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delights in books, giving them "feyth and ful credence," and how nothing can draw him from them, except when in the month of May he hears the birds sing, and sees the flowers spring; and then, with the most charming simplicity, he continues:
"Now have I thanne suche a condicion,
That of al the floures in the mede
Thanne love I most these floures white and rede,
Suche as men callen daysyes in our toune.
To hem have I so grete affeccioun,
As I seyde erst, whanne comen is the May,
That blisfull sight softeneth al my sorwe."
Ay, dear Chaucer, I can well believe it did; for who that considers the lilies of the field but will find his burden lightened in the smile of their beauty, and in the happy thought that, as they in their unthinking life are watched over and tended, much more shall we, whose hairs are numbered, be guided by a loving hand, even when we stumble over stony ground, far from the green pastures and the still waters.
I think, in those days, May must have been a far lovelier month than it has proved of late years; for Chaucer, like many of the old poets, is always enthusiastic in praise of its beauty. Let me give you one or two more proofs of this. I hope my reading is intelligible. The passages I have selected do not need a glossary.
TALBOT. You read Chaucer well, HARTLEY, and a
good reader of Chaucer acts at the same time as his interpreter.
HARTLEY. I am glad you think so; for to give the proper rhythmical cadence to Chaucer's verse is not always easy. But now for
"The flowery May, that from her green lap throws
In the poem from which I have just quoted there is another passage, in which once again the poet sings the praise of his favourite flower. He laments that neither in rhyme nor prose can he praise the daisy aright, and tells us how, with "glad devocion," he arose before daybreak on the first morn of May, to see the flower unclose :
"And doune on knees anoon ryght I me sette,
Upon the smale, softe, swote gras,
That was with floures swote embrouded al.
Adoune ful softeley I gan to synke,
And lenynge on myn elbowe and my syde,
The emprise, and floure of floures alle."
Many a great poet has expressed his affection for the daisy, but none-not even Wordsworth or Burns-with such a leal-hearted devotion as Chaucer. With what a
dainty fitness his quaint language adapts itself to his phantasy, and how he compels you to believe in his loverlike affection for the flower. Indeed, you never doubt it for a moment. In the "Complaynte of a Loveres Lyfe” there are a few rural passages, some of which, however, appear to be copied from the "Romaunt of the Rose," where again the joy of May is celebrated; and the poet, as is his wont, whether he be relating a poetic dream, or lulling us into a dream poetic, rises 66 in the up early" to hear the "smale foules song." In the "Complaynt of Mars and Venus "-which, like the "Romaunt of the Rose," is a translation from the French,-in "Chaucer's Dreme," in the "Boke of the Duchesse," in the "Flower and the Leaf," and, above all, in the "Cuckoo and the Nightingale," the poet's month, in all its beauty and hopefulness, either forms part of the burden of the song, or is mentioned incidentally as the season which gives birth to it. "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale" has, you know, been turned into modern English by Wordsworth, who has endeavoured, as far as possible, to preserve the simplicity of the original. I think in this attempt he has very nearly succeeded; but this near approach to success-a rare instance out of many failures-only confirms me in my belief that Chaucer's poetry is so linked to Chaucer's language, that its very life and beauty depend upon it.
TALBOT. Chaucer's love of trees, and birds, and flowers, adds greatly to the charm of his poetry; for though his chief forte lies in the description of character -and I know not whether he excels most in his humorous or his pathetic delineations-yet as Hartley truly
said, he has a heart open to every impression of nature. He was a man of action, and largely conversant with affairs; he had travelled much, and read much, and knew something of the brilliancy of court life. Yet he had still enough
his heart leap up at the
of the child's nature left, to feel sight of the wayside flower, or at the song of the "briddes." So must it ever be with all great poets. Nothing can divorce them from their first love; and no worldly prosperity or worldly sorrow, can ever close their hearts to the graces and glories of God's universe.
STANLEY. HOW is it that English women, however well read, and capable of appreciating the highest order of poetry, are in general so blind to the peculiar excellencies of Chaucer? They think him foolish when he is wise, and coarse when he is humorous.
TALBOT. Between folly and wisdom there is oftentimes less than the breadth of a bat's wing. Who shall define the exact region in which either of them dwells? There is one man who, with demure sobriety, walks through life without relaxing a muscle of his features, or straying a yard from his appointed path; and there is another man, of blither spirit, who, in musical mirthfulness, listens to every note by the way, casts a loving glance on every fair flower-and sometimes leaps a stream, or plunges into it, or rambles dreamily over the green meadows, from very joyousness of heart-which of the twain has the most affinity to wisdom? For my part I stand by the latter; indeed, I believe that, as a nation, we should be far wiser if we were more mirthful. It is the buoyancy of his spirit which makes Chaucer's poetry so delightful to me; and I am unwilling to believe that English women cannot
appreciate the charm. But they are frightened at the language in which Chaucer's treasures are locked up, and are necessarily repulsed by the real, and not imaginary, coarseness in which the poet frequently indulges. Bitterly did he afterwards repent this prostitution of his genius.
STANLEY. Like Chaucer, many of our greatest poets have been city livers; and they are said to have found their choicest moments of inspiration, when imprisoned within city walls. Perhaps there is more in the life and stir of London to stimulate the imagination, than in any country scene, however retired and beautiful.
HARTLEY. The imagination is such an erratic faculty, that it is almost impossible to say what will give it strength, or what may serve to render it utterly lethargic. Perhaps this power attained its highest development in Spenser ; yet Spenser, to judge from the little that we know of his life, does not seem to have been in a favourable position for the development of what Bishop Butler so impertinently terms a "a forward and delusive faculty." Happily, however, we know little of his biography; for it were a pity that the portrait of Spenser, which each of us has framed in his fancy, should have its beauty marred by any of those scars which disturb the features of ordinary mortals. I am satisfied in learning that he was born in London about three hundred years ago-the exact date is, I believe, uncertain; that he graduated at Cambridge, and became the friend of Sir Philip Sidney; that he received the appointment of secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, obtained a grant of land in the county of Cork, and lived, surrounded by beauty, if not by comfort, in his castle at Kilcolman; that there he was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh,