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observes: “there are no others that can really be pat into competition with these. In comparing them together, it might be said that Chaucer excels as the poet of manners or real life ; Spenser, as the poet of romance; Shakspeare, as the poet of nature, in the largest sense of the term; and Milton, as the poet of morality. Chaucer most frequently describes things as they are; Spenser, as we wish them to be; Shakspeare, as they would be; and Milton as they ought to be.
As poets, and as great poets, imagination, that is, the power of feigning things according to nature, was common to them all; but the principle or moving power, to which this faculty was most subservient in Chaucer, was habit or inveterate prejudice; in Spenser, novelty and the love of the marvellous; in Shakspeare, it was the force of passion, combined with every variety of possible circumstances; and in Milton, only with the highest. The characteristic of Chaucer is intensity; of Spenser, remoteness; of Milton, elevation; of Shakspeare, every thing.”
Leigh Hunt, in one of those charming Essays on the Poets with which he has adorned English Periodical Literature, pays an eloquent and discriminating tribute to the genius of Chaucer. We give the passage without abridgment :-“With Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton, he is one of the four great English Poets; and it is with double justice that he is called the Father of English Poetry; for, as Dante did with Italian, he helped to form its very language. Nay, it burst into luxuriance in his hands, like a sudden month of May. Instead of giving you the idea of an old poet, in the sense which the word vulgarly acquires, there is no one, upon acquaintance, who seems so young, consistently with maturity of mind. His poetry rises in the land like a clear morning, in which you see every thing with a rare and crystal distinctness, from the mountain to the minutest flower—towns, solitudes, human beings open doors, showing you the interior of cottages and of palaces—fancies in the clouds, fairy-rings in the grass; and in the midst of all sits the mild poet, alone, his eyes on the ground, yet with his heart full of every thing
you, as the
around him, beating, perhaps, with the bosons of a whole city, whose multitudes are sharing his thoughts with the daisy. His gaiety is equal to his gravity, and his sincerity to both. You could as little think of doubting bis word, as the point of the pen that wrote it. It cuts clear and sharp into
pen on the paper. His belief in the good and beautiful is child-like; as Shakspeare is that of everlasting and manly youth. Spenser's and Milton's are more scholarly and formal
. Chaucer excels in pathos, in humour, in satire, character, and description." His graphic faculty, .and healthy sense of the material, strongly ally him to the painter; and perhaps a better idea could not be given of his universality
than by saying, that he was at once the Italian and the Flemish painter of his time, and exhibited the pure expression of Raphael, the devotional intensity of Dominechino, the colour and corporeal fire of Titian, the manners of Hogarth, and the homely domesticities of Ostade and Teniers."
Chaucer's descriptions of natural scenery have been praised by our earliest and modern critics for their perfect truth, ease, and freshness. In a recent number of
The British Quarterly Review," a journal only a few years established, but possessing a high order of merit, the writer of an article entitled “Poetry and Civilization,” says of Chaucer, that“ if he was not the first writer of poetry in our vernacular tongue, he was, at least, the first great poet. He was the expressive index of the collected intelligence of his age; courtier, statesman, scholar, he appears as the prototype of Milton, and excels as much in that branch of his art which he cultivated, as the sublime author of 'Paradise Lost' does, in his more lofty and transcendent flights. The great merit of Chaucer consists in his infantine, his Homeric simplicity, and his truly dramatic delineations. He is perhaps the most picturesque poet we possess.
His paintings are fresh, glittering, and off-hand, done to the sife. Not with elaborate strokes of art, but with a few bold and happy touches. The full character stands before us distinct, speaking, unmistakeable. The sphere in which he moves is not ample; but within that nar
row round how much has he effected! He has left us a picture gallery, which for truth, nature, and real excellence, is without a parallel in the whole range of modern literature. His love of nature resembles an intoxica. tion of spirit. His morning sketches are bright with perpetual sunshine; his flowers are always in bloom, fragrant with odoriferous perfumes, and gemmed with sparkling dewdrops. He revels in an everlasting spring, which is cheered with the singing of small birds,' and rendered delightful by sights and sounds, the impressive indications of rural happiness."
The reader will find much varied and useful information respecting the origin, progress, and character of English Poetry in Mr. George L. Craik's “Sketches of the History of Literature and Learning in England, from the Norman Conquest to the accession of Elizabeth.” This valuable work is published in two small volumes, at a moderate price; and is an admirable library book for Teachers. The learned Editor's comments on the writings of Chaucer are lively, striking, and eloquent. We transcribe the following as a favourable specimen :-“His poetry exhibits, in as remarkable a degree, perhaps, as any other in any language, an intermixture and combination of what are usually deemed the most opposite excellences. Great poet as he is, we might almost say of him that his genius has as much about it of the spirit of prose as of poetry, and that, if he had not sung so admirably as he has done of flowery meadows, and summer skies, and gorgeous ceremonials, and high or tender passions, and the other themes over which the imagination loves best to pour her vivifying light, he would have won to himself the renown of a Montaigne or a Swift by the originality and penetrating sagacity of his observations on ordinary life, his insight into motives and character, the richness and peculiarity of his humour, the sharp edge of his satire, and the propriety, flexibility, and exquisite expressiveness of his delicate yet natural diction. Even like the varied visible creation around us, his poetry too has its earth, its sea, and its sky, and all the sweet vicissitudes' of each. Here you have the clear-eved observer of man as he is,
catching the manners living as they rise,' and fixing them in pictures where not their minutest lineament is or ever can be lost: here he is the inspired dreamer, by whom earth and all its realities are forgotten, as his spirit soars and sings in the finer air, and amidst the diviner beauty of some far off world of its own.
Now the riotous verse rings loud with the turbulence of human merriment and laughter, casting from it, as it dashes on its way, flash after flash, of all the forms of wit and comedy; now it is the tranquillizing companionship of the sights and sounds of inanimate nature of which the poet's heart is full—the springing herbage and the dew-drops on the leaf, and the rivulets glad beneath the morning ray, and dancing to their own simple music. From mere narrative and playful humour up to the heights of imaginative and impassioned song, his genius has exercised itself in all styles of poetry, and won imperishable laurels in all.”
The foregoing testimonies, selected from various distinguished authors, to the genius and merits of the venerated Father of English Poetry, cannot fail to be read with interest and pleasure. They would not, however, be complete without the subjoined extract from Mr. Campbell's spirited and graceful sketch of Chaucer, which will be found in his masterly introductory Essay to the “Specimens of the British Poets."
“ His first and long-continued predilection, was attracted by the new and allegorical style of romance, which had sprung
in France, in the thirteenth century, under William de Lorris. We find him, accordingly, during a great part of his poetical career, engaged
among the dreams, emblems, flower-worshippings, and amatory parliaments, of that visionary school. This, we may say, was a gymnasium of rather too light and playful exercise for so strong a genius; and it must be owned, that his allegorical poetry is often puerile and prolix. Yet, even in this walk of fiction, we never entirely lose sight of that peculiar grace, and gaiety, which distinguish the Muse of Chaucer; and no one who remembers his productions of the House of Fame,' and the 'Flower and the Leaf, will regret that he sported, for a season, in the field of
allegory. Even his pieces of this description, the most fantastic in design, and tedious in execution, are generally interspersed with fresh and joyous descriptions of external nature. In this new species of romance, we perceive the youthful Muse of the language, in love with mystical meanings and forms of fancy, more remote, if possible, from reality, than those of the chivalrous fable itself; and we could, sometimes, wish her back from emblematic castles, to the more solid ones of the elder fable; but still she moves in pursuit of those shadows with an impulse of novelty, and an exuberance of spirit, that is not wholly without its attraction and delight.” Referring to the graphic fidelity and minute accuracy of Chaucer's descriptions, Mr. Campbell thus concludes: "after four hundred years have closed over the mirthful features which formed the living originals of the poet's descriptions, his pages impress the fancy with the momentary credence that they are still alive; as if time had rebuilt his views, and were re-acting the last scenes of existence."
There were numerous versifiers previous to the time of Chaucer; but their compositions were with few exceptions of inferior merit, and consisted chiefly of translations, or imitations of the old Norman chronicles. One of the most recent and eloquent of Chaucer's biographers, Mr. Robert Aris Willmott, of Trinity College, Cambridge, observes in his “Lives of the English Sacred Poets, our heart turns to him with those feelings of reverence and affection, which he has inspired in every poetic bosom. Coleridge said that he took unceasing delight in his works, and that his hilarity of disposition was especially pleasing to him in his old age. Sir Philip Sidney marvelled, that Chaucer should have seen so distinctly in that gray and misty morning of literature. The thoughts, the habits, and the feelings of the fourteenth century are in his verse.
If he was not the earliest painter of our manners,
certainly was of our scenery. His landscapes look green in the dews of spring. Nor does he put in his figures with inferior skill. Shakspeare alone enjoyed a wider versatility of genius. The sublimity of Chaucer is brief, vivid,