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drawing the latter, Chaucer cannot have forgotten that other Ploughman whom Langland's poem had identified with Him for whose sake Chaucer's poor workman labored for his poor neighbors, with the readiness always shown by the best of his class. Nor need this recognition of the dignity of the lowly surprise us in Chaucer, who had both sense of justice and sense of humor enough not to flatter one class at the expense of the rest, and who elsewhere in the Manciple's Tale) very forcibly puts the truth that what in a great man is called a coup d'état is called by a much simpler name in a humbler fellow,sinner.
But though, in the Parson of a Town, Chaucer may not have wished to paint a Wycliffite priest-still less a Loilard, under which designation so many varieties of malcontents, in addition to the fol. lowers of Wyclif, were popularly included-yet his eyes and ears were open; and he knew well enough what the world and its children are at all times apt to call those who are not ashamed of their religion, as well as those who make too conscious a profession of it. The world called them Lollards at the close of the fourteenth century, and it called them Puritans at the close of the sixteenth, and Methodists at the close of the eighteenth. Doubtless the vintners and the shipmen of Chaucer's day, the patrons and purveyors of the playhouse in Ben Jonson's, the fox-hunting squires and town wits of Cowper's, like their successors after them, were not specially anxious to distinguish nicely between more or less abominable varieties of saintliness. Hence, when Master Harry Bailly's tremendous oaths produce the gentlest of protests from the Parson, the jovial Host incontinently “smells a Lollard in the wind,” and predicts (with a further flow of expletives) that there is a sermon to follow. Whereupon the Shipman protests not less characteristically:
After each of the pilgrims except the Parson has told a tale (so that obviously Chaucer designed one of the divisions of his work to close with the Parson's), he is again called upon by the Host. 'Hereupon appealing to the undoubtedly evangelical and, it might without straining be said, Wycliffite authority of Timothy, he promises as his contribution a merry
tale in prose,” which proves to consist of a moral discourse. In its extant form the Parson's Tale contains, by the side of much that might suitably have come from a Wycliffite teacher, much of a directly opposite nature. For not only is the necessity of certain sacramental usages to which Wyclif strongly objected insisted upon
* The nickname Lollards was erroneously derived from lolia (tares).
but the spoliation of Church property is unctuously inveighed against as a species of one of the cardinal sins. No enquiry could satisfactorily establish how much of this was taken over or introduced into the Parson's Tale by Chaucer himself. But one would fain at least claim for him a passage in perfect harmony with the character drawn of the Parson in the Prologue-a passage (already cited in part in the opening section of the present essay) where the poet advocates the cause of the poor in words which, simple as they are, deserve to be quoted side by side with that immortal character itself. The concluding lines may therefore be cited here:
“Think also that of the same seed of which churls spring, of the same seed spring lords; as well may the churl be saved as the lord. Wherefore I counsel thee, do just so with thy churl as thou wouldest thy lord did with thee, if thou wert in his plight. A very sinful man is a churl as towards sin. I counsel thee certainly, thou lord, that thou work in such wise with thy churls that they rather love thee than dread thee. I know well, where there is degree above degree, it is reasonable that men should do their duty where it is due ; but of a certainty, extortions, and despite of our underlings, are damnable."
In sum, the Parson's Tale cannot, any more than the character of the Parson in the Prologue, be interpreted as proving Chaucer to have been a Wycliffite. But the one as well as the other proves him to have perceived much of what was noblest in the Wycliffite move. ment, and much of what was ignoblest in the reception with which it met at the hands of worldlings-before, with the aid of the State, the Church finally succeeded in crushing it, to all appearance, out of exist
The Parson's Tale contains a few vigorous touches, in addition to the fine passage quoted, which make it difficult to deny that Chaucer's hand was concerned in it. The inconsistency between the religious learning ascribed to the Parson and a passage in the Tale, where the author leaves certain things to be settled by divines, will not be held of much account. The most probable conjecture seems, therefore, to be that the discourse has come down to us in a mutilated form. This may be due to the Tale having remained unfinished at the time of Chaucer's death; in which case it would form last words of no unfitting kind. As for the actual last words of the Canterbury Tales—the so-called Prayer of Chaucer-it would be unbearable to have to accept them as genuine. For in these the poet, while praying for the forgiveness of sins, is made specially to entreat the Divine pardon for his “translations and inditing in worldly vanities," which he “revokes in his retractions." These include, besides the Book of the Leo (doubtless a translation or adaptation from Machault) and many other books which the writer forgets, and “ many a song and many a lecherous lay," all the principal poetical works of Chaucer (with the exception of the Romaunt of the Rose) discussed in this essay. On the other hand, he offers thanks for having had the grace given him to compose his translation of Boëthius and other moral and devotional works. There is, to be sure, no actual evidence to decide in either way the question as to the genuineness of this Pra yer, which is entirely one of internal probability. Those who will may believe that the monks, who were the landlords of Chaucer's house at Westminster, had in one way or the other obtained a controlling influence over his mind. Stranger things than this have happened; but one prefers to believe that the poet of the Canterbury Tales remained master of himself to the last. He had written much which a dying man might regret; but it would be sad to have to think that, “because of humility,” he bore false witness at the last against an immortal part of himself-his poetic genius.
CHARACTERISTICS OF CHAUCER AND OF HIS POETRY.
Thus, then, Chaucer had passed away-whether in good or in evil odor with the powerful interest with which John of Gaunt's son had entered into his unwritten concordate, after all, matters but little now. He is no dim shadow to us, even in his outward presence; for we possess sufficient materials from which to picture to ourselves with good assurance whát manner of man he was. Occleve painted from memory, on the margin of one of his own works, a portrait of his
worthy master," over against a passage in which, after praying the Blessed Virgin to intercede for the eternal happiness of one who had written so much in her honor, he proceeds as follows:
In this portrait, in which the experienced eye of Sir Harris Nicolas sees 'incomparably the best portrait of Chaucer yet discovered," he appears as an elderly rather than aged man, clad in dark gown and hood—the latter of the fashion so familiar to us from this very picture, and from the well-known one of Chaucer's last patron, King Henry IV. His attitude in this likeness is that of a quiet talker, with downcast eyes, but sufficiently erect bearing of body. One arm is extended, and seems to be gently pointing to some observation which has just issued from the poet's lips. The other holds a rosary, which may be significant of the piety attributed Chaucer by Occleve, or may be a mere ordinary accompaniment of conversation, as it is in parts of Greece to the present day. The features are mild but expressive. with just a suspicion-certainly no more--of saturnine or sarcastic humor. The lips are full, and the nose is what is called good by the learned in such matters. Several other early portraits of Chaucer exist, all of which are stated to bear much resemblance to one another. Among them is one in an early if not contemporary copy of Occleve's poems, full-length, and superscribed by the hand which wrote the manuscript. In another, which is extremely quaint, he appears on horseback, in commemoration of his ride to Canterbury, and is repre. sented as short of stature, in accordance with the description of himself in the Canterbury Tales.
For, as it fortunately happens, he has drawn his likeness for us with his own hand, as he appeared on the occasion to that most free-spoken of observers and most personal of critics, the host of the Tabard, the “cock” and marshal of the company of pilgrims. The fellow-travellers had just been wonderfully sobered (as well they might be) by the piteous tale of the Prioress concerning the little clergy-boy-how, after the wicked Jews had cut his throat because he ever sang 0 Alma Redemptoris, and had cast him into a pit, he was found there by his mother loudly giving forth the hymn in honor of the Blessed Virgin which he had loved so well. Master Harry Bailly was, as in duty bound, the first to interrupt by a string of jests the silence which had ensued :
“ And then at first he looked upon me,
From this passage we may gather, not only that Chaucer was, as the Host of the Tabard's transparent self-irony im.plies, small of stature and slender, but that he was accustomed to be twitted on account of the abstracted or absent look which so often tempts children of the world to offer its wearer a penny for his thoughts. For “elfish” means bewitched by the elves, and hence, vacant or absent in de
It is thus, with a few modest but manifestly truthful touches, that Chaucer, after the manner of certain great painters, introduces his own figure into a quiet corner of his crowded canvas. But mere outward likeness is of little moment, and it is a more interesting enquiry whether there are any personal characteristics of another sort, which it is possible with safety to ascribe to him, and which must be, in a greater or less degree, connected with the distinctive qualilies of his literary genius; for in truth it is but a sorry makeshift of literary biographers to seek to divide a man who is an author into two separate beings, in order to avoid the conversely fallacious procedure of accounting for everything which an author has written by something which the man has done or been inclined to do. What true poet has sought to hide, or succeeded in hiding, his moral nature from his muse? None in the entire band, from Petrarch to Villon, and least of all the poet whose song, like so much of Chaucer's, seems freshly derived from Nature's own inspiration.
One very pleasing quality in Chaucer must have been his modesty. In the course of his life this may have helped to recommend him to patrons so many and so various, and to make him the useful and trustworthy agent that he evidently became for confidential missions abroad. Physically, as has been seen, he represents himself as prone to the habit of casting his eyes on the ground; and we may feel tolerably sure that to this external manner corresponded a quiet, observant disposition, such as that which may be held to have distinguished the greatest of Chaucer's successors among English poets. To us, of course, this quality of modesty in Chaucer makes itself principally manifest in the opinion which he incidentally shows himself to entertain concerning his own rank and claims as an author. Herein, as in many other points, a contrast is noticeable between him and the great Italian masters, who were so sensitive as to the esteem in which they and their poetry were held. Who could fancy Chaucer crowned with laurel, like Petrarch, or even, like Dante, speaking with proud humility of “the beautiful style that has done honor to him,” while acknowledging his obligation for it to a great predecessor? Chaucer again and again disclaims all boasts of perfection, or pretensions to pre-eminence, as a poet. His Canterbury Pilgrims have in his name to disavow, like Persius, having slept on Mount Parnassus, or possessing“ rhetoric” enough to describe a heroine's beauty; and he openly allows that his spirit grows dull as he grows older, and that he finds a difficulty as a translator in matching his rhymes to his French original. He acknowledges 'as incontestable the superiority of the poet of classical antiquity:
Little brook, no writing thou envy,
Of Virgil, Ovid, Homer, Lucan, Stace."' * But more than this. In the House of Fame he expressly disclaims having in his light and imperfect verse sought to pretend to "mastery” in the art poetical ; and in a charmingly expressed passage of the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women he describes himself as merely