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(Born, 1328. Died, October 25th 1400. ]
GEOFFREY CHAUCER, according to his own who was first the mistress, and ult account, was born in London, and the year 1328 wife of John of Gaunt. is generally assigned as the date of his birth. By this connexion Chaucer ao The name is Norman, and, according to Francis powerful support of the Lancastrian f Thynne, the antiquarian, is one of those, on the during his life his fortune fluctuated roll of Battle Abbey, which came in with William Tradition has assigned to him a lods the Conqueror*. It is uncertain at which of the royal abode of Woodstock, by the universities he studied. Warton and others, who where it is probable that he compose allege that it was at Oxford, adduce no proof of his early works ; and there are passa their assertion; and the signature of Philogenet which strikingly coincide with the sce of Cambridge, which the poet himself assumes in supposed habitation. There is also rea one of his early pieces, as it was fictitious in the sume that he accompanied his warlike name, might be equally so in the place; although France in the year 1359; and from tlı it leaves it rather to be conjectured that the his evidence in a military court, whic) latter university had the honour of his education. lately discovered, we find that he gave
The precise time at which he first attracted to a fact which he witnessed in that I the notice of his munificent patrons, Edward III. the capacity of a soldier". But the ex and John of Gaunt, cannot be ascertained ; but that year, which ended in the peace of if his poem, entitled The Dreme, be rightly sup- gave little opportunity of seeing militar posed to be an epithalamium on the nuptials of and he certainly never resumed the pr the latter prince with Blanche heiress of Lan- arms. caster, he must have enjoyed the court patronage In the year 1367 he received from EC in his thirty-first year. The same poem contains a pension of twenty marks per annu an allusion to the poet's own attachment to a lady which in those times might probably at court, whom he afterwards married. She was lent to two or three hundred pound maid of honour to Philippa, queen of Edward present day. In the patent for this an III., and a younger sister of Catherine Swinfordt, styled by the king valettus noster. * Vide Thynne's animadversions on Speght's edition of
valettus was given to young men of th Chaucer, in the Rev. J. H. Todd's Illustrations of Gower quality before they were knighted, thou and Chaucer, p. 18. Thynne calls in question Speght's a badge of service. Chaucer, however, a supposition of Chaucer being the son of a vintner, which of this pension, was not a young man, bu Mr. Godwin, in his Life of Chaucer, has adopted. Re
in his thirty-ninth year.
He did not ac specting the arms of the poet, Thynne (who was a herald) farther remarks to Speght, “you set down that some
title of scutifer, or esquire, till five ye: heralds are of opinion that he did not descend from any when he was appointed joint envoy to Ge great house, whiche they gather by his armes: it is a Sir James Pronan and Sir John de slender conjecture; for as honourable howses and of as great antiquytye have borne as mean armes as Chaucer,
has been conjectured, that after finis and yet Chaucer's armes are not so mean eyther for business of this mission he paid a re colour, chardge, or particion, as some will make them.” visit to Petrarch, who was that year at If indeed the fact of Chaucer's residence in the Temple could be proved, instead of resting on mere rumour, it his eldest daughter Catherine might bear th would be tolerable evidence of his high birth and fortune; De Rouet, from some estate in their possess for only young men of that description were anciently the family name Pykard was retained by th admitted to the inns of court. But unfortunately for daughter Philippa, who was Chaucer's wife. the claims of the Inner Temple to the honour of Chaucer's * (Chaucer was made prisoner at the siege residence, Mr. Thynne declares “ it most certaine to be in France, in 1359, as appears from his deposit gathered by cyrcumstances of recordes, that the lawyers famous controversy between Lord Scrope and were not of the Temple till the latter parte of the reyge Grosvenor upon the right to bear the shield of Edw. III., at which tyme Chaucer was a grave manne, bend or,' which had been assumed by Grosy holden in greate credyt, and employed in embassye." which after a long suit he was obliged to di
| Catherine was the widow of Sir John Swinford, and The roll of the depositions is in the Tower, daughter of Payne de Rouet, king at arms to the pro printed in 1832, by Sir N. Harris Nicolas 12 v vince of Guienne. It appears from other evidence, how See also, Quarterly Review, No. cxi.] ever, that Chaucer's wife's name was Philippa Pykard. | Mr. Tyrwhitt is upon the whole inclined to Mr. Tyrwhitt explains the circumstance of the sisters this poetical meeting; and De Sade, who, in his having different names, supposing that the father and pour la Vie de Petrarque, conceived he should
The fact, however, of an interview, so pleasing tional allowance of twenty marks per annum to the imagination, rests upon no certain evi was made to him in lieu of his daily pitcher dence ; nor are there even satisfactory proofs of wine. He was also continued in his office of that he ever went on his Italian embassy. comptroller, and allowed to execute it by deputy,
His genius and connexions seem to have kept at a time when there is every reason to believe him in prosperity during the whole of Edward that he must have been in exile. It is certain, III.'s reign, and during the period of John of however, that he was compelled to fly from the Gaunt's influence in the succeeding one. From kingdom on account of his political connexions ; Edward he had a grant of a pitcher of wine a and retired first to Hainault, then to France, and day, in 1374, and was made comptroller of the finally to Zealand. He returned to England, but small customs of wool and of the small customs was arrested and committed to prison. The coof wine in the port of London. In the next year incidence of the time of his severest usage with the king granted him the wardship of Sir Simon that of the Duke of Gloucester's power, has led Staplegate's heir, for which he received £104. to a fair supposition that that usurper was perThe following year he received some forfeited sonally a greater enemy to the poet than King wool to the value of £71, 4s. 6d.--suns probably Richard himself, whose disposition towards him equal in effective value to twenty times their might have been softened by the good offices of modern denomination. In the last year of Anne of Bohemia, a princess never mentioned by Edward he was appointed joint envoy to France Chaucer but in terms of the warmest panegyric. with Sir Guichard Dangle and Sir Richard While he was abroad, his circumstances had Stan, or Sturrey, to treat of a marriage between been impoverished by his liberality to some of Richard Prince of Wales and the daughter of his fellow fugitives; and his effects at home had the French king. His circumstances during this been cruelly embezzled by those entrusted with middle part of his life must have been honour their management, who endeavoured, as he tells able and opulent ; and they enabled him, as he us, to make him perish for absolute want. tells us in his Testament of Love, to maintain a In 1388, while yet a prisoner, he was obliged plentiful hospitality ; but the picture of his for to dispose of his two pensions, which were all tunes was sadly reversed by the decline of John the resources now left to him by his persecutors. of Gaunt's influence at the court of Richard II., As the price of his release from imprisonment, but more immediately by the poet's connexion he was obliged to make a confession respecting the with an obnoxious political party in the city. | late conspiracy. It is not known what he revealed; This faction, whose resistance to an arbitary certainly nothing to the prejudice of John of court was dignified with the name of a rebellion, Gaunt, since that prince continued to be his friend. was headed by John of Northampton, or Com To his acknowledged partisans, who had beberton, who in religious tenets was connected trayed and tried to starve him during his banishwith the followers of Wickliffe, and in politicalment, he owed no fidelity. It is true, that extorted interests with the Duke of Lancaster ; a con evidence is one of the last ransoms which a nexion which accounts for Chaucer having been noble mind would wish to pay for liberty ; but implicated in the business. His pension, it is before we blame Chaucer for making any contrue, was renewed under Richard ; and an addi- fession, we should consider how fair and easy the
lessons of uncapitulating fortitude may appear prove that it took place, did not live to fulfil his promise.
on the outside of a prison, and yet how hard it The circumstance which, taken collaterally with the fact of Chaucer's appointment to go to Italy, has been
may be to read them by the light of a dungeon. considered as giving the strongest probability to the As far as dates can be guessed at in so obscure English poet's having visited Petrarch, is that Chaucer
a transaction, his liberation took place after makes one of the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales
Richard had shaken off the domineering party declare, that he learned his story from the worthy clerk of Padua. The story is that of Patient Grisilde: which,
of Gloucester, and had begun to act for himself. in fact, originally belonged to Boccaccio, and was only Chaucer's political errors-and he considered his translated into Latin by Petrarch. It is not easy to share in the late conspiracy as errors of judgexplain, as Mr. Tyrwhitt remarks, why Chaucer should have proclaimed his obligation to Petrarch, while he
ment, though not of intention-had been comreally owed it to Boccaccio. According to Mr. Godwin,
mitted while Richard was a minor, and the it was to have an occasion of boasting of his friendship acknowledgment of them might seem less humiwith the Italian laureat. But why does he not boast of liating when made to the monarch himself, than it in his own person? He makes the clerk of Oxford declare that he had his story from the clerk of Padua;
to an usurping faction ruling in his name. He but he does not say that he had it himself from that was charged too, by his loyalty, to make certain quarter. Mr. Godwin, however, believes that he shadows disclosures important to the peace of the kingforth himself under the character of the lean scholar,
dom ; and his duty as a subject, independent of This is surely improbable; when the poet in another place describes himself as round and jolly, while the
personal considerations, might well be put in poor Oxford scholar is lank and meagre. If Chaucer competition with ties to associates already broken really was corpulent, it was indeed giving but a shadow by their treachery*. of himself to paint his figure as very lean : but why should he give himself a double existence, and describe *“ For my trothe and my conscience," he says in his both the jolly substance and the meagre shadow ?
Testament of Love, “ bene witnesse to me bothe, that
While in prison, he began a prose work are not the most obvious designation for the entitled The Testament of Love, in order to creditors of a great poet ; but still, as the law beguile the tedium of a confinement, which made delights in fictions, and as the writ for securing every hour, he says, appear to him a hundred a debtor exhibits at this day such figurative winters; and he seems to have published it to personages as John Doe and Richard Roe, the allay the obloquy attendant on his misfortunes, as form of protection might in those times have
an explanation of his past conduct. It is an been equally metaphorical; nor, as a legal metoi allegory, in imitation of Boethius's Consolations nymy, are the terms rival and competitor by any
of Philosophy ; an universal favourite in the means inexpressive of that interesting relation early literature of Europe. Never was an ob which subsists between the dun and the fugitive; scure affair conveyed in a more obscure apology ; a relation which in all ages has excited the yet amidst the gloom of allegory and lamentation, warmest emulation, and the promptest ingenuity the vanity of the poet sufficiently breaks out. It of the human mind. Within a year and a half is the goddess of Love who visits him in his con from the date of this protection, Bolingbroke, the finement, and accosts him as her own immortal son of John of Gaunt, ascended the throne of bard. He descants to her on his own misfor- | England by the title of Henry IV. tunes, on the politics of London, and on his devo It is creditable to the memory of that prince, tion to the Lady Marguerite, or pearl, whom he that, however basely he abandoned so many of found in a mussel shell, and who turns out at last his father's friends, he did not suffer the poetical to mean the spiritual comfort of the Church*. ornament of the age to be depressed by the
In 1389 the Duke of Lancaster returned from revolution. Chaucer's annuity and pipe of wine Spain, and he had once more a steady protector. were continued under the new reign, and an In that year he was appointed clerk of the works additional pension of forty marks a year was at Westminster, and in the following year clerk conferred upon him. But the poet did not long of those at Windsor, with a salary of L36 per enjoy this accession to his fortune. He died in annum. His resignation of those offices, which London, on the twenty-fifth of October, 1400, and it does not appear he held for more than twenty was interred in the south cross aisle of Westminmonths, brings us to the sixty-fourth year of his ster Abbey. The monument to his memory was aze, when he retired to the country, most pro. erected a century and a half after his decease, bably to Woodstock, and there composed his by a warm admirer of his genius, Nicholas immortal Canterbury Tales, amidst the scenes Brigham, a gentleman of Oxford. It stands at which had inspired his youthful genius.
the north end of a recess formed by four obtuse In 1394 a pension of £20 a year was granted foliated arches, and is a plain altar with three to him, and in the last year of Richard's reign quatrefoils and the same number of shields. he had a grant of a yearly tun of wine ; we may Chaucer, in his Treatise of the Astrolabe, mensuppose in lieu of the daily pitcher, which had tions his son Lewis, for whom it was composed been stopped during his misfortunes.
in 1391, and who was at that time ten years of Tradition assigns to our poet a residence in age. Whether Sir Thomas Chaucer, who was his old age at Donnington Castle, near Newbury, Speaker of the House of Commons in the reign of in Berkshire ; to which he must have moved in Henry IV. was another and elder son of the poet, 1397, if he ever possessed that mansion : but as many of his biographers have supposed, is a Mr. Grose, who affirms that he purchased Donc point which has not been distinctly ascertained. nington Castle in that year, has neglected to Mr. Tyrwhitt has successfully vindicated Chaushow the documents of such a purchase. One of cer from the charge brought against him by the most curious particulars in the latter part of Verstegan and Skinner, of having adulterated bis life is the patent of protection granted to English by vast importations of French words Chaueer in the year 1398, which his former in- and phrases. If Chaucer had indeed naturalised accurate biographers had placed in the second a multitude of French words by his authority, year of Richard, till Mr. Tyrwhitt corrected the he might be regarded as a bold innovator, yet mistaken date. The deed has been generally the language would have still been indebted to supposed to refer to the poet's creditors ; as it him for enriching it. But such revolutions in purports, however, to protect him contra æmulos languages are not wrought by individuals ; and suds, the expression has led Mr. Godwin to ques the style of Chaucer will bear a fair comparison tion its having any relation to his debtors and with that of his contemporaries, Gower, Wickcreditors. It is true that rivals or competitors liffe, and Mandeville. That the polite English this konwing sothe have I snide for troathe of my leigi
of that period should have been highly impregsunce by which I was charged on my kinges behalfe."
nated with French is little to be wondered at, Mr. Todd has given, in his Ilustrations, some poems considering that English was a new language at Typed to be written by Chaucer during his imprison court, where French had of late been exclusively ni; in which, in the same allegorical manner, under
used, and must have still been habitual*. English the prises of Spring, he appears to implore the assistV Vere, Earl of Oxford, the principal favourite of Dryden has accused Chaucer of introducing GalliRihard IL
cisms into the English language; not aware that French
must, indeed, have been known at court when a new and stately fabric of English numbers. As Chaucer began his poetical career, for he would a piece of fancy, it is grotesque and meagre ; not have addressed his patrons in a language but the lines often flow with great harmony. entirely plebeian ; but that it had not been long His story of Troilus and Cresseide was the esteemed of sufficient dignity for a courtly muse delight of Sir Philip Sydney ; and perhaps, appears from Gower's continuing to write French excepting the Canterbury Tales, was, down to verses, till the example of his great contemporary the time of Queen Elizabeth, the most popular taught him to polish his native tongue*.
poem in the English language. It is a story of The same intelligent writer, Mr. Tyrwhitt, vast length and almost desolate simplicity, and while he vindicates Chaucer from the imputation abounds in all those glorious anachronisms which of leaving English more full of French than he were then, and so long after, permitted to romanfound it, considers it impossible to ascertain, with tic poetry : such as making the son of King any degree of certainty, the exact changes which Priam read the Thebais of Statius, and the he produced upon the national style, as we have gentlemen of Troy converse about the devil, neither a regular series of authors preceding justs and tournaments, bishops, parliaments, and him, nor authentic copies of their works, nor scholastic divinity. assurance that they were held as standards by The languor of the story is, however, relieved their contemporaries. In spite of this difficulty, by many touches of pathetic beauty. The conMr. Ellis ventures to consider Chaucer as distin fession of Cresseide in the scene of felicity, when guished from his predecessors by his fondness the poet compares her to the “new abashed for an Italian inflexion of words, and by his imi- nightingale, that stinteth first ere she beginneth tating the characteristics of the poetry of that sing,” is a fine passage, deservedly noticed by nation.
Warton. The grief of Troilus after the departure He has a double claim to rank as the founder of Cresseide is strongly portrayed in Troilus's of English poetry, from having been the first to soliloquy in his bed. make it the vehicle of spirited representations of
Where is mine owne ladie, lief, and dere? life and native manners, and from having been Where is her white brest-where is it-where? the first great architect of our versification, in Where been her armès, and her iyen clere, giving our language the ten syllable, or heroic
That yesterday this time with me were ?
Now may I wepe alone with many a teare, measure, which though it may sometimes be
And graspe about I may; but in this place, found among the lines of more ancient versifiers, Save a pillowe, I find nought to embrace. evidently comes in only by accident. This measure occurs in the earliest poem that is
The sensations of Troilus, on coming to the attributed to himt, The Court of Love, a title
house of his faithless Cresseide, when, instead of borrowed from the fantastic institutions of that finding her returned, he beholds the barred doors name, where points of casuistry in the tender and shut windows, giving tokens of her absence, passion were debated and decided by persons of
as well as his precipitate departure froin the disboth sexes.
It is a dream, in which the poet tracting scene, are equally well described. fancies himself taken to the Temple of Love, Therwith whan he was ware, and gan behold introduced to a mistress, and sworn to observe How shet* was every window of the place, the statutes of the amatory god. As the earliest
As frost him thought his herté gan to cold,
For which, with changed deedly palè face, work of Chaucer, it interestingly exhibits the
Withouten worde, he for by gan to pace, successful effort of his youthful hand in erecting And, as God would, he gan so fastè ride,
That no man his continuance espied. was the language of the Court of England not long before Than said he thus : 0) paleis desolate, Chaucer's time, and that, far from introducing French O house of houses, whilom best yhight, phrases into the English tongue, the ancient bard was O paleis empty and disconsolate, successfully active in introducing the English as a O thou lanterne of which queintt is the light, fashionable dialect, instead of the French, which had, O paleis whilom day, that now art night; before his time, been the only language of polite literature Wel oughtest thou to fall and I to die, in England.-SIR WALTER SCOTT's Misc. Prose Works, Senst she is went, that wont was us to gieg. vol. i. p. 426.)
* Mr. Todd, in his Illustrations of Gower and Chancer, The two best of Chaucer's allegories, The p. 26, observes, that authors, both historical and poetical,
Flower and the Leaf, and the House of Fame, in the century after the decease of these poets, in usually
have been fortunately perpetuated in our lancoupling their names, place Gower before Chaucer merely as a tribute to his seniority. But though Gower might guage ; the former by Dryden, the latter by Pope. be an older man than Chaucer, and possibly earlier The Flower and the Leaf is an exquisite piece of known as a writer, yet unless it can be proved that he fairy fancy. With a moral that is just sufficient published English poetry before his Confessio Amantis, of which there appears to be no evidence, Chaucer must
to apologise for a dream, and yet which sits so still claim precedency as the earlier English poet. The lightly on the story as not to abridge its most Confessio Amantis was published in the sixteenth year of visionary parts, there is, in the whole scenery and Richard II.'s reign, at which time Chaucer had written objects of the poem, an air of wonder and sweetall his poems except the Canterbury Tales. † Written, as some lines in the piece import, at the age
| Extinguished. of nineteen.
$ To make joyous.