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And yet, God wote, unnethe the fundament
The following personification of Envy is marked by the coarse vigour of Longlande's pencil :
Of a frere's froke were the fore sleves,
To these visions, which, in modern phrase, created a great sensation, were afterwards added another poem of much the same nature, but by a different hand. Of this piece, called PIERCE THE PLOWMAN'S CREDE, Pope has left the following account :-“ An ignorant plain man, having learned his Paternoster and Ave. Mary, wants to learn his creed. He asks several religious men of the several orders to teach it him : first, a friar Mi. nor, who bids him beware of the Carmelites, and assures him they can teach him nothing, describing their faults ; but the friars Minor can save him whether he learns his creed or not. He next goes to the friars Preachers, whose magnificent monastery he describes; and there he meets a fat friar, who declaims against the Augustines. He is shocked at his pride, and goes to the Augustines ; they rail at the Minorites. He goes to the Carmelites ; they abuse the Dominicans, but promise him sal. vation without the creed for money. He leaves them with indignation, and finds an honest poor ploughman in the field, and tells him how he had
been disappointed by the four orders.”Had this ploughman, besides indulging in a long invective against the priests, directed the inquirer to the Bible, then first translated into the vernacular tongue by Wickliffe, we should have been brought down to the days of Calvin and Luther at once; but the ground was prepared, and the seed was sown, though it required generations to ripen it and to gather it in.
Such, at the birth of Chaucer, were the best of the contemporary models which existed either for the imitation or emulative ambition of the young poet. The art of versification was in the rudest state ; the alliterative monotonous clink of the Saxon muse had been happily nearly silenced, but nothing had been invented to supply its place ; the language was still unsettled and rugged, the phraseology quaint and scanty ; the diction, the numbers, and the music of poetry, were still to be invented. Its spirit, if it had ever existed in England, was dormant if not extinct; and when Johnson said that “ Chaucer was the first of our poets that wrote poetically,” he might have safely added, that he was also the first of our native poets that ever thought or imagined poetically, if this is not included in his meaning. The youthful productions of Chaucer, and the singularly felicitous circumstances which nurtured and contributed to the development of his genius, and carried his opportunities of observation to the widest extent, have already been noticed. To the contemporary poets of Italy, he was more indebt. ed than to classic models; and though it is as impossible to discover the particular source to which a poet owes his first inspiration, as to tell to what fertilizing shower or nourishing dew of a long favourable spring the tree has put forth its buds and blossoms, his obligations to Boccaccio may be distinctly traced. We have his own authority, often repeated, for his love of study :
Upon a boke ywrite with letters old, he tells that he read eagerly the long day; that days spent in reading seemed very short ; and that
Out of the old fieldis, as men saith,
No “ game” nor amusement, he says, could lure him from his books; nor any thing, save the return of spring, and the early morning-hours, which are peculiarly agreeable and propitious to his joyous and buxom muse. His works are enriched with exquisite pictures of both seasons, as in the Morning-Walk, in the COMPLAINT OF THE BLACK KNIGHT, and in the more luxuriant description of the Young Beauty in the FLOWER AND LEAF, sitting in her secluded arbour in the springy freshness of the early summer morning.
The imagination of Chaucer still retained its pristine vigour and buoyancy, when, in the maturity of his genius, now enriched and disciplined by time, study, and observation, he began his Canter. bury Tales. The plan of this work is as simple and natural as it is happy. A promiscuous company of twenty-nine persons, selected from the dif. ferent walks of private English life, assemble at the Tabard inn in Southwark, each, for favours received, having vowed a pilgrimage to the tomb of St Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. The author is of the number of the pilgrims.
Shrines were the watering-places, races, and county-balls of our ancestors, and pilgrimages a popular and a fashionable amusement, which the knight or prioress might share with the notable housewife or jolly miller without any prejudice to personal dignity. As the spiritual object of these journeys sanctified all connected with them, there was no need of great strictness or severe mortification in their progress, which was throughout lively, social, and joyous, enlivened by good cheer, unrestrained mirth, and old stories.(a) “ It
(a) The shrine of our Lady of Walsingham, one of the richest in England, is thus mentioned by Longlande in the Plowman's Visions :
“ Hermets on a heape with beaked staves,
This shrine is the scene of two of the most beautiful of the old English ballads, Gentle Herdsman, and As ye come from the Holy Land. It appears well understood that pilgrimages were undertaken for many other purposes besides the ostensible one of devotion; and that with pilgrims, as well as poets, the image of the Virgin and the statue of Venus were often identified. Sir David Lynd
is in the Canterbury Tales,” says Warton, “ that Chaucer's knowledge of the world availed him in a peculiar degree, and enabled him to give such an accurate picture of ancient manners as no contemporary nation has transmitted to posterity.”
The plan of these Tales involves a double narrative interest. Each pilgrim having engaged, at the suggestion of the host of the Tabard, to relate a story, and every tale being most felicitously adapted to the character of the narrator, the sentiment is as it were re-doubled, and the interest is never permitted to decay. As it is impossible to transfer the works of Chaucer to these scanty pages, the best specimen of his characteristic manner will be found in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, and in a few selections of a higher tone; for the genius of Chaucer was not only more exalted, but more versatile than that of all his predecessors or succes
say's opinion of journeys to the “Chapell of Dron,” where « Kittock went so cadgie,” though she had better been at “hame,” is exactly the same with that of sage Dan Robert. After the Reformation, a satirical poet says,
With us it was merry
And to our Lady of Grace;
And other holy place; When the priests might walk, And with the yonge wyves talk, Then had we children plenty, &c.
* Bury St Edmunds.