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in his Memoirs of Petrarca promised to show that Chaucer was acquainted with him, but he failed to make good his promise, and this interview of the poets, however pleasing to the imagination, is left in doubt and uncertainty; indeed it does not seem to be clearly ascertained that Chaucer ever went upon this embassy.
Speght in his Life of Chaucer says, 'some write that he with Petrarcke was present at the marriage of Lionel Duke of Clarence with Violante, daughter of Galeasius Duke of Milaine: yet Paulus Jovius nameth not Chaucer; but Petrarcke he saith was there.' The Duke of Clarence passed from Dover to Calais in his way to Milan, with a numerous retinue, in the spring of 1368, and it is by no means improbable that Chaucer may have attended him. Mr. Tyrwhitt points out a curious account of the marriage feast in Aliprandi's Chronicle of Mantua, published by Muratori 2, but the names of the 'Grandi Signori e Baroni Inglesi,' who were with Messer Lionel in compagnia,' are not given. In a list of twenty-six knights and others to be found in Rymer 3, who procured the king's license to appoint attorneys to act for them during their absence, the name of Chaucer does not appear. In 1374, two years after his appointment to this embassy, the king made him a grant of a pitcher of wine daily; and in the same year a further grant, during pleasure, of the office of Comptroller of the Custom of Wools, and of the parva custuma vinorum, &c. in the Port of London. The integrity with which he performed the duties of his office are said to have formed a remarkable contrast to the conduct of many of his cotemporaries in similar situations; connivings, frauds, and corrup tions were frequently detected in this reign.
2 Antiquit. Med. Ævi, vol. v. p. 1187,
3 Franc. 42. G. III. m. 8.
The next year the king granted to him the Wardship of Sir Edmund Staplegate's heir, for which he received 1047. And in the following year some forfeited wool to the value of 71l. 48. 6d. These were very considerable grants for that period, and with his other sources of income enabled him to live with dignity and hospitality.
In the last year of Edward III. he was sent to France, with Sir Guichard D'Angle and Sir Richard Stan (or Sturry), to treat of a marriage between Richard Prince of Wales and a daughter of the French king.
During the influence of his patron the Duke of Lancaster at the court of the young monarch, in the first year of his reign, Chaucer's annuity of twenty marks was confirmed to him, a further annuity of twenty marks was given him in lieu of his daily pitcher of wine; and there is reason to think he was continued in his office of comptroller. He was now, however, fated to feel a reverse of fortune. The political influence of Lancaster began to decline about the third or fourth year of his nephew's reign; he had incurred the displeasure of the clergy on account of the encouragement he had given to Wickliffe, and several of the old nobility found their ambitious views kept under by his presence; yet his retirement seems to have been matter of choice. Chaucer concurred with his patron in opinion, and this will account for the part which he took in the struggle between the city and the court about the re-election of John of Northampton to the mayoralty. This man, whose name was Comberton, was one of the followers of Wickliffe, and a partisan of the Duke of Lancaster's; and on these accounts so obnoxious to the clergy and court party, that a commotion was excited on this occasion which could only be quelled by force. Some lives were lost, Comberton was sent to prison, and Chaucer to save himself escaped, first to Hai
nault and then to Zealand. His liberality to some of his countrymen, who had also fled thither on the same account, soon reduced his finances, and the treachery of those to whom he had confided the management of his affairs at home was so extreme that they endeavoured to make him perish for absolute want. Yet he summoned courage to return to England, where he was soon discovered and committed to prison, from whence he was only liberated upon condition of making some disclosures implicating his late partisans, to whom he certainly owed no fidelity. 'It is true (says Mr. Campbell) that extorted evidence is one of the last ransoms which a noble mind would wish to pay for liberty; but before we blame Chaucer we should consider how fair and easy the lessons of uncapitulating fortitude may appear on the outside of a prison, and yet how hard it may be to read them by the light of a dungeon,' It is difficult to know whom it was that Chaucer's confessions implicated; it is certain that he revealed nothing to the prejudice of his patron, or he would not still have retained his friendship; and Comberton received his pardon from the crown in the next year. While in prison he was under the necessity of disposing of his pensions, and he received the royal license to surrender his two grants in favour of one John Scalby, in May, 1388. It was during his confinement that he began the prose work entitled
The Testament of Love,' which appears to have been principally undertaken as an apology for his conduct. 'It is an allegory in imitation of Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy; a universal favourite in the early literature of Europe. Never was an obscure affair conveyed in a more obscure apology; yet amidst the gloom of allegory the poet's vanity sufficiently breaks out. It is the goddess of Love who visits him in his confinement, and accosts him as her immortal bard. He descants to her on his
own misfortunes, on the politics of London, and on his devotion to the Lady Marguerite, or pearl, whom he found in a muscle shell, and who turns out at last to mean the spiritual comfort of the church.' He complains in this work of ‘being berafte out of dignitie of office, in which he made a gatheringe of worldly goodes,' in another place he represents himself as 'once glorious in worldly welefulness, and having such godes in welthe as maken men riche.'
At the Duke of Lancaster's return from Spain in 1389 he resumed his influence at court; but in the interim Chaucer had not been forgotten; he was appointed Clerk of the Works, at Westminster, in the summer of that year, and in the following year at Windsor. He does not seem to have held these appointments for more than twenty months, but we have no clue to guide us to the cause of his retirement. It is probable that having arrived at the age of sixty-three he was desirous of passing the remainder of his days in quiet, far from the hurry and commotion of public life.
Tradition says, that he chose Woodstock for the place of his retreat, and that here, amid the scenes which had inspired his youthful muse, he composed the Canterbury Tales. We have seen that while a prisoner he complains of the reverses of fortune, and in another place of his confession he says, his 'worldly godes were fulliche dispent;' he now therefore stood in need of the royal bounty, and received it; for in 1394 he obtained a new pension of 201. per annum, and in the last year of the reign of Edward III. a grant of a yearly tun of wine, probably in lieu of his former daily pitcher.
Donnington Castle, near Newbury, in Berkshire, has been said to have become his by purchase in 1397, and that he then removed thither, but the grounds upon which it is asserted to have been his residence in his old age are slender and unsatisfac
tory; it was for many years the residence of his son Thomas Chaucer, who has probably been confounded with his father.
One of the most curious documents in the history of Chaucer's declining years is the patent of protection granted him by the king in 1398. It has been supposed that it was a protection from his creditors, and that he must therefore have been in embarrassed circumstances; but Mr. Godwin justly argues that his creditors would hardly have been designated his competitors (amulos suos), and that it does not appear why they should have excited quarrels and factions (querelas sive sectas) against him. In this deed it is stated that the king had ordained Chaucer to perform and expedite many arduous and urgent affairs of the crown, as well in the presence as the absence of the king, in various parts of the kingdom;' by which we may understand that he was again engaged in public affairs after seven years of retirement, and being now seventy years old. This circumstance may have been one of the causes that the Canterbury Tales were left in an imperfect and unfinished state.
Within eighteen months of the date of this protection, Bolingbroke the son of John of Gaunt ascended the throne by the title of Henry IV. and however basely he abandoned many of his father's friends, he did not suffer the great poetical ornament of the age to be depressed by the revolution.' This artful statesman perhaps desired the suffrage of the Muses in addition to the other means of supporting his authority. Chaucer had many motives to pay his court to the new monarch; he was the son of his great patron and benefactor, and therefore had a kind of hereditary claim; but the poet had the prudence and the forbearance to preserve the most inviolable silence, 'while Gower was one of the first to congratulate the new lord of the ascendant upon his unexpected and ill gotten dignity; and thought he could never suffi