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tiously as one of Barrow's. Accordingly, an attempt has been made to show that what we have is something different from the “meditation " which Chaucer originally put into his Parson's mouth. But, while we may stand in respectful awe of the German daring which, whether the matter in hand be a few pages of Chaucer, a Book of Homer, or a chapter of the Old Testament, is fully prepared to show which parts of each are mutilated, which interpolated, and which transposed, we may safely content ourselves, in the present instance, with considering the preliminary question. A priori, is there sufficient reason for supposing any transpositions, interpolations, and mutilations to have been introduced into the Parson's Tale ? The question is full of interest; for while, on the one hand, the character of the Parson in the Prologue has been frequently interpreted as evidence of sympathy on Chaucer's part with Wycliffism, on the other hand, the Parson's Tale, in its extant form, goes far to disprove the supposition that its author was a Wycliffite.
This, then, seems the appropriate place for briefly reviewing the vexed question—Was Chaucer a Wycliffite ? Apart from the character of the Parson and from the Parson's Tale, what is the nature of our evidence on the subject? In the first place, nothing could be clearer than that Chaucer was a very free-spoken critic of the life of the clergy-more especially of the Regular clergy-of his times. In this character he comes before us from his translation of the Roman de la Rose to the Parson's Tale itself, where he inveighs with significant earnestness against self-indulgence on the part of those who are Religious, or have "entered into Orders, as sub-deacon, or deacon, or priest, or hospitallers." In the Canterbury Tales, above all, his attacks upon the Friars run nearly the whole gamut of satire, stopping short perhaps before the note of high moral indignation. Moreover, as has been seen, his long connexion with John of Gaunt is a well-established fact; and it has thence been concluded that Chaucer fully shared the opinions and tendencies represented by his patron. In the supposition that Chaucer approved of the countenance for a long time shown by John of Gaunt to Wyclif there is nothing improbable ; neither, however, is there anything improbable in this other supposition, that, when the Duke of Lancaster openly washed his hands of the heretical tenets to the utterance of which Wyclif had advanced, Chaucer, together with the large majority of Englishmen, held with the politic duke rather than with the still unflinching Reformer. So long as Wyclif's movement consisted only of an opposition to ecclesiastical pretensions on the one hand, and of an attempt to revive religious sentiment on the other, half the country or more was Wycliffite, and Chaucer no doubt with the rest. But it would require positive evidence to justify the belief that from this feeling Chaucer ever passed to sympathy with Lollardry, in the vague but sufficiently intelligible sense attaching to that term in the latter part of Richard the Second's reign. Richard II. himself, whose patronage of Chaucer is certain, in the end attempted rigorously to suppress Lollardry; and Henry IV., the politic John of Gaunt's yet more politic son, to whom Chaucer owed the prosperity enjoyed by him in the last year of his life, became a persecutor almost as soon as he became a king.
Though, then, from the whole tone of his mind, Chaucer could not but sympathise with the opponents of ecclesiastical domination-though, as a man of free and critical spirit, and of an inborn ability for penetrating beneath the surface, he could not but find subjects for endless blame and satire in the members of those Mendicant Orders in whom his chief patron's academical ally had recognised the most formidable obstacles to the spread of pure religion-yet all this would not justify us in regarding him as personally a Wycliffite. Indeed, we might as well at once borrow the phraseology of a recent respectable critic, and set down Dan Chaucer as a Puritan ! The policy of his patron tallied with the view which a fresh practical mind such as Chaucer's would naturally be disposed to take of the influence of monks and friars, or at least of those monks and friars whose vices and foibles were specially prominent in his eyes. There are various reasons why men oppose established institutions in the season of their decay ; but a fourteenth century satirist of the monks, or even of the clergy at large, was not necessarily a Lollard, any more than a nineteenth century objector to doctors' drugs is necessarily a homeopathist.
But, it is argued by some, Chaucer has not only assailed the false ; he has likewise extolled the true. He has painted both sides of the contrast. On the one side are the Monk, the Friar, and the rest of their fellows; on the other is the Poor Parson of a town—a portrait, if not of Wyclif himself, at all events of a Wycliffite priest; and in the Tale or sermon put in the Parson's mouth are recognisable beneath the accumulations of interested editors some of the characteristic marks of Wycliffism. Who is not acquainted with the exquisite portrait in question
A good man was there of religión,
Benign he was, and wondrous diligent,
A better priest, I trow, there nowhere is.
He taught, but first he followed it himself. The most striking features in this portrait are undoubtedly those which are characteristics of the good and humble working clergyman of all times; and some of these, accordingly, Goldsmith could appropriately borrow for his gentle poetic sketch of his parson-brother in “Sweet Auburn.” But there are likewise points in the sketch which may be fairly described as specially distinctive of Wyclif's Simple Priests, though, as should be pointed out, these Priests could not themselves be designated parsons of towns. Among the latter features are the specially evangelical source of the Parson's learning and teaching; and his outward appearance-the wandering, staff in hand, which was specially noted in an archiepiscopal diatribe against these novel ministers of the people. Yet it seems unnecessary to conclude anything beyond this : that the feature which Chaucer desired above all to mark and insist upon in his Parson, was the poverty and humility which in him contrasted with the luxurious self-indulgence of the Monk, and the blatant insolence of the Pardoner. From this point of view it is obvious why the Parson is made brother to the Ploughman. For, in 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 laboured for his poor neighbours, 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 humour enough not to flatter one class at the expense of the rest, and who elsewhere