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SAINING brightly in the twilight period of English literature, appears the name of GEOFFREY CHAUCER. He is often called Dan Chaucer, as in the quotation; a title of respect, originally “Don "* or Lord.
or Lord. Southey says, that the line of English poets begins with him, as that of English kings with William the Conqueror. He is styled the “Father of English poetry;” “the loadstar of the language," and extolled as
“The morning-star of song, who made
His music heard below;
Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath
Preluded those melodious bursts, that fill
With sounds that echo still."
The poets before him are almost forgotten, and you could not even read their rhymes without some study; so much does the old English differ from our own. A short lyric from an unknown poet of the thirteenth century will show the state of the English language at that time. The theme is the uncertainty of life:
“ Winter wakeneth all my care;
Those early days in “ Merrie England” were the days of feudalism, which, you know, is the exact reverse of republicanism, the government of which we are now so proud. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw the height of the feudal system, and the commencement of its decline. In our country the basis of honor and power is the people, but in theirs it was the king, from whom all classes took their power, and on whom they were dependent, while the common people were mere slaves, to do his bidding.
Society was divided into nobles and serfs. Under the great barons were lesser barons, under these the yeomen, each owing military service to the class above them. The barons lived in strong castles, in plenty and wealth; the poor in miserable hovels, often nothing but mud cottages, with rotten thatches. Very few houses had windows, only loopholes to look from, and chimneys were rare. The fire was usually placed in an iron grate in the centre of the room, the smoke escaping at the open, blackened roof. At meals, the family were seated before the table was laid, with hands carefully washed, as forks were unknown, and fingers had to be freely used. Travelling minstrels would often come in during the meal, and were well supplied with food and wine, for the songs they sung and the stories they told. They danced as well as sung, and were experts in the art of legerdemain; always welcome at the marriage feast, or other gay festivals.
“Merry it is in halle to bere the barpe,
The minstrelles synge, the jogelours carpe.”
They often received handsome and costly gifts; for instance, a certain earl gave to his host's minstrels, gowns of cloth of gold, furred with ermyne, valued at 200 franks.” Masques and brilliant pageants, tournaments, archery, hunting, and wrestling, were the amusements of the age.
A hawk was the symbol of nobility. Enormous prices were paid for these birds, and men of rank were seldom seen without one or more of them, taking them even to war and to church. They bequeathed their favorite falcon, in their wills, to their dearest friend, and a pathetic tale is told of a young nobleman, who, after sacrificing every thing in pursuit of a haughty dame, resolved to dress his hawk for her dinner, as the last and greatest