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Chaucer, we know, was born early in the fourteenth century, during the reign of Edward the Third. We also know that the English language was then in a most uncouth and barbarous state: how then is it possible that those who live nearly five hundred years after him should be able to enjoy his poetry? - This is the language of those who have never attempted what they describe as impossible, and poor Chaucer is left very quietly to sleep on the shelf, undisturbed, except by the researches of the antiquary. The verse of Chaucer certainly does not constantly appear harmonious to our ears; neither do I imagine that an uninterrupted flow of metre, and equality of numbers, were then considered as essentials: it was not till centuries after our poet's death, that English verse acquired that smoothness and polish which it now possesses. It was left for WALLER and DRYDEN to give the finish to what CHAUCER had so nobly begun.
It is much to be lamented that Mr. GODWIN did not devote some part of his Life of this great poet to a more extensive history of, and criticism upon, the Canterbury Tales, in comparison of which the greater part of Chaucer's other productions will seem uninteresting. They are so descriptive of the character and manners of the times, that “the pilgrims,” says Dryden, “their bumors, their features, and their very dress, are so very distinctly before me, as if I had supped with them at the Tabard, in Southwark." Perhaps a few extracts from the prologue to the Canterbury Tales may not be unacceptable to the lovers of poetry, which, when di. vested of the disguise of old spelling, will not appear so unintelligible as is generally supposed. Chaucer, after informing us, that in the month of April it was usual for pilgrims to assemble at the shrine of the holy martyr, at Canterbury," thus proceeds:
Befel that in that season on a day
In Southwark, at the Tabard, where I lay,
Ready to wendin on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury with devout courage,
At night were come into that hostery
Well nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry folk, who by adventure fall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all,
That toward Canterbury wouldin ride.*
to those who many who suc - strictly in the ixture of such
to be found in old Chaucer,"
the Grecians nal fountain of s properly an Ows when to
writers, and nd Horace." at estimation
He then describes the person, character and condition of each of these pilgrims. I shall extract part of his description of "The PARSON:"
A good man there was of religion,
And he was a poor parson of a town:
But rich he was of holy thought and work,
He was also a learned man, a clerk,
That Christ's gospel truly would he preach,
His parish'ners devoutly would he teach.
Benign he was, and wondrous diligent,
And in adversity full patient.
Wide was his parish and houses asunder,
But he left not neither for rain nor thunder;
In sickness nor in mischief to visit
The farthest of his parish, much or lite,
Upon his feet; and in his hand a staff.
This good example to his flock he gave,
That first he wrought, and afterwards he taught. The other characters are described in the same simple and unalfected manner.
Our pilgrims having partaken of the good cheer which the host of the Tabard set before them, who is described as “ bold of his speech, and wise, and well ytaught," were thus addressed by him:
Lordings, quoth he, now hearken to the best,
But take it not, I pray you, in disdain;
This is the point, to speak it flat and plain:
That each of you to shorten others way,
In this voyage, shall tellen tales tway,
To Canterbury ward I mean it so,
And homeward he shall tellen other two,
Of adventures, whilome that did befal;
And which of you him heareth best of all;
That is to say, that telleth in this case
Tales of best sentence, and of best solace,
Shall have a supper at our common cost,
Here in this place, and sitting by this post,
When we come back again from Canterbury;
And for the making you the more merry,
I will myself civilly with you ride,
Right at mine own cost, and will be your guide.
This proposal of the host's was assented to by the whole party,
who proceeded on their journey the following morning, escorted
by their new companion. They decided the order of the tales
by lot, and it fell to the knight to relate the first. Of the knight's
tale Dryden thus speaks: “ I prefer in Chaucer, far above his
other stories, the noble poem of Palamon and Arcite, which is
of the epic kind, and perhaps not much inferior to the Ilias or the
Æneis: the story is more pleasing than either of them, the manners
as perfect, the diction as poetical, the learning as deep and various,
and the disposition full as artful, only it includes a greater length
of time, taking up ten years at least.” The story was taken by
Chaucer from an old Italian author, for Boccacio refers to it in his
seventh Giornata. I think Dryden, in his great zeal to praise his
favourite author, has said more than the poem in question will
warrant, especially when he talks of the manners being perfect,
since Chaucer has strangely enough jumbled together the customs
and practices of chivalry with the times and persons of remote an-
tiquity. However, it is certainly a proof of the great and intrinsic
excellence of the poem that we acquiesce in this incongruity, and
find ample amends for it in the interest of the story, and the vivid
coloring of the poetry.
The Knight having finished his tale, the Miller, the Reve, the
Cook, the Man of Law, the Squire, the Merchant, and the rest of
the pariy in turn, each relates a story. The prologue prefixed
to each contains the observations of the company on the preceding
narrative, many of which are highly descriptive of the manners and
the temper of the times. The friar having inveighed against the
bribery and corruption of the spiritual courts, the somphour re-
taliated very severely on the friar, by relating in his tale an
instance of their fraud and hypocrisy. After the prioress had
related her story of the murder of a christian child by the Jews,
who, notwithstanding its throat had been cut, sang, to the amaze-
ment of the beholders, “both loude and clere," it came to Chaucer's
turn to tell his story.
When said was this miracle, every man
As sober was, as woner was to see,
Till that our host to joke again began,
And that at length he looked upon me,
And speaking thus " what man art thoui" quoth be,
" Thou lookest as thou wouldest find a hare,
For Ever on the ground I see thee stare.
Approach more near, and look up merrily,
Now ware you, sirs, and let this man have place;
He in the waist is shap'd as well as I,
This were a puppet in arms to embrace
For any woman small and fair of face.
Say something now, since other folks have said,
Tell us a tale of mirth, and that anon.”
“Host," quoth I, “ be not ill repaid,
For other tale of certain can I none,
But of a rhyme I learned years agone."
“Yes, that is good,” quoth he, “now we shall hear
Some dainty thing, methinketh, by thy cheer."
Chaucer then begins to relate “ The Rime of Sir Thopas," in a metre and style quite different from the rest, as if he was not the author, but merely the reporter of the tales. This story, however, does not at all please “mine host," who interrupts Chaucer, after he had related about two hundred lines
“No more of this, for God his dignity,"
Quoth then our host-
“ Thou dost naught else but to dispend our time;
Sir, at one word, thou shall no longer rhyme;
Let's see whether thou canst tell aught in jest,
Or tell in prose of somewhat at the least,
In which there may be some mirth or doctrine."
Chaucer accordingly obeys, and tells his story in “ plain, simple prose.” The parson, whose turn was last, excuses himself from telling a story, but offers to give them an exhortation, as more suitable to the gravity of his character. This is agreed to on the part of the company, and with his discourse the tales finish, for we are not informed what befel the company on their arrival at Canterbury, nor whether they journeyed home together.
THE FRENCH MISER. AVARICE of all other passions is the least to be accounted for, as it precludes the miser from all pleasure except that of hoarding; the prodigal, the gamester, the ambitious, having something to plead by way of palliation for their inordinate affections to their respective objects and pursuits; but the miser gratifies his passion at
the expense of every conveniency, indulgence, or even necessary
of life. He is aptly compared to a magpie, who hides gold which
he can make no use of.
M. Vandille was the most remarkable man in Paris, both on ac-
count of his immense riches and his extreme avarice. He lodged
as high up as the roof would admit him, to avoid noise or visits;
maintained one poor old woman to attend him in his garret, allow-
ing her only seven sous per week, or a penny per diem. His usual
diet was bread and milk, and, for indulgence, some sour wine
on Sunday; on which day he constantly gave one farthing to the
poor, being one shilling and a penny per annum, which he cast up;
and, after his death, his extensive charity amounted to forty-three
shillings and four pence. This prudent economist had been a ma-
gistrate, or officer, at Boulogne; from which obscurity he was pro-
moted to Paris, for the reputation of his wealth, which he lent upon
undeniable security to the public funds, not caring to trust in-
dividuals with his life and soul. While a magistrate at Boulogne,
he maintained himself by taking upon him to be milktaster-general
at the market, and went from one to another washing down his bread
at no expense of his own, not doubtless from any other principle than
that of serving the public in regulating the goodness of milk. When
he had a call to Paris, knowing that stage vehicles are expensive,
he determined to go thither on foot; and to avoid being robbed, he
took care to export with himself neither more nor less than the
considerable sum of three pence sterling, to carry him one hundred
and thirty miles; and with the greater facility to execute his plan of
operation, he went in the quality of a poor priest or mendicant, and
no doubt gathered some few pence on the road from such pious
and well disposed persons who were strangers to him.
The great value a miser annexes to a farthing will make us less surprised at the infinite attachment he must have to a guinea, of which it is the seed, growing by gentle gradations into pence, shillings, pounds, thousands and ten thousands, which made this worthy connoisseur to say Take care of the farthings, and the pence and shillings will take care of themselves; these semina of wealth may be compared to seconds of time, which generate years, centuries, and even eternity itself.
When he became extensively rich, being in the year 1735 worth seven or eight hundred thousand pounds, which he begot or mul