the Times.
And after noon, home with the senatour
And afternoon, home with the senator
dance : When that she wisté wherefore was that
sond, (5) Unnethes () on her feet she mighte stond. (°) When Alla saw his wife, fair he her gret, (8) And wepté that it was ruthé to see ; For at the firsté look be on her set He knew well, verily, that it was she. And for sorrow as dumb she stant (9) as tree, So was her hearté shut in her distress, When she remembered his unkindéness.
Whan Alla saugh his wyf, fayre he bir grette,
Who lyved ever in such delyt a day,
Who lived ever in such delight a day,
Here the only thing in which the old differs from the modern English is in the orthography, in the accentuation of words of French origin, in the pronouncing of the final e as in German, and in some trifling variations in grammatical structure. Indeed the wonder is, that in a poem written four hundred and fifty-six years ago, the language should so closely resemble that of the best writers of the present day. And here we cannot but call the reader's attention to the pathos and beauty of the expres. sion in which the poet describes the effect of Constance's meeting with her husband, whom she believed guilty of the greatest cruelty to herself and her child :
and all the outlets in which sorrow finds relief are closed. What thoughtfulness and knowledge of human nature does the next stanza we have quoted display! How true it is that when all external causes of sorrow or uneasiness are removed, there is still something in the heart which makes perfect happiness incompatible with our nature and condition upon earth!
Chaucer is generally called the father of English poetry; and the propriety of this designation cannot be disputed, if it be intended to mean that he gave new beauty and vigour to our language, and variety to our versification ; and that he was the originator of the modern school of English poetry. But if it imply that Chaucer was the first poet who wrote in English, it is manifestly inappropriate. Without mentioning his contemporary, Gower, from whose English works might be culled some passages of great merit, we must remember that our Anglo-Saxon forefathers had their poets ; though, to judge from the scanty remains which
“ So was her hearté shut in her distress."
How well does it depict that intensely painful feeling of inability to speak or weep, produced by the consciousness that we are the objects of the undeserved unkindness of one whom we love! The heart is truly then shut up, as it were, in distress,
(1) Accident, or event. — (3) Honour, being a French word, is accented on the last syllable.
-(3) Trusteth is the imperative mood, trust thou, or trust ye.- () That is, it was not pleasing to her. Her is here the dative case. — (5) Sonde means that which is sent, a message. - scarcely. - 0) O and a are used indifferently in words of this kind. () Gret is the past tense of to greet, greeted. - Standeth. -- (10) Conscience is pronounced as in French. — (11) Covetousness. — (12) Efroi, fear. (13) I say not for this sentiment but for this object.
have come down to us, their poetry was not of the highest order. It was with the advent of the Normans that new blood and vitality were introduced into our national literature. The Saxon bishops and abbots, it inust be allowed, had degenerated into little better than country gentlemen and farmers; and whatever we may think of the abstract justice of William's conduct towards them, we cannot be sorry to see such men as St. Anselm substituted in their place. A haughty nobility, despising the pursuits of commerce and agriculture, which they delegated to their Anglo-Saxon churls or bondmen, the Normans had leisure to cultivate the arts and elegancies of life. Poety was with them a passion; Norman rule was inaugurated with poetry ; the battle of Hastings was begun by the minstrel Taillefer throwing himself into the midst of the English, as he chanted the Song of Roland ; and metrical romances, consisting, or purporting to consist, of real histories, were produced by the minstrels who followed the Duke of Normandy to England, in an abundance which rivalled the issues of Mr. Bentley and Mr. Colburn. Indeed it is curious to observe the striking analogy which subsists between these early epics and the popular literature of the present day. In such historical romances as the Chronique de Geoffroi Gaimar, Pierre de Langtoft, and Benoit de St. Maure, we have the antetypes of Mr. Macaulay's “ History of England." In all these, an imaginary hero under a real name is made to move, with more or less adherence to historical truth, through well-known historical events. Some times, as in the romance Del RiGuillaume d'Engleterre, or the history of Fulke de Fitz-Warrice, the poem is as purely a fiction as the historical novel of the present day. The progenitors of our religious novels were the metrical “Lives of the Saints," or such poems as the “ Romance of Robert Grosseteste ;" while the satirical novel, such as Mrs. Trollope's Vicar of Wrexhill, is shadowed forth by many a hard hit at the vices of hypocritical churchmen.
About the reign of Henry II., the pure grammatical forms of the AngloSaxon began to disappear, and the English language was formed by a
corrupt mixture with the AngloNorman. From this time forward till Chaucer appeared above the horizon, the popular literature abounded with poems in English, but formed upon the model and clothed in the metre of the Norman romance. The dimeter iambic, sometimes varied by a catalectic line, or the Alexandrine, displaced the alliterative metre of the Anglo-Saxon poetry; and the copious ease and flowing grace of the trourere succeeded to the frigid obscurity of the scald. If the king or the barons receive a reverse, or if the citizens of Bruges rise against and defeat their feudal superior, the fact is sung in every hall and hamlet in England, in satirical ballads and pasquinades. In fact, political intelligence, clothed in metre for its greater facility of retention, seems to have been as widely diffused among the people in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as it is at present: the only difference is, that then it reached their ears from the mouth of the minstrel or gestour, and now it meets their eyes in the columns of the “ Thunderer."
In the South of France, in the meantime, a more refined school of poetry sprung up, and gave birth to one of the most curious institutions of the middle ages. At the Courts of the petty govereigns of the southern provinces were established, under the name of “ Courts of Love," or Giens sou l'ormel, what we should call literary and poetical academies. Here the academicians, learned in the gai science, submitted their poetical and amatory compositions to the judgment of their fellow-professors; and the crown of laurel was awarded by the sentence of the court-or they proposed subtle questions in matters of love, clothed in the language of poetry, and called jeu-parties, or tensons; or parties aggrieved brought their pleadings in all due form before the Court, and prayed judgment. There is reason to believe that the sentences then pronounced had some such effect upon the social position of the party condemned, as the decision of the patronesses of Almack's, or of a private court of regimental officers. The only account in English of this most curious institution that we are aware of, is to be found in Mr. Bell's introduction to Chaucer's poem, entitled The Court of Love.