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and Carew, about 1580, informs us that, “within these sixty years we have incorporated so many Latin and French words as the third part of our language consisteth in them.” Spenser, in order to give (as a multitude of poets, ancient and modern, have striven to do) an air of antiquity to the language of his ‘Faery Queen,” in harmony with the romantic chivalry of its subject, set the example—unhappily followed by many writers who had no such excuse as the English Ariosto—of reviving the obsolete diction of Chaucer; and Shakspeare, with that intuitive good taste which characterises the higher order of genius, levelled the keen and brilliant shafts of his ridicule against the fantastic Euphuism or Italianated pedantry of the court, exactly as Rabelais has gibbeted in immortal burlesque the “Pindarizing” Latinity of the pedants of his day, and Molière has so cruelly immortalized the conceited jargon of the Hôtel de Rambouillet. The influence, at this period, and even down to the end of the reign of James I., of Italian manners and literature, was very great; an influence which was occasionally mingled with the somewhat similar tone of Spanish society: but this was afterwards to give place to a decided tendency towards a French taste in language, dress, and so on. During the stormy interval occupied by the Republic and Protectorate, men were too much occupied with graver and more pressing interests to cultivate literature with great ardour or success; and even had this period been one of tranquil prosperity, the gloomy fanaticism of the times would have forbidden us to expect any improvement in the language. At a period when British senators would rise in Parliament to expound the Epistles of St. Paul, when the stage was suppressed, and serious propositions were made to paint all the churches black to typify the gloom and corruption that reigned within them, it was natural to find the style of writers as mean as was the condition of most of the rulers, as narrow as their intolerance, and as extravagant as their doctrines; and perhaps one of the true causes of Milton’s adoption of the singularly artificial, learned, and involved way of writing which characterises his prose works, was his contempt for the ignorance of most of the republican party, whose political opinions he shared, while he abhorred their vicos and despised their bigotry. Phillips, the nephew and pupil of Milton, in the preface to his ‘Theatrum Poetarum,’ a work which is without doubt deeply tinged with the literary taste and opinions of the author of the ‘Paradise Lost,’ complains of the gradually increasing French taste which characterised our literature when he wrote, i. e. in 1675, in the reign of Charles II. “I cannot but look upon it as a very pleasant humour that we should be so compliant with the French custom as to follow set fashions, not only in garments, but in music and poetry. . . . . . Now, whether the trunk-hose fashion of Queen Elizabeth's days, or the pantaloon genius of ours, be best, I shall not be hasty to determine.” The cause of the great influx of Gallicisms which took place at the Restoration is undoubtedly to be found in the long exile of Charles II. during the stormy period of the Republic. Charles, and the few faithful adherents who composed his court, passed many of those years in France; he was indeed a pensioner of Versailles. He there naturally acquired a taste for the artificial and somewhat formal refinements of French literature, much more active and permanent than any which he might have retained for the vernacular literature of that nation which had brought his father to the block and compelled himself to encounter all the vicissitudes of poverty and exile. At his return to the kingdom of his ancestors, it was the court which gave, in a great measure, the tone to the rest of the nation; and it is from this epoch, consequently, that we must date the commencement of that long influence exerted on English by French manners and modes of thinking. This influence is very perceptible in all our writers during the reigns of William, Anne, and the three first Georges: it is to this that we must attribute that faintness, dimness, and commonplace good sense which characterises, with occasional splendid exceptions, the prose; and that unimaginative and monotonous classicism which marks the courtly school of poetry, and which was not to be supplanted by anything truly national and vigorous, till the glorious outburst of new forms and modes of thought and expression in that splendid epoch illustrated by the contemporary names of Lord Byron, Scott, and Wordsworth. . XAs to the elementary constitution of the English language as spoken and written in the present day, the following calculations may be found curious and instructive, and perhaps they may give a better notion of the present condition of the language than more general description. It has been ascertained that the English now consists of about 38,000 words, of which 23,000, or nearly fiveeighths, are Anglo-Saxon in their origin; and that in our most idiomatic writers about nine-tenths are Anglo-Saxon, and in our least idiomatic writers about two-thirds. As examples of the most completely idiomatic authors, we may instance the immortal De Foe, and among those who are least Saxon perhaps Gibbon may, without injustice, be adduced. There can be no doubt, however, that the Anglo-Saxon element is slowly but perceptibly diminishing; and the learned Sharon Turner considers that one-fifth of the Saxon languag has ceased to be used.
Age of Chaucer—His Birth and Education—Translation in the Fourteenth Century — His Early Productions—His Career — Imbued with Provençal Literature—Character of his Poems—Romaunt of the Rose–Troilus and Cresseide — Anachronism — House of Fame — Canterbury Tales– Plan of this Work — The Pilgrims — Proposition of the Host — Plan of the Decameron—Superiority of Chaucer's Plan–Dialogue of the Pilgrims—Knight’s Tale — Squire's Tale—Story of Griselda — Comic Tales—The two Prose Tales—Rime of Sir Thopas—Parson's. Tale—Language of Chaucer—The Flower and the Leaf.
NEITHER the plan nor the extent of the present volume will permit us to give a detailed history of all the productions, nor. indeed, even a list of all the names, which figure in the annals of English literature. It will be our aim to direct the reader's attention upon those great works and those illustrious names which form, as it were, the landmarks of the intellectual history of the country, and which gave the tone and colour to the various epochs to which they belong; exerting also, according to circumstances, an influence more or less powerful on contemporary and succeeding generations. And by this method we hope to give a clearer idea of the scope and character of English literature than we could expect to afford them by a more elaborate and detailed work, the materials for which are so abundant, that it would require not a volume but a library to develop them as they deserve. . We consider, therefore, the age of Chaucer as the true startingpoint of the English literature properly so called. In Italy letters appear to have revived after the long and gloomy period characterised by the somewhat false term of “the dark ages,” with astonishing rapidity. Like germs and seeds of plants which have lain for cen: turies buried deep in the unfruitful bowels of the earth, and Suddenly brought up by some convulsion of nature to the surface, the intellect of Italy burst forth, in the fourteenth century, into a tropical luxuriance, putting out its fairest flowers of poetry, and its olidest and most beautiful fruits of wisdom and of wit. Dante died seven years before, and Petrarch and Boccaccio about fifty years after, the birth of Chaucer, who thus was exposed to the strongest and directest influence of the genius of these great men. How great that influence was, we shall presently see. The great causes, ther, which modified and directed the genius of Chaucer were—first, the new Italian poetry, which then suddenly burst forth upon the World, like Pallas from the brain of Jupiter, perfect and consummate in its virgin strength and beauty; second, the now decaying Romanz or Provençal poetry; and third, the doctrines of the Reformation, which were beginning, obscurely but irresistibly, to agitate the minds of men; a movement which took its origin, as do all great and permament revolutions, in the lower depths of the popular heart, heaving gradually onwards, like the tremendous ground-swell of the equator, until it burst with resistless strength upon the Romish Church in Germany and in England, sweeping all, before it. Wickliffe, who was born in 1324, only four years before Chaucer, had undoubtedly communicated to the poet many of his bold doctrines: the father of our poetry and the father of our reformed religion were both attached to the party of the celebrated John of Gaunt, and were both honoured with the friendship and protection of that powerful prince : Chaucer indeed was the kinsman of the Earl, having married the sister of Catherine Swinford, first the mistress and ultimately the wife of “ time-honoured Lancaster;” and the poet's varied and uncertain career seems to have faithfully followed all the vicissitudes of John of Gaunt’s eventful life. * Geoffrey Chaucer was born, as he informs us himself, in London; and for the date of an event so important to the destinies of English letters, we must fix it, on the authority of the inscription upon his tomb, as having happened in the year 1328; that is to say, at the commencement of the splendid and chivalrous reign of Edward III. The honour of having been the place of his education has been eagerly disputed by the two great and ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge; the former, however, of the two learned sisters having apparently the best established right to the maternity—or at least the fosterage—of so illustrious a nurseling. Cambridge founds her claim upon the circumstance of Chaucer's having subscribed one of his early works “Philogenet of Cambridge, clerk.” He afterwards returned to London, aud there became a student of the law. His detestation of the monks appears, from a very curious document, to have begun even so early as his abode in the grave walls of the Temple; for we find the name of Jeffrey Chaucer inscribed in an ancient registar as having been fined for the misdemeanour of beating a friar in Fleet Street. The first efforts of a revival of letters will always be made in the path of translation; and to this principle Chaucer forms no exception. He was an indefatigable translator; and the whole of many— nay, a great part of all—his works bears unequivocal traces of the prevailing taste for imitation. How much he has improved upon his models, what new lights he has placed them in, with what skill he has infused fresh life into the dry bones of obscure authors, it will hereafter be our business to inquire. He was the poetical pupil of Gower, and, like Raphael and Shakspeare, he surpassed his master: Gower always speaks with respect of his illustrious pupil in the art of poetry; and, in his work entitled ‘Confessio Amantis' places in the mouth of Venus the following elegant compliment:—
“And grete wel Chaucer, when ye mete, As my disciple and my poéte: For in the flowers of his youth, In sundry wise, as he well couthe, Of ditees and of songés glade The which he for my saké made,” &c. These lines also prove that Chaucer began early to write; an probably our poet continued during the whole course of his eventful life, to labour assiduously in the fields of letters. His earliest works were strongly tinctured with the mannel, nay, even with the mannerism, of the age. They are much fuller of allegory than his later productions; they are distinguished by a greater parade of scholarship, and by a deeper tinge of that amorous and metaphysical mysticism which pervades the later Provençal poetry, and which reached its highest pitch of fantastical absurdity in the Arrêts d'Amour of Picardy and Languedoc. As an example of this we may cite his ‘Dream,’ an allegorical composition written to celebrate the nuptials of his friend and patron John of Gaunt, with Blanche, the heiress of Lancaster. . . . Chaucer was in every sense a man of the world: he was the ornament of two of the most brilliant courts in the annals of England— those of Edward III., and his successor Richard II. He also accompanied the former king in his expedition into France, and was taken prisoner about 1359, at the siege of Retters; and in 1867 we find him receiving from the Crown a grant of 20 marks, i. e. about 200l. of our present money. Our poet, thus distinguished as a soldier, as a courtier, and as a scholar, was honoured with the duty of forming part of an embassy to the splendid court of Genoa, where he was present at the nuptials of Violante, daughter of Galeazzo Duke of Milan, with the Duke of Clarence. At this period he made the acquaintance of Petrarch, and probably of Boccaccio also: to the former of these illustrious men he certainly was personally known; for he hints, in his “Canterbury Tales,’ his having learned from him the beautiful and pathetic tale of the Patient Griselda:- .
“Ilearned at Padua of a worthy clerke
It was during his peregrinations in France and Italy that Chaucer drew at the fountain-head those deep draughts from the Hippocrene of Tuscany and of Provence which flow and sparkle in all his compositions. It is certain that he introduced into the English language an immense quantity of words absolutely and purely French, and