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good in things as they are to the good in things as they might be; in his loyalty, his piety, his truthfulness. Of the great movement which was to mould the national character for at least a long series of generations he displays no serious foreknowledge; and of the elements already preparing to affect the course of that movement he shows a very incomplete consciousness. But of the health and strength which, after struggles many and various, made that movement possible and made it victorious, he, more than any one of his contemporaries, is the living type and the speaking witness. Thus, like the times to which he belongs, he stands half in and half out of the Middle Ages, half in and half out of a phase of our national life, which we can never hope to understand more than partially and imperfectly. And it is this, taken together with the fact that he is the first English poet to read whom is to enjoy him, and that he garnished not only our lan. guage but our literature with blossoms still adorning them in vernal freshness-which makes Chaucer's figure so unique a one in the gallery of our great English writers, and gives to his works an interest so inexhaustible for the historical as well as for the literary student.
CHAUCER'S LIFE AND WORKS.
SOMETHING has been already said as to the conflict of opinion concerning the period of Geoffrey Chaucer's birth, the precise date of which is very unlikely ever to be ascertained. better fortune has attended the anxious enquiries which in his case, as in those of other great men, have been directed to the very secondary question of ancestry and descent-a/question to which, in the abstract at all events, no man ever attached less importance than he. Although the name Chaucer is (according to Thynne) to be found on the lists of Battle Abbey, this no more proves that the poet himself came of “high parage,” than the reverse is to be concluded from the nature of his coat-of-arms, which Speght thought must have been taken out of the 27th and 28th Propositions of the First Book of Euclid. Many a war. rior of the Norman Conquest was known to his comrades only by the name of the trade which he had plied in some French or Flemish town, before he attached himself a volunteer to Duke William's holy and lucrative expedition ; and it is doubtful whether, even in the fourteenth century, the name Le Chaucer is, wherever it occurs in London, used as a surname, or whether, in some instances, it is not merely a designation of the owner's trade. Thus we should not be justified in assuming a French origin for the family from which Richard le Chau.
cer, whom we know to have been the poet's grandfather, was descended. Whether or not he was at any time a shoemaker (chaulier, maker of chausses), and accordingly belonged to a gentle craft otherwise not unassociated with the history of poetry, Richard was a citizen of London, and vininer, like his son John after him. John Chaucer, whose wife's Christian name may be with tolerable safety set down as Agnes, owned a house in Thames Street, London, not far from the arch on which modern pilgrims pass by rail to Canterbury or beyond, and in the neighborhood of the great bridge, which in Chaucer's own
ay emptied its travellers on their errands, sacred or profane, into the great Southern road the Via Appia of England. The house afterwards descended to John's son, Geoffrey, who released his right to it by deed in the year 1380. Chaucer's father was probably a man of some substance, the most_usual personal recommendation to great people in one of his class. For he was at least temporarily connected with the Court, inasmuch as he attended King Edward III. and Queen Philippa on the memorable journey to Flanders and Germany, in the course of which the English monarch was proclaimed Vicar of the Holy Roman Empire on the left bank of the Rhine. John Chaucer died in 1366, and in course of time his widow married another citizen and vintner. · Thomas Heyroun, John Chaucer's brother of the halfblood, was likewise a member of the same trade ; so that the young Geoffrey was certainly not brought up in an atmosphere of abstinence. The Host of the Canterbury Tales, though he takes his name from an actual personage, may therefore have in him touches of a family portrait ; but Chaucer himself nowhere displays any traces of a hereditary devotion to Bacchus, and makes so experienced a practitioner as the Pardoner the mouthpiece of as witty an invective against drunkenness as has been uttered by any assailant of our existing licensing laws. Chaucer's own practice, as well as his opinion on this head, is sufficiently expressed in the characteristic words he puts into the mouth of Cressid:
“In everything, I wot, there lies measure:
For though a man forbid all drunkenness,
Of Geoffrey Chaucer we know nothing whatever from the day of his birth (whenever it befell) to the year 1357. His earlier biographers, who supposed him to have been born in 1328, had accordingly a fair field open for conjecture and speculation. Here it must suffice to risk the asseveration that he cannot have accompanied his father to Cologne in 1338, and on that occasion have been first “ taken notice of" by king and queen, if he was not born till two or more years afterwards, If, on the other hand, he was born in 1328, both events may have taken place. On neither supposition is there any reason for believing that he studied at one-or at both--of our English universities.
The poem cannot be accepted as Chaucerian, the author of which (very possibly by a mere dramatic assumption) declares :
'Philogenet I call'd am far and near,
Of Cambridge clerk ;" nor can any weight be attached to the circumstance that the Clerk, who is one of the most delightful figures among the Canterbury Pilgrims, is an Oxonian. The enticing enquiry as to which of the sister universities may claim Chaucer as her own must, therefore, be allowed to drop, together with the subsidiary question, whether stronger evidence of local coloring is furnished by the Miller's picture of the life of a poor scholar in lodgings at Oxford, or by the Reeve's rival narrative of the results of a Trumpington walk taken by two undergraduates of the “Solar Hall” at Cambridge. Equally baseless is the supposition of one of Chaucer's earliest biographers, that he completed his academical studies at Paris—and equally futile the concomitant fiction that in France “he acquired much applause by his literary exercises." Finally we have the tradition that he was a member of the Inner Temple—which is a conclusion deduced from a piece of genial scandal as to a record having been seen in that inn of a fine imposed upon him for beating a friar in Fleet Street. This story was early placed by Thynne on the horns of a sufficiently decisive dilemma : in the days of Chaucer's youth, lawyers had not yet been admitted into the Temple; and in the days of his maturity he is not very likely to have been found engaged in battery in a London thoroughfare.
We now deser. the region of groundless conjecture, in order with the year 1357, to arrive at a firm though not very broad footing of facts. In this year
Geoffrey Chaucer (whom it would be too great an effort of scepticism to suppose to have been merely a namesake of the poet) is mentioned in the Household Book of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, wife of Prince Lionel (third son of King Edward III., and afterwards Duke of Clarence), as a recipient of certain articles of apparel. Two similar notices of his name occur up to the year 1359. He is hence concluded to have belonged to Prince Lionel's es. tablishment as squire or page to the Lady Elizabeth ; and it was probably in the Prince's retinue that he took part in the expedition of King Edward III. into France, which began at the close of the year 1359 with the ineffectual siege of Rheims, and in the next year, after a futile attempt upon Paris, ended with the compromise of the Peace of Brétigny. In the course of this campaign Chaucer was taken prisoner ; but he was released without much loss of time, as appears by a document bearing date March ist, 1360, in which the King contributes the sum of 161, for Chaucer's ransom. We may, therefore, conclude that he missed the march upon Paris, and the sufferings undergone by the English army on their road thence to Chartres--the most exciting experiences of an inglorious campaign; and that he was actually set free by the Peace. When, in the year 1367, we next meet with his name in authentic records, his earliest known patron, the Lady Elizabeth, is dead ; and he has passed out of the service of Prince Lionel into that of King Edward himself, as Valet of whose Chamber or household, he receives a yearly salary for life of twenty marks, for his former and future services. Very possibly he had quitted Prince Lionel's service when, in 1361, that Prince had, by reason of his marriage with the heiress of Ulster, been appointed to the Irish government by his father, who was supposed at one time to have destined him to the Scottish throne,
Concerning the doings of Chaucer in the interval between his liberation from his French captivity and the first notice of him as Valet of the King's Chamber we know nothing at all. During these years, however, no less important a personal event than his marriage was by earlier biographers supposed to have occurred. On the other hand, according to the view which commends itself to several eminent living commentators of the poet, it was not courtship and inarriage, but a hopeless and unrequited passion, which absorbed these years of his life. Certain stanzas in which, as they think, he gave utterance to this passion are by them ascribed to one of these years; so that, if their view were correct, the poem in question would have to be regarded as the earliest of his extant productions. The problem which we have indicated must detain us for a moment.
It is attested by documentary evidence that in the year 1374 Chaucer had a wife by name Philippa, who had been in the service of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and of his Duchess (doubtless his second wife Constance), as well as in that of his mother, the good Queen Philippa, and who on several occasions afterwards, besides special new-years gifts of silver-gilt cups from the Duke, received her annual pension of ten marks through her husband. It is likewise proved that, in 1366, a pension of ten marks was granted to a Philippa Chaucer, one of the ladies of the Queen's Chamber. Obviously, it is a highly probable assumption that these two Philippa Chaucers were one and the same persons ; but in the absence of any direct proof it is impossible to affirm as certain, or to deny as demonstrably untrue, that the Philippa Chaucer of 1366 owed her surname to marriage. Yet the view was long held, and is still maintained by writers of knowledge and insight, that the Philippa of 1366 was at that date Chaucer's wife. In or before that year he married, it was said, Philippa Roet, daughter of Sir Paon de Roet of Hainault, Guienne King of Arms, who came to England in Queen Philippa's retinue in 1328. This tradition derived special significance from the fact that another daughter of Sir Paon, Katharine, widow of Sir Hugh Swynford, was successively governess, mistress, and (third) wife to the Duke of Lancaster, to whose service both Geoffrey and Philippa Chaucer were at one time attached. It was apparently founded on the circumstance that Thomas Chaucer, the supposed son of the poet, quartered the Roet arms with
But unfortunately there is no evidence to show that Thomas
Chaucer was a son of Geoffrey ; and the superstructure must needs vanish with its basis. It being then no longer indispensable to assume Chaucer to have been a married man in 1366, the Philippa Chaucer of that year may have been only a namesake, and possibly a rela :ve, of Geoffrey ; for there were other Chaucers in London besides lim and his father (who died this year), and one Chaucer at least has been found who was well-to-do enough to have a Damsel of the Queen's Chamber for his daughter in these certainly not very exclusive times.
There is, accordingly, no proof that Chaucer was a married man before 1374, when he is known to have received a pension for his own and his wife's services. But with this negative result we are asked not to be poor-spirited enough to rest content. At the opening of his Book of the Duchess, a poem certainly written towards the end of the year 1369, Chaucer makes use of certain expressions, both very pathetic and very definite. The most obvious interpretation of the lines in question seems to be that they contain the confession of a hopeless passion, which has lasted for eight years—a confession which certainly seems to come more appropriately and more naturally from an unmarried than from a married man. “For eight years," he says, or seems to say, “ I have loved, and loved in vain—and yet my cure is never the nearer. There is but one physician that can heal me-but all that is ended and done with. Let us pass on into fresh fields; what cannot be obtained must needs be left.' It seems impossible to interpret this passage (too long to cite in extenso) as a complaint of married life. Many other poets have, indeed, complained of their married lives, and Chaucer (if the view to be advanced below be correct) as emphatically as any. But though such occasional exclamations of impatience or regret-more especially when in a comic vein-may receive pardon, or even provoke amusement, yet a serious and sustained poetic version of Sterne's sum multum fatigatus de uxore mea” would be un. bearable in any writer of self-respect, and wholly out of character in Chaucer. Even Byron only indited elegies about his married life after his wife had left him.
Now, among Chaucer's minor poems is preserved one called the Complaint of the Death of Pity, which purports to set forth “how pity is dead and buried in a gentle heart," and, after testifying to a hopeless passion, ends with the following declaration, addressed to Pity, as in a “ bill” or letter:
“This is to say: I will be yours for ever,
Though ye me slay by Cruelty, your foe;
With heart all sore, and full of busy pain." If this poem be autobiographical, it would indisputably correspond well enough to a period in Chaucer's life, and to a mood of mind pre.