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A wanton friar is also of the party-full of sly and solemn mirth, and well beloved for his accommodating disposition
ral objects and scenery, in Chaucer's clear and simple style. The tales of the miller and reve are coarse, but richly humorous. Dryden and Pope have honoured the Father of British verse by paraphrasing some of these popular productions, and stripping them equally of their antiquated style and the more gross of their expressions, but with the sacrifice of most that is characteristic in the elder bard. In a volume edited by Mr R. H. Horne, under the title of Chaucer Modernised, there are specimens of the poems altered with a much more tender regard to the original, and in some instances with considerable success; but the book by which ordinary readers of the present day, who are willing to take a little trouble, may best become acquainted with this great light of the fourteenth century, is one entitled the Riches of Chaucer, by C. C. Clarke (two volumes,
Yet, with all his learning, the clerk's coat was thread-1835), in which the best pieces are given, with only bare, and his horse was 'lean as is a rake.' Among the spelling modernised. An edition of the Canthe other dramatis personæ are, a doctor of physic, a terbury Tales was published, with a learned commengreat astronomer and student, whose study was tary, by Thomas Tyrwhitt, Esq. (5 vols. 1778). but little on the Bible;' a purse-proud merchant; a sergeant of law, who was always busy, yet seemed busier than he was; and a jolly Franklin, or freeholder, who had been a lord of sessions, and was fond of good eating
Full sweetly heard he confession,
We have a Pardoner from Rome, with some sacred relics (as part of the Virgin Mary's veil, and part of the sail of St Peter's ship), and who is also brimful of pardons come from Rome all hot.' In satirical contrast to these merry and interested churchmen, we have a poor parson of a town, rich in holy thought and work,' and a clerk of Oxford, who was skilled in logic
Sounding in moral virtue was his speech,
The verse of Chaucer is, almost without exception, in ten-syllabled couplets, the verse in which by far the largest portion of our poetry since that time has been written, and which, as Mr Southey has remarked, may be judged from that circumstance to be best adapted to the character of our speech. The accentuation, by a license since abandoned, is different in many instances from that of common speech: the poet, wherever it suits his conveniency, or his pleasure, makes accented syllables short, and short syllables emphatic. This has been not only a difficulty with ordinary readers, but a subject of perplexity amongst commentators; but the principle has latterly been concluded upon as of the simple kind here stated. Another peculiarity is the making silent e's at the end of words tell in the metre, as in French lyrical poetry to this day: for example
Withouten baked meat never was his house, Of fish and flesh, and that so plenteous; It snowed in his house of meat and drink. This character is a fine picture of the wealthy rural Englishman, and it shows how much of enjoyment and hospitality was even then associated with this station of life. The Wife of Bath is another lively national portrait: she is shrewd and witty, has abundant means, and is always first with her offering at church. Among the humbler characters are, a stout carl' of a miller, a reve or bailiff, and a sompnour or church apparitor, who summoned offenders before the archdeacon's court, but whose fire-red face and licentious habits contrast curiously with the nature of his duties. A shipman, cook, haberdasher, &c., make up the goodly companythe whole forming such a genuine Hogarthian pic-ance ture, that we may exclaim, in the eloquent language of Campbell, What an intimate scene of English life in the fourteenth century do we enjoy in these tales, beyond what history displays by glimpses through the stormy atmosphere of her scenes, or the antiquary can discover by the cold light of his researches !' Chaucer's contemporaries and their successors were justly proud of this national work. Many copies existed in manuscript, and when the art of printing came to England, one of the first duties of Caxton's press was to issue an impression of those tales which first gave literary permanence and consistency to the language and poetry of England.
All the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales do not relate stories. Chaucer had not, like Boccaccio, finished his design; for he evidently intended to have given a second series on the return of the company from Canterbury, as well as an account of the transactions in the city when they reached the sacred shrine. The concluding supper at the Tabard, when the successful competitor was to be declared, would have afforded a rich display for the poet's peculiar humour. The parties who do not relate tales (as the poem has reached us) are the yeoman, the ploughman, and the five city mechanics. The squire's tale is the most chivalrous and romantic, and that of the clerk, containing the popular legend of Patient Grisilde, is deeply affecting for its pathos and simplicity. The Cock and the Fox,' related by the nun's priest, and January and May,' the merchant's tale, have some minute painting of natu
Full well she sangé the service divine. Here 'sangé' is two syllables, while service furnishes an example of a transposed accent. In pursuof the same principle, a monosyllabic noun, as beam, becomes the dissyllable beames in the plural. When these peculiarities are carefully attended to, much of the difficulty of reading Chaucer, even in the original spelling, vanishes.
In the extracts which follow, we present, first, a specimen in the original spelling; then various specimens in the reduced spelling adopted by Mr Clarke, but without his marks of accents and extra syllables, except in a few instances; and, finally, one specimen (the Good Parson), in which, by a few slight changes, the verse is accommodated to the present fashion.
[Select characters from the Canterbury Pilgrimage.]
Though that he was worthy he was wise;
But, for to tellen you of his araie,-
1 A short cassock.
For he was late ycome fro his viage,
With him, ther was his sone, a yonge Squier,
Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
A Yeman hadde he; and servantes no mo
A not-hed3 hadde he with a broun visage,
Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,
But for to speken of hire conscience,
With rosted flesh, and milk, and wastel brede.
Ful semely hire wimple ypinched was;
10 Took pains.
But sikerly she hadde a fayre forehed.
Ful fetise was hire cloke, as I was ware.
A Monk ther was, a fayre for the maistrie,
The reule of Seint Maure and of Seint Beneit, Because that it was olde and somdele streit, This ilke monk lette olde thinges pace, And held after the newe world the trace. He yave not of the text a pulled hen, That saith that hunters ben not holy men; Ne that a monk, whan he is rekkeles, Is like to a fish that is waterles; (This is to say, a monk out of his cloistre); This ilke text he held not worth an oistre. Therfore he was a prickasoure7 a right: Greihoundes he hadde as swift as foul of flight: Of pricking, and of hunting for the hare Was all his lust; for no cost wolde he spare.
I saw his sleves purfiled at the hond With gris,8 and that the finest of the lond, And, for to fasten his hood, under his chinne He hadde, of gold ywrought, a curious pinne,A love-knotte in the greter ende ther was. His hed was balled, and shone as any glas, And eke his face, as it hadde ben anoint. He was a lord ful fat and in good point. His eyen stepe, and rolling in his hed, That stemed as a furneis of a led; His bootes souple, his hors in gret estat; Now certainly he was a fayre prelat. He was not pale as a forpined gost. A fat swan loved he best of any rost. His palfrey was as broun as is a bery.
A Marchant was ther with a forked berd, In mottelee, and highe on hors he sat, And on his hed a Flaundrish bever hat, His bootes clapsed fayre and fetisly, His resons spake he ful solempnely, Souning alway the encrese of his winning. He wold the see were kept, for any thing, Betwixen Middleburgh and Orewell. Wel coud he in eschanges sheldes 9 selle. This worthy man ful wel his wit besette; Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette, So stedfastly didde he in his governance, With his bargeines, and with his chevisance,10 Forsothe he was a worthy man withalle. But soth to sayn, I no't how men him calle.
Smartly, adv. 6 Hunting. 9 French crowns. money.
4 Of low stature. 7 A hard rider. 8 Fur. 10 An agreement for borrowing
A Clerk ther was of Oxenforde also, That unto logike hadde long ygo. As lene was his hors as is a rake, And he was not right fat I undertake; But looked holwe, and thereto soberly. Ful thredbare was his overest courtepy, For he hadde geten him yet no benefice, He was nought worldly to have an office. For him was lever han, at his beddes hed, Twenty bokes clothed in black or red, Of Aristotle and his philosophie, Than robes riche, or fidel, or sautrie: But all be that he was a philosophre, Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre; But all that he might of his frendes hente,1 On bokes and on lerning he it spente; And besily gan for the soules praie Of hem that yave him wherwith to scolaie. Of studie toke he most cure and hede. Not a word spake he more than was nede; And that was said in forme and reverence, And short and quike, and full of high sentence: Souning in moral vertue was his speche; And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
A Frankelein was in this compagnie ; White was his berd as is the dayesie. Of his complexion he was sanguin. Wel loved he by the morwe? a sop in win. To liven in delit was ever his wone.3 For he was Epicures owen sone, That held opinion, that plein delit Was veraily felicite parfite. An housholder, and that a grete was he; Seint Julian he was in his contree. His brede, his ale, was alway after on; A better envyned man was no wher non. Withouten bake mete never was his hous, Of fish and flesh, and that so plenteous, It snewed in his hous of mete and drinke, Of alle deintees that men coud of thinke. After the sondry sesons of the yere, So changed he his mete and his soupere. Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in mewe; And many a breme, and many a luce, in stewe. Wo was his coke but if his sauce were Poinant and sharpe, and redy all his gere. His table, dormant in his halle, alway Stode redy covered alle the longe day.
At sessions ther was he lord and sire; Ful often time he was knight of the shire. An anelaces and a gipcieres all of silk Heng at his girdel, white as morwe milk. A shereve hadde he ben and a countour. Was no wher swiche a worthy vavasour.7
An Haberdasher, and a Carpenter, A Webbe, a Deyer, and a Tapiser, Were alle yclothed in 08 livere Of a solempne and grete fraternite. Ful freshe and newe hir gere ypiked was; Hir knives were ychaped not with bras, But all with silver wrought full clene and wel, Hir girdeles and hir pouches, every del. Wel semed eche of hem a fayre burgeis, To sitten in a gild halle, on the deis. Everich, for the wisdom that he can, Was shapelich for to ben an alderman. For catel hadden they ynough, and rent. And, eke, hir wives wolde it wel assent, And elles certainly they were to blame, It is full fayre to ben ycleped MadameAnd for to gon to vigiles all before, And have a mantel reallich ybore.
Ther n'as bailif, ne herde, ne other hine,
His lord wel coude he plesen, subtilly
A Sompnour was ther with us in that place, That hadde a fire-red cherubinnes face, With scalled browes blake, and pilled berd: Of his visage children were sore aferd. Ther n'as quicksilver, litarge, ne brimston, Boras, ceruse, ne oile of tartre non, Ne ointement, that wolde clense or bite, That him might helpen of his whelkes white, Ne of the knobbes sitting on his chekes. Wel loved he garlike, onions, and lekes, And for to drinke strong win as rede as blood; Than wold he speke and crie as he were wood; And when that he wel dronken had the win, Than wold he speken no word but Latin. A fewe termes coude he, two or three, That he had lerned out of som decree; No wonder is, he herd it all the day: And eke ye knowen wel how that a jay Can clepen watte as well as can the pope : But who so wolde in other thing him gropeThan hadde he spent all his philosophie Ay Questio quid juris? wolde he crie.
He was a gentil harlot, and a kind; A better felaw shulde a man not find. And if he found o where a good felawe, He wolde techen him, to have non awe, In swiche a cas, of the archedekenes curse : But if a mannes soule were in his purse, For in his purse he shulde ypunished be. Purse is the archedekenes hell, said he. But, wel I wote, he lied right in dede: Of cursing ought eche gilty man him drede; For curse wol sle, right as assoiling saveth, And also ware him of a significavit. In danger hadde he, at his owen gise, The yonge girles of the diocise; And knew hir conseil and was of hir rede. A girlond hadde he sette upon his hede, As gret as it were for an alestake ;3 A bokeler hadde he made him of a cake.
With him there rode a gentil Pardonere Of Rouncevall, his frend and his compere, That streit was comen from the court of Rome, Ful loude he sang Come hither, love to me: This Sompnour bare to him a stiff burdoun, Was never trompe of half so gret a soun. This Pardoner had here as yelwe as wax, Ful smothe it heng, as doth a strike of flax : By unces heng his lokkes that he hadde, And therwith he his shulders overspradde: Ful thinne it lay, by culpons on and on. But hode, for jolite, ne wered he non, For it was trussed up in his wallet. Him thought he rode al of the newe get 4
Dishevele, sauf his cappe, he rode all bare.
But of his craft, fro Berwike unto Ware, Ne was ther swiche an other Pardonere ;For in his male2 he hadde a pilwebere, Which, as he saide, was our Ladies veil : He saide he hadde a gobbet of the seyl Thatte Seint Peter had, whan that he went Upon the see till Jesu Crist him hent: He had a crois of laton ful of stones; And in a glas he hadde pigges bones. But with these relikes, whanne that he fond A poure persone dwelling upon lond, Upon a day he gat him more moneie Than that the persone gat in monethes tweie; And thus with fained flattering and japes, He made the persone, and the peple, his apes. But trewely to tellen atte last,
He was in chirche a noble ecclesiast;
[Description of a Poor Country Widow.] A poore widow, somedeal stoop'n in age, Was whilom dwelling in a narwé cottage Beside a grove standing in a dale. This widow, which I tell you of my Tale, Since thilke day that she was last a wife, In patience led a full simple life,
For little was her cattle and her rent;
No wine ne drank she neither white nor red;
[The Death of Arcite.]
Swelleth the breast of Arcite, and the sore Encreaseth at his hearte more and more. The clottered blood for any leche-craft 13 Corrupteth, and is in his bouk14 ylaft, That neither veine-blood ne ventousing,15 Ne drink of herbes may be his helping.
1 A copy of the miraculous handkerchief.
Cot, cottage. 11 Singed.
4 Thrift, economy. 5 Called. 6 Not a bit. 8 Temperate. 9 Prevented. 10 Injured. 12 Mr Tyrwhitt supposes the word dey' to refer to the management of a dairy; and that it originally signified a hind. Manner dey' may therefore be interpreted a species of hired, or day-labourer." 13 Medical skill. 14 Body. 15 Ventousing (Fr.)-cupping; hence the term breathing a vein."