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cer's plan was probably to bring forward all his various characters, to make them act and speak in such a manner as to completely develope their peculiarities of disposition, but the remainder of bis life was not sufficient for the completion of the “remenant of their pilgrimage.'
The tales are not all of equal merit, and we are ignorant wbat portion of them are original inventions. One of the most splendid monuments of Chaucer's genius, · The Knightes Tale,' is an abridgment of part of the Teseide of Boccaccio, as I have already observed. In passing through Chaucer's hands it has received many new beauties. Not only those capital fictions and descriptions, the temples of Mars, Venus, and Diana, with their allegorical paintings, but the figures of Lycurgus and Emetrius, with their retinue, are so much heightened by the bold and spirited manner of the British bard' that they are indeed 'striking, grand, and full of terrible beauty. That magic poem, "The Squieres Tale,' wbich Milton invokes the shade of the poet to finish, is full of noble invention and a rich strain of poetry. It has all the wild mystery of Arabian fiction, which betrays its
to the characters in Chaucer's prologue, that M. Ginguené, in some respects a judicious and well informed writer, is quite borror-strack that the Germans should give the preference to the English poet over Boccaccio in this respect.“ Je voudrais qu'on nous eût donné de meilleures preuves qu’un certain portrait d'ane None, rempli de traits tels que ceux-ci :
At mete was she well ytaughte withalle,
Ne wette hire fingers in bire sauce depe. Ce sont de ces peintures de caractères, ou plutôt de ces caricatures très frequentes dans les poètes Anglais et Allemands, et qu'on ne trouve guère, il est vrai, dans les Italiens, si ce n'est dans le genre Bernesque. Il n'est pas sûr que le bon goût ait droit de les blamer.' Hist. Littér. de l'Italie, tom. iii.
Oriental origin, and it is happily blended with the romantic chivalry of the middle age. Every reader of true taste must regret that such a tale of bigh romance, so admirably begun, was left half told.'
The story of patient Griselda, which is related by the Clerke of Oxenford, is the last in the Decameron of Boccaccio. Chaucer however makes his clerke say,
I wolle you telle a tale which that I
whos rhetorike sweete Enluminid Itaille of poetrie. The fact is, that the Decameron falling into the . hands of Petrarca not long before his death, he was so much struck with the tale of Griselda that he committed it to memory, and used to relate it to bis friends. He afterwards made a free version of it into Latin, that he might delight those with it who were unacquainted with Italian. He mentions this to Boccaccio in one of his letters, and relates that one of his friends at Padua was so much affected on perusing the story that he burst into frequent and violent floods of tears, which prevented him from reading to the end. He adds that a Veronese, hearing of this, resolved to try whether it would affect him in like manner. He read the whole story aloud to the end, without changing bis voice or altering his countenance; but on returning the book to Petrarca, he confessed that it was an affecting story, and said he should have wept, if like the Paduan he had thought the story true. But that he saw the whole was a fiction, and that there never was or ever will be such a wife as Griselda.
It is supposed, and not without foundation, that Chaucer may have been one of those favoured visitants of Petrarca, to whom, when the story was fresh in its impression upon him, he used to relate it.
Chaucer has not followed exactly either Boccaccio, or Petrarca's Latin version, but has amplified the story with more circumstantial detail.
This exquisitely pathetic narration soon acquired the popularity it richly merited, and the patience of its heroine became a proverbial phrase. In Chaucer's hands it lost none of its sentiment. It is of that kind (says Mr. Hazlitt) that heaves no sigh, that sheds no tear, but it hangs upon the beatings of the heart; it is part of the very being; it is as inseparable from it as the breath we draw. It is still and calm as the face of death. Nothing can touch its etherial purity: tender as the yielding flower, it is fixed as the marble firmament. The only remonstrance she makes, the only complaint against all the ill treatment she receives, is that single line where when turned back naked to her father's house, she says,
Let me not like a worm go by the way.' The story of the little child slain in Jewry (which is told by the Prioress, and which is worthy to be told by her who was • all conscience and tender heart') is not less touching than that of Griselda. It is simple and heroic to the last degree.'
The Cock and the Fox,' or “The Tale of Nonnes Preest,' is full of admirable strokes of satire and character.
• The Wife of Bathes Prologue’ Pope's version has made familiar to all readers of verse, and it may indeed be said that it is perhaps unrivaled as a comic story.'
January and May' is also from the same circumstance well known. It was probably selected by Pope as one of the best of Chaucer's comic tales; but Mr. Warton justly gives the preference to “The Milleres Tale,' as possessing more true bumour; the hendè Nicolas; the gay and gallant Absalom, the prince of parish clerks,
• A merie child he was, so God me save.'
The fair, young wife and her dolt, the carpenter, are all of them delineations by the hand of a master.
It has been observed, that the licentiousness of some of the tales is not so much to be laid to the charge of the poet as to the grossness of the age in which he lived: the same apology has been made for the exceptionable passages in Shakspeare. Chaucer seems to have repented him of
Many a song and many a lecherous lay;'
and especially asks forgiveness, in the retractation attributed to him, for those tales' that sounen.unto sinne,' all which he revokes as 'worldly vanities,' and this is probably the cause why his great work was carried no further; for in the same curious document he beseeches all the saints in heaven that they will fro hensforth unto [bis) lives ende, sende [him] grace to bewaile [bis] gilles and to stodien to the savation of [his] soule.'
Although few particulars relating to Chaucer are to be gathered from his works, he has given us to understand that he was corpulent, and had a habit of looking on the ground: the reader's natural curiosity about the person of a writer whose works he is to peruse will make even these little traits acceptable to him.
- Oar host to japen he began
These are part of the words of the Host to Chaucer, prefixed to
• The Rime of Sire Thopas. It may be observed, that the good sense of Chaucer is apparent in this Rime, for he led the way to that admirable burlesque satire upon the old romances, which Cervantes afterwards so happily executed. Sire Thopas can be considered nothing less than an attempt to show the “ frivolous descriptions and tedious impertinencies' of the ancient metrical romances. He calls it'a rime I learned yore agone,' and makes the host break out in angry impatience, weary of such absurdities,
Now such a rime the devil I beteach
This may well be rime doggerel! quod he.' And upon this Chaucer consents to tell a littel thing in prose,' which is the ‘moral tale vertuous' of Melibæus.
We have also his own authority that he had great delight in reading, and that he gave the preference to old books: the passage is often cited for its truth. It is in the “ Assembly of Foules:'
Of usage what for lust, and what for lore,
That all that day methought it but a lite.'
a bis many exquisite descriptions of rural scenery are