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LIFE OF GEOFFREY CHAUCER.
S. W. SINGER, Esq.
CHAUCER was indeed the Morning Star of our poetical hemisphere. The obscure twilight of the metrical romances, legends, and lays which preceded his bright day he cast into the shade of night by the effulgence of his genius; and, like his great precursors in Italy, became at once the creator of the poetical style of his country, and the unequalled father of a great race of poets.
The materials for his biography are so slender that they may easily be compressed into a small space: of the few dates and facts we have, some of the most important have been the subject of controversy, and are still unsettled.
From an old inscription on his tomb it appears that he died at the age of seventy-two, on the 25th day of October, A. D. 1400, and was consequently born in 1328. We have fortunately his own testimony that London was the place of his birth'. The
1 "Also in the citie of London that is to me so deare and swete, in which I was foorth growen, and more kindly love have I to that place than to any other in yerth (as every kindly creture hath full appetite to that place of his kindly ingendrare.")-Testament of Love.
place of his education is more uncertain. He is said to have studied at Oxford; but, from a passage in the Court of Love, in which he styles himself' Philogenet of Cambridge, Clerk,' it might be rather inferred that he was educated there; unless we have recourse to the supposition that he was successively of both universities, a case not uncommon with scholars in that early age. Leland asserts that he finished his studies at Paris.
Of his family nothing certain is known: Speght finding one Richard Chaucer, a vintner, mentioned in the records of Guildhall, in the 23d year of Edward II. conjectures that he may have been his father. From the simplicity of his coat of arms, an argument has been drawn that he was not of any noble house, but this has been overruled by the opinion of the heralds; and it is but reasonable to conclude that his family must at least have been wealthy and respectable, to enable them to give him an education fitting him for the court, and for the exercise of diplomatic functions abroad. Bale terms him nobili loco natus, et summa spei juvenis.
"After his return home from Paris (says Speght), he frequented the Court at London, and the colleges of the Lawyers, and among them he had a familiar friend John Gower. It seemeth that both these learned men were of the Inner Temple; for, not many years since, Master Buckley did see a record in the same house, where Geoffrey Chaucer was fined two shillings for beating a Franciscan Friar, in Fleetstreet." If this circumstance could be proved, it would be sufficient evidence of Chaucer's birth and fortune, for only young men of noble and opulent families could support the expense of this Inn; but Francis Thynne says, that "the Lawyers were not of the Temple till the latter parte of the reygne of Edward III. at which time Chaucer was a grave manne, holden in greate credyt, and employed in embassye."
Graced with more than the usual accomplishments of that age, he attached himself to the court: and, in the gay and gallant reign of Edward III. it may be presumed that he was not long without preferment; his first step was that of page to the king; but the first authentic memorial of his advancement is the patent in Rymer's Foedera, 41. Edward III. by which that king grants him an annuity of twenty marks, by the title of Valettus noster. Chaucer was then in his thirty-ninth year, and most probably had served the king some years. The grounds upon which he received this grant are not known. Mr. Tyrwhitt is inclined to think that it was not bestowed upon him as a reward for his poetical talents, though it is almost certain that he had distinguished himself by them previous to this period. 'The Assemblee of Foules,' "The Complaint of the Black Knight,' 'The Romaunt of the Rose,' and 'Troilus and Cresseide' are all presumed to have been composed before 1367. If his poem entitled 'The Dreme' be rightly judged to have been an Epithalamium on the nuptials of John of Gaunt with Blanche Duchess of Lancaster, it should seem that he enjoyed court patronage in his thirtyfirst year. It is remarkable that this poem contains an allusion to Chaucer's own attachment to a lady of the Court, whom he afterwards married; and who appears to have been the sister of the celebrated Catherine Swinford, first the concubine and afterward the wife of John of Gaunt.
Catherine was the daughter of Sir Payne Rouet, a native of Hainault, and King at Arms for the province of Guienne.
The Duchess Blanche had entertained this lady in her service, and she afterwards married Sir Hugh Swinford, knight, of Lincoln, who died soon after his marriage; Catherine then returned to the duke's family in quality of governess of his children; while in that situation she yielded to the solicitations of the
duke, and became his mistress. It should seem that her sister Philippa did not bear the name of Rouet, but that of Pykard; and it is supposed that the Duke of Lancaster, and his Duchess Blanche, had her also under their protection, and recommended her to Chaucer for a wife. His marriage took place about the year 1360, when he was thirty-two years of age, his wife had been one of the maids of honour to the queen of Edward III.; and a record is in existence by which it appears that Chaucer received in 1381 half a year's payment of an annuity of ten marks granted to her by the king, in consideration of her services to his queen. This marriage most probably strengthened the reciprocal attachment of Chaucer and his patron, who took all opportunities to advance his fortunes at court, where he was a constant attendant. When the king resided at Woodstock, the poet is said to have dwelt in a lodge near the parkgate, and many of his earlier works appear to have been composed there; for many descriptive passages in them seem to have been inspired by the surrounding scenery. It is most probable that he accompanied the king in his expedition into France in 1359; and there is a record of his evidence in a military court, by which it appears that he then followed the profession of arms. The peace of Bretigné terminated shortly his campaign, and he never again resumed the military garb.
In the forty-sixth year of Edward III. (1372) the king appointed him Envoy to Genoa, in which mission he was joined with Sir James Pronan and Sir John de Mari. It has been conjectured that when the business of the mission was ended, Chaucer made a journey to Padua, to pay his respects to Petrarca who was then in that city. The foundation for this conjecture is no doubt the assertion of Chaucer, in the Clerkes Tale, of patient Grisilde, that he learned it of Petrarca, at Padua. The Abbé de Sade