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CHAUCER.

GEOFFREY CHAUCER, the Father of English Poetry, was born in London, in 1328, and died in October, 1400, at the advanced age of seventy-two years. He was consequently the contemporary of Petrarch and Boccacio, and familiar with the stirring events of Edward III. and the Black Prince. He was a soldier and a man of the world, and mingled much in public affairs. He wrote the Dream, the Court of Love, the Flower and Leaf, Troilus and Cresseide, the House of Fame, and some other minor poems. That, however, upon which his fame chiefly rests, is the Canterbury Tales.

The plan of this poem is as follows: A company of persons of various descriptions meet by chance at the Tabard Inn, in a suburb of London, all bent on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas à Becket, at Canterbury. The Pilgrims resolve to beguile the way by requiring of each one in the company a Tale, both in going and returning. These Tales, and the characters of the narrators prefixed, form the Poem.

It was composed when the author was sixty years old, and gives the fruit of the observation and experience of a long life, by one still in the full vigour of his

powers. The characters composing the party of Pilgrims are from every walk in life, and are drawn with inimitable skill and truthfulness. The Poem therefore presents a lively picture of the age and country in which the author lived. His contemporaries and their successors were justly proud of it as a truly national work.

Chaucer's language is styled by Spencer “ the pure well of English undefiled,” and should be studied by all who wish to be acquainted with the history and resources of our mother tongue. There are two serious difficulties however in the way of any attempt to introduce portions of his poems into books intended for general circulation. These are the obsolete spelling and the obsolete words. The spelling and consequently the mode of syllabication are so different from those adopted now, that no little study and practice are required to enable a person to appreciate the rhythm. Very many words, too, are met with in Chaucer that are no longer in common use, or are used by him in a sense which they have since lost.

These subject the reader to the vexatious interruptions of a glossary. The following specimen will give some idea of the extent of this difficulty. The modernized version of the same will be found a few

pages farther on,

also magnificent imitation by Dryden in another part of the book.

A good man ther was of religioun,
That was a poure Persone of a toun:
But riche he was of holy thought and werk,
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche.
His parishens devoutly wolde he teche.

Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversite ful patient:
And swiche he was ypreved often sithes.
Ful loth were him to cursen for his tithes,
But rather wolde he yeven out of doute,
Unto his poure parishens aboute,
Of his offring, and eke of his substance.
He coude in litel thing have suffisance.

Wide was his parish, and houses fer ascnuer,
But he no left nought for no rain ne thonder,
In sikenesse and in mischief to visite
The ferrest in his parish, moche and lite,
Upon his fete, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his shepe he yaf,
That first he wrought, and afterward he taught
Out of the gospel he the wordes caught,
And this figure he added yet therto,
That if gold ruste, what shuld iren do?
For if a preest be foule, on whom we trust,
No wonder is a lewed man to rust:
And shame it is, if that a preest take kepe,
To see a dirtie shepherd, and clene shepe:
Wel ought a preest ensample for to yeve,
By his clenenesse, how his shepe shulde live.

He sette not his benefice to hire,
And lette his shepe acombred in the mire,
And ran unto London, unto Seint Poules,
To seken him a chanterie for soules,
Or with a brotherhede to be withold:
But dwelt at home, and kepte wel his fold
So that the wolf ne made it not miscarie.
He was a shepherd, and no mercenarie.
And though he holy were, and vertuous,
He was to sinful men not dispitous,
Ne of his speche dangerous ne digne,
But in his teching discrete and benigne.
To drawen folk to heven, with fairenesse,
By good ensample, was his besinesse :

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