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be advised to abstain from attempting with Chaucer in the overflow of his more or less unrestrained moods. At all events, the excuse of gayety of heart-the plea of that vieil esprit Gaulois which is so often, and very rarely without need, invoked in an exculpatory capacity by modern French criticism-is the best defence ever made for Chaucer's laughable irregularities, either by his apologists or by himself. “Men should not," he says, and says very truly, “make earnest of game." But when he audaciously defends himself against the charge of impropriety by declaring that he must tell stories in character, and coolly requests any person who may find anything in one of his tales objectionable to turn to another :
“ For he shall find enough, both great and small,
Of storial thing that toucheth gentleness,
Blame ye not me, if ye should choose amiss—" we are constrained to shake our heads at the transparent sophistry of the plea, which requires no exposure. For Chaucer knew very well how to give life and color to his page without recklessly disregarding bounds the neglect of which was even in his day offensive to many besides the “precious folk” of whom he half derisively pretends to stand in awe. In one instance he defeated his own purpose; for the so-called Cook's Tale of Gamelyn was substituted by some earlier editor for the original Cook's Tale, which has thus in its completed form become a rarity removed beyond the reach of even the most ardent of curiosity hunters. Fortunately, however, Chaucer spoke the truth when he said that from this point of view he had written very differently at different times; no whiter pages remain than many of his.
But the realism of Chaucer is something more than exuberant love of fun and light-hearted gayety. He is the first great painter of character, because he is the first.great observer of it among modern European writers. His power of comic abservation need not be dwelt upon again, after the illustrations of it which have been incidentally furnished in these pages. More especially with regard to the manners and ways of women, which often, while seeming so natural to women themselves, appear so odd to male observers, Chaucer's eye was ever on the alert. But his works likewise contain passages displaying a penetrating insight into the minds of men, as well as a keen eye for their manners, together with a power of generalizing, which, when kept within due bounds, lies at the root of the wise knowledge of humankind so admirable to us in our great essayists, from Bacon to Addison and his modern successors. How truly, for instance, in Troilus and Cressid, Chaucer observes on the enthusiastic belief of converts, the “strongest-faithed" of men, as he understands! And how fine is the saying as to the suspiciousness characteristic of lewd (i.c., ignorant) people, that to things which are made more subtly
“ Than they can in their lewdness comprehend,
they gladly give the worst interpretation which suggests itself! How appositely the Canon's Yeoman describes the arrogance of those who are too clever by half; when a man has an over-great wit," he says, “it very often chances to him to misuse it !" And with how ripe a wisdom, combined with ethics of true gentleness, the honest Franklin, at the opening of his Tale, discourses on the uses and the beauty of long-suffering :
“For one thing, sirës, safely dare I say,
With every wight that knows self-governance.” It was by virtue of his power of observing and drawing character, above all, that Chaucer became the true predecessor of two several growths of our literature, in both of which characterization forms a most important element-it might perhaps be truly said, the element which surpasses all others in importance. From this point of view the dramatic poets of the Elizabethan age remain unequalled by any other school or group of dramatists, and the English novelists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the representatives of any other development of prose-fiction. In the art of construction, in the inven. tion and the arrangement of incident, these dramatists and novelists may have been left behind by others; in the creation of character they are, on the whole, without rivals in their respective branches of litera. ture. To the earlier at least of these growths Chaucer may be said to have pointed the way. His personages—more especially, of course, as has been seen, those who are assembled together in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales—are not mere phantasms of the brain, or even mere actual possibilities, but real human beings, and types true to the likeness of whole classes of men and women, or to the mould in which all human nature is cast. This is, upon the whole, the most
wonderful, as it is perhaps the most generally recognized, of Chaucer's gifts. It would not of itself have sufficed to make him a great dramatist, had the drama stood ready for him as a literary form into which to pour the inspirations of his geniuș, as it afterwards stood ready for our great Elizabethans. But to it were added in him that perception of a strong dramatic situation, and that power of finding the right words for it, which have determined the success of many plays, and the absence of which materially detracts from the completeness of the effect of others, high as their merits may be in other respects. How thrilling, for instance, is that rapid passage across the stage, as one might almost call it, of the unhappy Dorigen in the Franklin's Tale ! The antecedents of the situation, to be sure, are, as has been elsewhere suggested, absurd enough; but who can fail to feel that spasm of anxious sympathy with which a powerful dramatic situation in itself affects us, when the wife, whom for truth's sake her husband has bidden be untrue to him, goes forth on her unholy errand of duty ? “Whither so fast ?" asks the lover:
“And she made answer, half as she were mad:
Unto the garden, as my husband bade,
My promise for to keep, alas! alas !'" Nor, as the abbreviated prose version of the Pardoner's Tale given above will suffice to show, was Chaucer deficient in the art of dramatically arranging a story; while he is not excelled by any of our nondramatic poets in the spirit and movement of his dialogue. The Book of the Duchess and the House of Fame, but more especially Treilus and Cressid and the connecting passages between some of the Canterbury Tales, may be referred to in various illustration of this.
The vividness of his imagination, which conjures up, so to speak, the very personality of his characters before him, and the contagious force of his pathos, which is as true and as spontaneous as his humor, complete in him the born dramatist. We can see Constance as with our own eyes, in the agony of her peril :
“ Have ye not seen some time a pallid face
Among a press, of him that hath been led
And perhaps there is no better way of studying the general character of Chaucer's pathos than a comparison of the Monk's Tale from which this passage is taken, and the Clerk's Tale, with their originals. In the former, for instance, the prayer of Constance, when condemned through Domegild's guilt to be cast adrift once more on the waters, her piteous words and tenderness to her little child as it lies weeping in her arm, and her touching leave-taking from the land of the hus. band who has condemned her-all these are Chaucer's own. So also are parts of one of the most affecting passages in the Clerk's Tale Griseldis' farewell to her daughter. But it is as unnecessary to lay a finger upon lines and passages illustrating Chaucer's pathos as upon others illustrating his humor.
Thus, then, Chaucer was a born dramatist; but fate willed it, that the branch of our literature which might probably have of all been the best suited to his genius was not to spring into life till he and several generations after him had passed away. To be sure, during the fourteenth century the so-called miracle-plays flourished abundantly in England, and were, as there is every reason to believe, already largely performed by the trading-companies of London and the towns. The allusions in Chaucer to these beginnings of our English drama are, however, remarkably scanty. The Wife of Bath mentions plays of miracles among the other occasions of religious sensation haunted by her, clad in her gay scarlet gown-including vigils, processions, preachings, pilgrimages, and marriages. And the jolly parish-clerk of the Miller's Tale, we are informed, at times, in order to show his lightness and his skill, played “Herod on a scaffold high”—thus, by-the-bye, emulating the parish clerks of London, who are known to have been among the performers of miracles in the Middle Ages. The allusion to Pilate's voice in the Miller's Prologue, and that in the Tale to
« The sorrow of Noah with his fellowship.
That he had ere he got his wife to ship,” seem likewise dramatic reminiscences; and the occurrence of these three allusions in a single Tale and its Prologue would incline one to think that Chaucer had recently amused himself at one of these performances. But plays are not mentioned among the entertainments enumerated at the opening of the Pardoner's Tale; and it would in any case have been unlikely that Chaucer should have paid much attention to diversions which were long chiefly “visited” by the classes with which he could have no personal connection, and even at a much later date were dissociated in men's minds from poetry and literature. Had he ever written anything remotely partaking of the nature of a dramatic piece, it could at the most have been the words of the songs in some congratulatory royal pageant such as Lydgate probably wrote on the return of Henry V. after Agincourt; though there is not the least reason for supposing Chaucer to have taken so much interest in the “ridings" through the City which occupied many a morning of the idle apprentice of the Cook's Tale, Perkyn Revellour. It is, perhaps, more surprising to find Chaucer, who was a reader of several Latin poets, and who had heard of more, both Latin and Greek, show no knowledge whatever of the ancient classical drama, with which he may accordingly be fairly concluded to have been wholly unacquainted.
To one further aspect of Chaucer's realism as a poet reference has already been made; but a final mention of it may most appropriately
conclude this sketch of his poetical characteristics. His descriptions of nature are as true as his sketches of human character; and inci. dental touches in him reveal his love of the one as unmistakably as his unflagging interest in the study of the other. Even these Maymorning exordia, in which he was but following a fashion-faithfully observed both by the French trouvères and by the English romances translated from their productions, and not forgotten by the author of the earlier part of the Roman de la Rose-always come from his hands with the freshness of natural truth. They cannot be called original in conception, and it would be difficult to point out in them anything strikingly original in execution; yet they cannot be included among those matter-of-course notices of morning and evening, sunrise and sunset, to which so many poets have accustomed us since (be it said with reverènce) Homer himself. In Chaucer these passages make his page as fresh as in the month of May." When he went forth on these April and May mornings, it was not solely with the intent of composing a roundelay or a marguerite; but we may be well assured he allowed the song of the little birds, the perfume of the flowers, and the fresh verdure of the English landscape, to sink into his very soul. For nowhere does he seem, and nowhere could he have been, more open to the influence which he received into himself, and which in his turn he exercised, and exercises upon others, than wher, he was in fresh contact with nature. In this influence lies the secret of his genius; in his poetry there is life..
The legacy which Chaucer left to our literature was to fructify in the hands of a long succession of heirs; and it may be said, with little fear of contradiction, that at no time has his fame been fresher and his influence upon our poets—and upon our painters as well as our poets ---more perceptible than at the present day. When Gower first put forth his Confessio Amantis, we may assume that Chaucer's poetical labors, of the fame of which his brother-poet declared the land to be full, had not yet been crowned by his last and greatest work. As a poet, therefore, Gower in one sense owes less to Chaucer than did many of their successors; though, on the other hand, it may be said with truth that to Chaucer is due the fact that Gower (whose earlier productions were in French and in Latin) ever became a poet at all. The Confessio Amantis is no book for all times like the Canterbury Tales; but the conjoined names of Chaucer and Gower added strength