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Credits: This e-text was scanned, re-formatted and edited with
extra notes by Donal O' Danachair (email@example.com).
I would like to acknowledge the help of Edwin Duncan, Juris
Lidaka and Aniina Jokinnen in identifying some of the poems no
Longer attributed to Chaucer.
This e-text, with its notes, is hereby placed in the public
Preface: The preface is for a combined volume of poems by
Chaucer and Edmund Spenser. The Spenser poems will shortly
be available as a separate E-text.
Spelling and punctuation: These are the same as in the book as
far as possible. Accents have been removed. Diereses (umlauts)
have been removed from English words and replaced by "e" in
German ones. The AE and OE digraphs have been transcribed
as two letters. The British pound (currency) sign has been
replaced by a capital L. Greek words have been transliterated.
Footnotes: The original book has an average of 30 footnotes
per page. These were of three types:
(A) Glosses or explanations of obsolete words and phrases.
These have been treated as follows:
1. In the poems, they have been moved up into the right-hand
margin. Some of them have been shortened or paraphrased in
order to fit.
Explanations of single words have a single asterisk at the
end of the word and at the beginning of the explanation*. *like this
If two words in the same line have explanations
the first* has one and the second**, two. *like this **and this
Explanations of phrases have an asterisk at the
start and end *of the phrase* and of the explanation *like this*
Sometimes these glosses wrap onto the next line, still in the
right margin. If you read this e-text using a monospaced font
(like Courier in a word processor such as MS Word, or the
default font in most text editors) then the marginal notes are
2. In the prose tales, they have been imbedded into the text in
square brackets after the word or phrase they refer to [like this].
(B) Etymological explanations of these words. These are
indicted by a number in angle brackets in the marginal
gloss.* The note will be found at the *like this <1>
end of the poem or section.
(C) Longer notes commenting on or explaining the text. These
are indicated in the text by numbers in angle brackets thus: <1>.
The note will be found at the end of the poem or section.
Latin: Despite his declared aim of editing the tales "for popular
perusal", Purves has left nearly all Latin quotations
untranslated. I have translated them as well as I could -- any
errors are my fault, not his.
THE CANTERBURY TALES
And other Poems
Edited for Popular Perusal
D. Laing Purves
LIFE OF CHAUCER
THE CANTERBURY TALES
The General Prologue
The Knight's Tale
The Miller's tale
The Reeve's Tale
The Cook's Tale
The Man of Law's Tale
The Wife of Bath's Tale
The Friar's Tale
The Sompnour's Tale
The Clerk's Tale
The Merchant's Tale
The Squire's Tale
The Franklin's Tale
The Doctor's Tale
The Pardoner's Tale
The Shipman's Tale
The Prioress's Tale
Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas
Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus
The Monk's Tale
The Nun's Priest's Tale
The Second Nun's Tale
The Canon's Yeoman's Tale
The Manciple's Tale
The Parson's Tale
Preces de Chauceres
THE COURT OF LOVE <1>
THE CUCKOO AND THE NIGHTINGALE <1>
THE ASSEMBLY OF FOWLS
THE FLOWER AND THE LEAF <1>
THE HOUSE OF FAME
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA
CHAUCER'S DREAM <1>
THE PROLOGUE TO THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN
1. Modern scholars believe that Chaucer was not the author of
THE object of this volume is to place before the general reader
our two early poetic masterpieces -- The Canterbury Tales and
The Faerie Queen; to do so in a way that will render their
"popular perusal" easy in a time of little leisure and unbounded
temptations to intellectual languor; and, on the same conditions,
to present a liberal and fairly representative selection from the
less important and familiar poems of Chaucer and Spenser.
There is, it may be said at the outset, peculiar advantage and
propriety in placing the two poets side by side in the manner
now attempted for the first time. Although two centuries divide
them, yet Spenser is the direct and really the immediate
successor to the poetical inheritance of Chaucer. Those two
hundred years, eventful as they were, produced no poet at all
worthy to take up the mantle that fell from Chaucer's shoulders;
and Spenser does not need his affected archaisms, nor his
frequent and reverent appeals to "Dan Geffrey," to vindicate for
himself a place very close to his great predecessor in the literary
history of England. If Chaucer is the "Well of English
undefiled," Spenser is the broad and stately river that yet holds
the tenure of its very life from the fountain far away in other
and ruder scenes.
The Canterbury Tales, so far as they are in verse, have been
printed without any abridgement or designed change in the
sense. But the two Tales in prose -- Chaucer's Tale of
Meliboeus, and the Parson's long Sermon on Penitence -- have
been contracted, so as to exclude thirty pages of unattractive
prose, and to admit the same amount of interesting and
characteristic poetry. The gaps thus made in the prose Tales,
however, are supplied by careful outlines of the omitted matter,
so that the reader need be at no loss to comprehend the whole
scope and sequence of the original. With The Faerie Queen a
bolder course has been pursued. The great obstacle to the
popularity of Spencer's splendid work has lain less in its
language than in its length. If we add together the three great
poems of antiquity -- the twenty-four books of the Iliad, the
twenty-four books of the Odyssey, and the twelve books of the
Aeneid -- we get at the dimensions of only one-half of The
Faerie Queen. The six books, and the fragment of a seventh,
which alone exist of the author's contemplated twelve, number
about 35,000 verses; the sixty books of Homer and Virgil
number no more than 37,000. The mere bulk of the poem, then,
has opposed a formidable barrier to its popularity; to say
nothing of the distracting effect produced by the numberless
episodes, the tedious narrations, and the constant repetitions,
which have largely swelled that bulk. In this volume the poem
is compressed into two-thirds of its original space, through the
expedient of representing the less interesting and more
mechanical passages by a condensed prose outline, in which it
has been sought as far as possible to preserve the very words of
the poet. While deprecating a too critical judgement on the
bare and constrained precis standing in such trying
juxtaposition, it is hoped that the labour bestowed in saving the
reader the trouble of wading through much that is not essential
for the enjoyment of Spencer's marvellous allegory, will not be
As regards the manner in which the text of the two great works,
especially of The Canterbury Tales, is presented, the Editor is
aware that some whose judgement is weighty will differ from
him. This volume has been prepared "for popular perusal;" and
its very raison d'etre would have failed, if the ancient
orthography had been retained. It has often been affirmed by
editors of Chaucer in the old forms of the language, that a little
trouble at first would render the antiquated spelling and
obsolete inflections a continual source, not of difficulty, but of
actual delight, for the reader coming to the study of Chaucer
without any preliminary acquaintance with the English of his
day -- or of his copyists' days. Despite this complacent
assurance, the obvious fact is, that Chaucer in the old forms has
not become popular, in the true sense of the word; he is not
"understanded of the vulgar." In this volume, therefore, the text
of Chaucer has been presented in nineteenth-century garb. But
there has been not the slightest attempt to "modernise"
Chaucer, in the wider meaning of the phrase; to replace his
words by words which he did not use; or, following the example
of some operators, to translate him into English of the modern
spirit as well as the modern forms. So far from that, in every
case where the old spelling or form seemed essential to metre,
to rhyme, or meaning, no change has been attempted. But,
wherever its preservation was not essential, the spelling of the
monkish transcribers -- for the most ardent purist must now
despair of getting at the spelling of Chaucer himself -- has been
discarded for that of the reader's own day. It is a poor
compliment to the Father of English Poetry, to say that by such
treatment the bouquet and individuality of his works must be
lost. If his masterpiece is valuable for one thing more than any
other, it is the vivid distinctness with which English men and
women of the fourteenth century are there painted, for the study
of all the centuries to follow. But we wantonly balk the artist's
own purpose, and discredit his labour, when we keep before his
picture the screen of dust and cobwebs which, for the English
people in these days, the crude forms of the infant language
have practically become. Shakespeare has not suffered by
similar changes; Spencer has not suffered; it would be surprising
if Chaucer should suffer, when the loss of popular
comprehension and favour in his case are necessarily all the
greater for his remoteness from our day. In a much smaller
degree -- since previous labours in the same direction had left
far less to do -- the same work has been performed for the
spelling of Spenser; and the whole endeavour in this department
of the Editor's task has been, to present a text plain and easily
intelligible to the modern reader, without any injustice to the old
poet. It would be presumptuous to believe that in every case
both ends have been achieved together; but the laudatores
temporis acti - the students who may differ most from the plan
pursued in this volume -- will best appreciate the difficulty of
the enterprise, and most leniently regard any failure in the
details of its accomplishment.
With all the works of Chaucer, outside The Canterbury Tales, it
would have been absolutely impossible to deal within the scope
of this volume. But nearly one hundred pages, have been
devoted to his minor poems; and, by dint of careful selection
and judicious abridgement -- a connecting outline of the story in
all such cases being given -- the Editor ventures to hope that he
has presented fair and acceptable specimens of Chaucer's
workmanship in all styles. The preparation of this part of the
volume has been a laborious task; no similar attempt on the
same scale has been made; and, while here also the truth of the
text in matters essential has been in nowise sacrificed to mere
ease of perusal, the general reader will find opened up for him a
new view of Chaucer and his works. Before a perusal of these
hundred pages, will melt away for ever the lingering tradition or
prejudice that Chaucer was only, or characteristically, a coarse
buffoon, who pandered to a base and licentious appetite by
painting and exaggerating the lowest vices of his time. In these
selections -- made without a thought of taking only what is to
the poet's credit from a wide range of poems in which hardly a
word is to his discredit -- we behold Chaucer as he was; a
courtier, a gallant, pure-hearted gentleman, a scholar, a
philosopher, a poet of gay and vivid fancy, playing around
themes of chivalric convention, of deep human interest, or
broad-sighted satire. In The Canterbury Tales, we see, not
Chaucer, but Chaucer's times and neighbours; the artist has lost
himself in his work. To show him honestly and without disguise,
as he lived his own life and sung his own songs at the brilliant
Court of Edward III, is to do his memory a moral justice far
more material than any wrong that can ever come out of
spelling. As to the minor poems of Spenser, which follow The
Faerie Queen, the choice has been governed by the desire to
give at once the most interesting, and the most characteristic of
the poet's several styles; and, save in the case of the Sonnets,
the poems so selected are given entire. It is manifest that the
endeavours to adapt this volume for popular use, have been
already noticed, would imperfectly succeed without the aid of
notes and glossary, to explain allusions that have become
obsolete, or antiquated words which it was necessary to retain.
An endeavour has been made to render each page self-
explanatory, by placing on it all the glossarial and illustrative
notes required for its elucidation, or -- to avoid repetitions that
would have occupied space -- the references to the spot where
information may be found. The great advantage of such a plan
to the reader, is the measure of its difficulty for the editor. It
permits much more flexibility in the choice of glossarial
explanations or equivalents; it saves the distracting and time-
consuming reference to the end or the beginning of the book;
but, at the same time, it largely enhances the liability to error.
The Editor is conscious that in the 12,000 or 13,000 notes, as
well as in the innumerable minute points of spelling,
accentuation, and rhythm, he must now and again be found
tripping; he can only ask any reader who may detect all that he
could himself point out as being amiss, to set off against
inevitable mistakes and misjudgements, the conscientious labour
bestowed on the book, and the broad consideration of its fitness
for the object contemplated.
From books the Editor has derived valuable help; as from Mr
Cowden Clarke's revised modern text of The Canterbury Tales,
published in Mr Nimmo's Library Edition of the English Poets;
from Mr Wright's scholarly edition of the same work; from the
indispensable Tyrwhitt; from Mr Bell's edition of Chaucer's
Poem; from Professor Craik's "Spenser and his Poetry,"
published twenty-five years ago by Charles Knight; and from
many others. In the abridgement of the Faerie Queen, the plan
may at first sight seem to be modelled on the lines of Mr Craik's
painstaking condensation; but the coincidences are either
inevitable or involuntary. Many of the notes, especially of those
explaining classical references and those attached to the minor
poems of Chaucer, have been prepared specially for this edition.
The Editor leaves his task with the hope that his attempt to
remove artificial obstacles to the popularity of England's
earliest poets, will not altogether miscarry.
D. LAING PURVES.
LIFE OF GEOFFREY CHAUCER.
NOT in point of genius only, but even in point of time, Chaucer
may claim the proud designation of "first" English poet. He
wrote "The Court of Love" in 1345, and "The Romaunt of the
Rose," if not also "Troilus and Cressida," probably within the
next decade: the dates usually assigned to the poems of
Laurence Minot extend from 1335 to 1355, while "The Vision
of Piers Plowman" mentions events that occurred in 1360 and
1362 -- before which date Chaucer had certainly written "The
Assembly of Fowls" and his "Dream." But, though they were
his contemporaries, neither Minot nor Langland (if Langland
was the author of the Vision) at all approached Chaucer in the
finish, the force, or the universal interest of their works and the
poems of earlier writer; as Layamon and the author of the
"Ormulum," are less English than Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-
Norman. Those poems reflected the perplexed struggle for
supremacy between the two grand elements of our language,
which marked the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; a struggle
intimately associated with the political relations between the
conquering Normans and the subjugated Anglo-Saxons.
Chaucer found two branches of the language; that spoken by
the people, Teutonic in its genius and its forms; that spoken by
the learned and the noble, based on the French Yet each branch
had begun to borrow of the other -- just as nobles and people
had been taught to recognise that each needed the other in the
wars and the social tasks of the time; and Chaucer, a scholar, a
courtier, a man conversant with all orders of society, but
accustomed to speak, think, and write in the words of the
highest, by his comprehensive genius cast into the simmering
mould a magical amalgamant which made the two half-hostile
elements unite and interpenetrate each other. Before Chaucer
wrote, there were two tongues in England, keeping alive the
feuds and resentments of cruel centuries; when he laid down his
pen, there was practically but one speech -- there was, and ever
since has been, but one people.
Geoffrey Chaucer, according to the most trustworthy traditions-
for authentic testimonies on the subject are wanting -- was born
in 1328; and London is generally believed to have been his
birth-place. It is true that Leland, the biographer of England's
first great poet who lived nearest to his time, not merely speaks
of Chaucer as having been born many years later than the date
now assigned, but mentions Berkshire or Oxfordshire as the
scene of his birth. So great uncertainty have some felt on the
latter score, that elaborate parallels have been drawn between
Chaucer, and Homer -- for whose birthplace several cities
contended, and whose descent was traced to the demigods.
Leland may seem to have had fair opportunities of getting at the
truth about Chaucer's birth -- for Henry VIII had him, at the
suppression of the monasteries throughout England, to search
for records of public interest the archives of the religious
houses. But it may be questioned whether he was likely to find
many authentic particulars regarding the personal history of the
poet in the quarters which he explored; and Leland's testimony
seems to be set aside by Chaucer's own evidence as to his
birthplace, and by the contemporary references which make him
out an aged man for years preceding the accepted date of his
death. In one of his prose works, "The Testament of Love," the
poet speaks of himself in terms that strongly confirm the claim
of London to the honour of giving him birth; for he there
mentions "the city of London, that is to me so dear and sweet,
in which I was forth growen; and more kindly love," says he,
"have I to that place than to any other in earth; as every kindly
creature hath full appetite to that place of his kindly engendrure,
and to will rest and peace in that place to abide." This tolerably
direct evidence is supported -- so far as it can be at such an
interval of time -- by the learned Camden; in his Annals of
Queen Elizabeth, he describes Spencer, who was certainly born
in London, as being a fellow-citizen of Chaucer's -- "Edmundus
Spenserus, patria Londinensis, Musis adeo arridentibus natus, ut
omnes Anglicos superioris aevi poetas, ne Chaucero quidem
concive excepto, superaret." <1> The records of the time notice
more than one person of the name of Chaucer, who held
honourable positions about the Court; and though we cannot
distinctly trace the poet's relationship with any of these
namesakes or antecessors, we find excellent ground for belief
that his family or friends stood well at Court, in the ease with
which Chaucer made his way there, and in his subsequent
Like his great successor, Spencer, it was the fortune of Chaucer
to live under a splendid, chivalrous, and high-spirited reign.
1328 was the second year of Edward III; and, what with Scotch
wars, French expeditions, and the strenuous and costly struggle
to hold England in a worthy place among the States of Europe,
there was sufficient bustle, bold achievement, and high ambition
in the period to inspire a poet who was prepared to catch the
spirit of the day. It was an age of elaborate courtesy, of high-
paced gallantry, of courageous venture, of noble disdain for
mean tranquillity; and Chaucer, on the whole a man of peaceful
avocations, was penetrated to the depth of his consciousness
with the lofty and lovely civil side of that brilliant and restless
military period. No record of his youthful years, however,
remains to us; if we believe that at the age of eighteen he was a
student of Cambridge, it is only on the strength of a reference in
his "Court of Love", where the narrator is made to say that his
name is Philogenet, "of Cambridge clerk;" while he had already
told us that when he was stirred to seek the Court of Cupid he
was "at eighteen year of age." According to Leland, however,
he was educated at Oxford, proceeding thence to France and
the Netherlands, to finish his studies; but there remains no
certain evidence of his having belonged to either University. At
the same time, it is not doubted that his family was of good
condition; and, whether or not we accept the assertion that his
father held the rank of knighthood -- rejecting the hypotheses
that make him a merchant, or a vintner "at the corner of Kirton
Lane" -- it is plain, from Chaucer's whole career, that he had
introductions to public life, and recommendations to courtly
favour, wholly independent of his genius. We have the clearest
testimony that his mental training was of wide range and
thorough excellence, altogether rare for a mere courtier in those
days: his poems attest his intimate acquaintance with the
divinity, the philosophy, and the scholarship of his time, and
show him to have had the sciences, as then developed and
taught, "at his fingers' ends." Another proof of Chaucer's good
birth and fortune would he found in the statement that, after his
University career was completed, he entered the Inner Temple -
- the expenses of which could be borne only by men of noble
and opulent families; but although there is a story that he was
once fined two shillings for thrashing a Franciscan friar in Fleet
Street, we have no direct authority for believing that the poet
devoted himself to the uncongenial study of the law. No special
display of knowledge on that subject appears in his works; yet
in the sketch of the Manciple, in the Prologue to the Canterbury
Tales, may be found indications of his familiarity with the
internal economy of the Inns of Court; while numerous legal
phrases and references hint that his comprehensive information
was not at fault on legal matters. Leland says that he quitted the
University "a ready logician, a smooth rhetorician, a pleasant
poet, a grave philosopher, an ingenious mathematician, and a
holy divine;" and by all accounts, when Geoffrey Chaucer
comes before us authentically for the first time, at the age of
thirty-one, he was possessed of knowledge and
accomplishments far beyond the common standard of his day.
Chaucer at this period possessed also other qualities fitted to
recommend him to favour in a Court like that of Edward III.
Urry describes him, on the authority of a portrait, as being then
"of a fair beautiful complexion, his lips red and full, his size of a
just medium, and his port and air graceful and majestic. So,"
continues the ardent biographer, -- "so that every ornament that
could claim the approbation of the great and fair, his abilities to
record the valour of the one, and celebrate the beauty of the
other, and his wit and gentle behaviour to converse with both,
conspired to make him a complete courtier." If we believe that
his "Court of Love" had received such publicity as the literary
media of the time allowed in the somewhat narrow and select
literary world -- not to speak of "Troilus and Cressida," which,
as Lydgate mentions it first among Chaucer's works, some have
supposed to be a youthful production -- we find a third and not
less powerful recommendation to the favour of the great co-
operating with his learning and his gallant bearing. Elsewhere
<2> reasons have been shown for doubt whether "Troilus and
Cressida" should not be assigned to a later period of Chaucer's
life; but very little is positively known about the dates and
sequence of his various works. In the year 1386, being called as
witness with regard to a contest on a point of heraldry between
Lord Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor, Chaucer deposed that
he entered on his military career in 1359. In that year Edward
III invaded France, for the third time, in pursuit of his claim to
the French crown; and we may fancy that, in describing the
embarkation of the knights in "Chaucer's Dream", the poet
gained some of the vividness and stir of his picture from his
recollections of the embarkation of the splendid and well-
appointed royal host at Sandwich, on board the eleven hundred
transports provided for the enterprise. In this expedition the
laurels of Poitiers were flung on the ground; after vainly
attempting Rheims and Paris, Edward was constrained, by cruel
weather and lack of provisions, to retreat toward his ships; the
fury of the elements made the retreat more disastrous than an
overthrow in pitched battle; horses and men perished by
thousands, or fell into the hands of the pursuing French.
Chaucer, who had been made prisoner at the siege of Retters,
was among the captives in the possession of France when the
treaty of Bretigny -- the "great peace" -- was concluded, in
May, 1360. Returning to England, as we may suppose, at the
peace, the poet, ere long, fell into another and a pleasanter
captivity; for his marriage is generally believed to have taken
place shortly after his release from foreign durance. He had
already gained the personal friendship and favour of John of
Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the King's son; the Duke, while Earl
of Richmond, had courted, and won to wife after a certain
delay, Blanche, daughter and co-heiress of Henry Duke of
Lancaster; and Chaucer is by some believed to have written
"The Assembly of Fowls" to celebrate the wooing, as he wrote
"Chaucer's Dream" to celebrate the wedding, of his patron. The
marriage took place in 1359, the year of Chaucer's expedition to
France; and as, in "The Assembly of Fowls," the formel or
female eagle, who is supposed to represent the Lady Blanche,
begs that her choice of a mate may be deferred for a year, 1358
and 1359 have been assigned as the respective dates of the two
poems already mentioned. In the "Dream," Chaucer
prominently introduces his own lady-love, to whom, after the
happy union of his patron with the Lady Blanche, he is wedded
amid great rejoicing; and various expressions in the same poem
show that not only was the poet high in favour with the
illustrious pair, but that his future wife had also peculiar claims
on their regard. She was the younger daughter of Sir Payne
Roet, a native of Hainault, who had, like many of his
countrymen, been attracted to England by the example and
patronage of Queen Philippa. The favourite attendant on the
Lady Blanche was her elder sister Katherine: subsequently
married to Sir Hugh Swynford, a gentleman of Lincolnshire;
and destined, after the death of Blanche, to be in succession
governess of her children, mistress of John of Gaunt, and
lawfully-wedded Duchess of Lancaster. It is quite sufficient
proof that Chaucer's position at Court was of no mean
consequence, to find that his wife, the sister of the future
Duchess of Lancaster, was one of the royal maids of honour,
and even, as Sir Harris Nicolas conjectures, a god-daughter of
the Queen -- for her name also was Philippa.
Between 1359, when the poet himself testifies that he was made
prisoner while bearing arms in France, and September 1366,
when Queen Philippa granted to her former maid of honour, by
the name of Philippa Chaucer, a yearly pension of ten marks, or
L6, 13s. 4d., we have no authentic mention of Chaucer, express
or indirect. It is plain from this grant that the poet's marriage
with Sir Payne Roet's daughter was not celebrated later than
1366; the probability is, that it closely followed his return from
the wars. In 1367, Edward III. settled upon Chaucer a life-
pension of twenty marks, "for the good service which our
beloved Valet -- 'dilectus Valettus noster' -- Geoffrey Chaucer
has rendered, and will render in time to come." Camden
explains 'Valettus hospitii' to signify a Gentleman of the Privy
Chamber; Selden says that the designation was bestowed "upon
young heirs designed to he knighted, or young gentlemen of
great descent and quality." Whatever the strict meaning of the
word, it is plain that the poet's position was honourable and
near to the King's person, and also that his worldly
circumstances were easy, if not affluent -- for it need not be said
that twenty marks in those days represented twelve or twenty
times the sum in these. It is believed that he found powerful
patronage, not merely from the Duke of Lancaster and his wife,
but from Margaret Countess of Pembroke, the King's daughter.
To her Chaucer is supposed to have addressed the "Goodly
Ballad", in which the lady is celebrated under the image of the
daisy; her he is by some understood to have represented under
the title of Queen Alcestis, in the "Court of Love" and the
Prologue to "The Legend of Good Women;" and in her praise
we may read his charming descriptions and eulogies of the daisy
-- French, "Marguerite," the name of his Royal patroness. To
this period of Chaucer's career we may probably attribute the
elegant and courtly, if somewhat conventional, poems of "The
Flower and the Leaf," "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale," &c.
"The Lady Margaret," says Urry, ". . . would frequently
compliment him upon his poems. But this is not to be meant of
his Canterbury Tales, they being written in the latter part of his
life, when the courtier and the fine gentleman gave way to solid
sense and plain descriptions. In his love-pieces he was obliged
to have the strictest regard to modesty and decency; the ladies
at that time insisting so much upon the nicest punctilios of
honour, that it was highly criminal to depreciate their sex, or do
anything that might offend virtue." Chaucer, in their estimation,
had sinned against the dignity and honour of womankind by his
translation of the French "Roman de la Rose," and by his
"Troilus and Cressida" -- assuming it to have been among his
less mature works; and to atone for those offences the Lady
Margaret (though other and older accounts say that it was the
first Queen of Richard II., Anne of Bohemia), prescribed to him
the task of writing "The Legend of Good Women" (see
introductory note to that poem). About this period, too, we
may place the composition of Chaucer's A. B. C., or The Prayer
of Our Lady, made at the request of the Duchess Blanche, a
lady of great devoutness in her private life. She died in 1369;
and Chaucer, as he had allegorised her wooing, celebrated her
marriage, and aided her devotions, now lamented her death, in a
poem entitled "The Book of the Duchess; or, the Death of
In 1370, Chaucer was employed on the King's service abroad;
and in November 1372, by the title of "Scutifer noster" -- our
Esquire or Shield-bearer -- he was associated with "Jacobus
Pronan," and "Johannes de Mari civis Januensis," in a royal
commission, bestowing full powers to treat with the Duke of
Genoa, his Council, and State. The object of the embassy was
to negotiate upon the choice of an English port at which the
Genoese might form a commercial establishment; and Chaucer,
having quitted England in December, visited Genoa and
Florence, and returned to England before the end of November
1373 -- for on that day he drew his pension from the Exchequer
in person. The most interesting point connected with this Italian
mission is the question, whether Chaucer visited Petrarch at
Padua. That he did, is unhesitatingly affirmed by the old
biographers; but the authentic notices of Chaucer during the
years 1372-1373, as shown by the researches of Sir Harris
Nicolas, are confined to the facts already stated; and we are left
to answer the question by the probabilities of the case, and by
the aid of what faint light the poet himself affords. We can
scarcely fancy that Chaucer, visiting Italy for the first time, in a
capacity which opened for him easy access to the great and the
famous, did not embrace the chance of meeting a poet whose
works he evidently knew in their native tongue, and highly
esteemed. With Mr Wright, we are strongly disinclined to
believe "that Chaucer did not profit by the opportunity . . . of
improving his acquaintance with the poetry, if not the poets, of
the country he thus visited, whose influence was now being felt
on the literature of most countries of Western Europe." That
Chaucer was familiar with the Italian language appears not
merely from his repeated selection as Envoy to Italian States,
but by many passages in his poetry, from "The Assembly of
Fowls" to "The Canterbury Tales." In the opening of the first
poem there is a striking parallel to Dante's inscription on the
gate of Hell. The first Song of Troilus, in "Troilus and
Cressida", is a nearly literal translation of Petrarch's 88th
Sonnet. In the Prologue to "The Legend of Good Women",
there is a reference to Dante which can hardly have reached the
poet at second- hand. And in Chaucer's great work -- as in The
Wife of Bath's Tale, and The Monk's Tale -- direct reference by
name is made to Dante, "the wise poet of Florence," "the great
poet of Italy," as the source whence the author has quoted.
When we consider the poet's high place in literature and at
Court, which could not fail to make him free of the hospitalities
of the brilliant little Lombard States; his familiarity with the
tongue and the works of Italy's greatest bards, dead and living;
the reverential regard which he paid to the memory of great
poets, of which we have examples in "The House of Fame," and
at the close of "Troilus and Cressida" <4>; along with his own
testimony in the Prologue to The Clerk's Tale, we cannot fail to
construe that testimony as a declaration that the Tale was
actually told to Chaucer by the lips of Petrarch, in 1373, the
very year in which Petrarch translated it into Latin, from
Boccaccio's "Decameron."<5> Mr Bell notes the objection to
this interpretation, that the words are put into the mouth, not of
the poet, but of the Clerk; and meets it by the counter-
objection, that the Clerk, being a purely imaginary personage,
could not have learned the story at Padua from Petrarch -- and
therefore that Chaucer must have departed from the dramatic
assumption maintained in the rest of the dialogue. Instances
could be adduced from Chaucer's writings to show that such a
sudden "departure from the dramatic assumption" would not be
unexampled: witness the "aside" in The Wife of Bath's
Prologue, where, after the jolly Dame has asserted that "half so
boldly there can no man swear and lie as a woman can", the
poet hastens to interpose, in his own person, these two lines:
"I say not this by wives that be wise,
But if it be when they them misadvise."
And again, in the Prologue to the "Legend of Good Women,"
from a description of the daisy --
"She is the clearness and the very light,
That in this darke world me guides and leads,"
the poet, in the very next lines, slides into an address to his lady:
"The heart within my sorrowful heart you dreads
And loves so sore, that ye be, verily,
The mistress of my wit, and nothing I," &c.
When, therefore, the Clerk of Oxford is made to say that he will
tell a tale --
"The which that I
Learn'd at Padova of a worthy clerk,
As proved by his wordes and his werk.
He is now dead, and nailed in his chest,
I pray to God to give his soul good rest.
Francis Petrarc', the laureate poete,
Highte this clerk, whose rhetoric so sweet
Illumin'd all Itaile of poetry. . . .
But forth to tellen of this worthy man,
That taughte me this tale, as I began." . . .
we may without violent effort believe that Chaucer speaks in his
own person, though dramatically the words are on the Clerk's
lips. And the belief is not impaired by the sorrowful way in
which the Clerk lingers on Petrarch's death -- which would be
less intelligible if the fictitious narrator had only read the story
in the Latin translation, than if we suppose the news of
Petrarch's death at Arqua in July 1374 to have closely followed
Chaucer to England, and to have cruelly and irresistibly mingled
itself with our poet's personal recollections of his great Italian
contemporary. Nor must we regard as without significance the
manner in which the Clerk is made to distinguish between the
"body" of Petrarch's tale, and the fashion in which it was set
forth in writing, with a proem that seemed "a thing
impertinent", save that the poet had chosen in that way to
"convey his matter" -- told, or "taught," so much more directly
and simply by word of mouth. It is impossible to pronounce
positively on the subject; the question whether Chaucer saw
Petrarch in 1373 must remain a moot-point, so long as we have
only our present information; but fancy loves to dwell on the
thought of the two poets conversing under the vines at Arqua;
and we find in the history and the writings of Chaucer nothing
to contradict, a good deal to countenance, the belief that such a
Though we have no express record, we have indirect testimony,
that Chaucer's Genoese mission was discharged satisfactorily;
for on the 23d of April 1374, Edward III grants at Windsor to
the poet, by the title of "our beloved squire" -- dilecto Armigero
nostro -- unum pycher. vini, "one pitcher of wine" daily, to be
"perceived" in the port of London; a grant which, on the
analogy of more modern usage, might he held equivalent to
Chaucer's appointment as Poet Laureate. When we find that
soon afterwards the grant was commuted for a money payment
of twenty marks per annum, we need not conclude that
Chaucer's circumstances were poor; for it may be easily
supposed that the daily "perception" of such an article of
income was attended with considerable prosaic inconvenience.
A permanent provision for Chaucer was made on the 8th of
June 1374, when he was appointed Controller of the Customs in
the Port of London, for the lucrative imports of wools, skins or
"wool-fells," and tanned hides -- on condition that he should
fulfil the duties of that office in person and not by deputy, and
should write out the accounts with his own hand. We have
what seems evidence of Chaucer's compliance with these terms
in "The House of Fame", where, in the mouth of the eagle, the
poet describes himself, when he has finished his labour and
made his reckonings, as not seeking rest and news in social
intercourse, but going home to his own house, and there, "all so
dumb as any stone," sitting "at another book," until his look is
dazed; and again, in the record that in 1376 he received a grant
of L731, 4s. 6d., the amount of a fine levied on one John Kent,
whom Chaucer's vigilance had frustrated in the attempt to ship a
quantity of wool for Dordrecht without paying the duty. The
seemingly derogatory condition, that the Controller should
write out the accounts or rolls ("rotulos") of his office with his
own hand, appears to have been designed, or treated, as merely
formal; no records in Chaucer's handwriting are known to exist
-- which could hardly be the case if, for the twelve years of his
Controllership (1374-1386), he had duly complied with the
condition; and during that period he was more than once
employed abroad, so that the condition was evidently regarded
as a formality even by those who had imposed it. Also in 1374,
the Duke of Lancaster, whose ambitious views may well have
made him anxious to retain the adhesion of a man so capable
and accomplished as Chaucer, changed into a joint life-annuity
remaining to the survivor, and charged on the revenues of the
Savoy, a pension of L10 which two years before he settled on
the poet's wife -- whose sister was then the governess of the
Duke's two daughters, Philippa and Elizabeth, and the Duke's
own mistress. Another proof of Chaucer's personal reputation
and high Court favour at this time, is his selection (1375) as
ward to the son of Sir Edmond Staplegate of Bilsynton, in Kent;
a charge on the surrender of which the guardian received no
less a sum than L104.
We find Chaucer in 1376 again employed on a foreign mission.
In 1377, the last year of Edward III., he was sent to Flanders
with Sir Thomas Percy, afterwards Earl of Worcester, for the
purpose of obtaining a prolongation of the truce; and in January
13738, he was associated with Sir Guichard d'Angle and other
Commissioners, to pursue certain negotiations for a marriage
between Princess Mary of France and the young King Richard
II., which had been set on foot before the death of Edward III.
The negotiation, however, proved fruitless; and in May 1378,
Chaucer was selected to accompany Sir John Berkeley on a
mission to the Court of Bernardo Visconti, Duke of Milan, with
the view, it is supposed, of concerting military plans against the
outbreak of war with France. The new King, meantime, had
shown that he was not insensible to Chaucer's merit -- or to the
influence of his tutor and the poet's patron, the Duke of
Lancaster; for Richard II. confirmed to Chaucer his pension of
twenty marks, along with an equal annual sum, for which the
daily pitcher of wine granted in 1374 had been commuted.
Before his departure for Lombardy, Chaucer -- still holding his
post in the Customs -- selected two representatives or trustees,
to protect his estate against legal proceedings in his absence, or
to sue in his name defaulters and offenders against the imposts
which he was charged to enforce. One of these trustees was
called Richard Forrester; the other was John Gower, the poet,
the most famous English contemporary of Chaucer, with whom
he had for many years been on terms of admiring friendship --
although, from the strictures passed on certain productions of
Gower's in the Prologue to The Man of Law's Tale,<6> it has
been supposed that in the later years of Chaucer's life the
friendship suffered some diminution. To the "moral Gower" and
"the philosophical Strode," Chaucer "directed" or dedicated his
"Troilus and Cressida;" <7> while, in the "Confessio Amantis,"
Gower introduces a handsome compliment to his greater
contemporary, as the "disciple and the poet" of Venus, with
whose glad songs and ditties, made in her praise during the
flowers of his youth, the land was filled everywhere. Gower,
however -- a monk and a Conservative -- held to the party of
the Duke of Gloucester, the rival of the Wycliffite and
innovating Duke of Lancaster, who was Chaucer's patron, and
whose cause was not a little aided by Chaucer's strictures on the
clergy; and thus it is not impossible that political differences
may have weakened the old bonds of personal friendship and
poetic esteem. Returning from Lombardy early in 1379,
Chaucer seems to have been again sent abroad; for the records
exhibit no trace of him between May and December of that
year. Whether by proxy or in person, however, he received his
pensions regularly until 1382, when his income was increased
by his appointment to the post of Controller of Petty Customs
in the port of London. In November 1384, he obtained a
month's leave of absence on account of his private affairs, and a
deputy was appointed to fill his place; and in February of the
next year he was permitted to appoint a permanent deputy --
thus at length gaining relief from that close attention to business
which probably curtailed the poetic fruits of the poet's most
powerful years. <8>
Chaucer is next found occupying a post which has not often
been held by men gifted with his peculiar genius -- that of a
county member. The contest between the Dukes of Gloucester
and Lancaster, and their adherents, for the control of the
Government, was coming to a crisis; and when the recluse and
studious Chaucer was induced to offer himself to the electors of
Kent as one of the knights of their shire -- where presumably he
held property -- we may suppose that it was with the view of
supporting his patron's cause in the impending conflict. The
Parliament in which the poet sat assembled at Westminster on
the 1st of October, and was dissolved on the 1st of November,
1386. Lancaster was fighting and intriguing abroad, absorbed in
the affairs of his Castilian succession; Gloucester and his friends
at home had everything their own way; the Earl of Suffolk was
dismissed from the woolsack, and impeached by the Commons;
and although Richard at first stood out courageously for the
friends of his uncle Lancaster, he was constrained, by the refusal
of supplies, to consent to the proceedings of Gloucester. A
commission was wrung from him, under protest, appointing
Gloucester, Arundel, and twelve other Peers and prelates, a
permanent council to inquire into the condition of all the public
departments, the courts of law, and the royal household, with
absolute powers of redress and dismissal. We need not ascribe
to Chaucer's Parliamentary exertions in his patron's behalf, nor
to any malpractices in his official conduct, the fact that he was
among the earliest victims of the commission.<9> In December
1386, he was dismissed from both his offices in the port of
London; but he retained his pensions, and drew them regularly
twice a year at the Exchequer until 1388. In 1387, Chaucer's
political reverses were aggravated by a severe domestic
calamity: his wife died, and with her died the pension which had
been settled on her by Queen Philippa in 1366, and confirmed to
her at Richard's accession in 1377. The change made in
Chaucer's pecuniary position, by the loss of his offices and his
wife's pension, must have been very great. It would appear that
during his prosperous times he had lived in a style quite equal to
his income, and had no ample resources against a season of
reverse; for, on the 1st of May 1388, less than a year and a half
after being dismissed from the Customs, he was constrained to
assign his pensions, by surrender in Chancery, to one John
Scalby. In May 1389, Richard II., now of age, abruptly
resumed the reins of government, which, for more than two
years, had been ably but cruelly managed by Gloucester. The
friends of Lancaster were once more supreme in the royal
councils, and Chaucer speedily profited by the change. On the
12th of July he was appointed Clerk of the King's Works at the
Palace of Westminster, the Tower, the royal manors of
Kennington, Eltham, Clarendon, Sheen, Byfleet, Childern
Langley, and Feckenham, the castle of Berkhamstead, the royal
lodge of Hathenburgh in the New Forest, the lodges in the
parks of Clarendon, Childern Langley, and Feckenham, and the
mews for the King's falcons at Charing Cross; he received a
salary of two shillings per day, and was allowed to perform the
duties by deputy. For some reason unknown, Chaucer held this
lucrative office <10> little more than two years, quitting it
before the 16th of September 1391, at which date it had passed
into the hands of one John Gedney. The next two years and a
half are a blank, so far as authentic records are concerned;
Chaucer is supposed to have passed them in retirement,
probably devoting them principally to the composition of The
Canterbury Tales. In February 1394, the King conferred upon
him a grant of L20 a year for life; but he seems to have had no
other source of income, and to have become embarrassed by
debt, for frequent memoranda of small advances on his pension
show that his circumstances were, in comparison, greatly
reduced. Things appear to have grown worse and worse with
the poet; for in May 1398 he was compelled to obtain from the
King letters of protection against arrest, extending over a term
of two years. Not for the first time, it is true -- for similar
documents had been issued at the beginning of Richard's reign;
but at that time Chaucer's missions abroad, and his responsible
duties in the port of London, may have furnished reasons for
securing him against annoyance or frivolous prosecution, which
were wholly wanting at the later date. In 1398, fortune began
again to smile upon him; he received a royal grant of a tun of
wine annually, the value being about L4. Next year, Richard II
having been deposed by the son of John of Gaunt <11> --
Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster -- the new King, four
days after hits accession, bestowed on Chaucer a grant of forty
marks (L26, 13s. 4d.) per annum, in addition to the pension of
L20 conferred by Richard II. in 1394. But the poet, now
seventy-one years of age, and probably broken down by the
reverses of the past few years, was not destined long to enjoy
his renewed prosperity. On Christmas Eve of 1399, he entered
on the possession of a house in the garden of the Chapel of the
Blessed Mary of Westminster -- near to the present site of
Henry VII.'s Chapel -- having obtained a lease from Robert
Hermodesworth, a monk of the adjacent convent, for fifty-three
years, at the annual rent of four marks (L2, 13s. 4d.) Until the
1st of March 1400, Chaucer drew his pensions in person; then
they were received for him by another hand; and on the 25th of
October, in the same year, he died, at the age of seventy-two.
The only lights thrown by his poems on his closing days are
furnished in the little ballad called "Good Counsel of Chaucer,"
-- which, though said to have been written when "upon his
death-bed lying in his great anguish, "breathes the very spirit of
courage, resignation, and philosophic calm; and by the
"Retractation" at the end of The Canterbury Tales, which, if it
was not foisted in by monkish transcribers, may be supposed the
effect of Chaucer's regrets and self-reproaches on that solemn
review of his life-work which the close approach of death
compelled. The poet was buried in Westminster Abbey; <12>
and not many years after his death a slab was placed on a pillar
near his grave, bearing the lines, taken from an epitaph or
eulogy made by Stephanus Surigonus of Milan, at the request of
"Galfridus Chaucer, vates, et fama poesis
Maternae, hoc sacra sum tumulatus humo." <13>
About 1555, Mr Nicholas Brigham, a gentleman of Oxford who
greatly admired the genius of Chaucer, erected the present
tomb, as near to the spot where the poet lay, "before the chapel
of St Benet," as was then possible by reason of the "cancelli,"
<14> which the Duke of Buckingham subsequently obtained
leave to remove, that room might be made for the tomb of
Dryden. On the structure of Mr Brigham, besides a full-length
representation of Chaucer, taken from a portrait drawn by his
"scholar" Thomas Occleve, was -- or is, though now almost
illegible -- the following inscription:--
QUI FUIT ANGLORUM VATES TER MAXIMUS OLIM,
GALFRIDUS CHAUCER CONDITUR HOC TUMULO;
ANNUM SI QUAERAS DOMINI, SI TEMPORA VITAE,
ECCE NOTAE SUBSUNT, QUE TIBI CUNCTA NOTANT.
25 OCTOBRIS 1400.
AERUMNARUM REQUIES MORS.
N. BRIGHAM HOS FECIT MUSARUM NOMINE SUMPTUS
Concerning his personal appearance and habits, Chaucer has not
been reticent in his poetry. Urry sums up the traits of his aspect
and character fairly thus: "He was of a middle stature, the latter
part of his life inclinable to be fat and corpulent, as appears by
the Host's bantering him in the journey to Canterbury, and
comparing shapes with him.<16> His face was fleshy, his
features just and regular, his complexion fair, and somewhat
pale, his hair of a dusky yellow, short and thin; the hair of his
beard in two forked tufts, of a wheat colour; his forehead broad
and smooth; his eyes inclining usually to the ground, which is
intimated by the Host's words; his whole face full of liveliness, a
calm, easy sweetness, and a studious Venerable aspect. . . . As
to his temper, he had a mixture of the gay, the modest, and the
grave. The sprightliness of his humour was more distinguished
by his writings than by his appearance; which gave occasion to
Margaret Countess of Pembroke often to rally him upon his
silent modesty in company, telling him, that his absence was
more agreeable to her than his conversation, since the first was
productive of agreeable pieces of wit in his writings, <17> but
the latter was filled with a modest deference, and a too distant
respect. We see nothing merry or jocose in his behaviour with
his pilgrims, but a silent attention to their mirth, rather than any
mixture of his own. . . When disengaged from public affairs, his
time was entirely spent in study and reading; so agreeable to
him was this exercise, that he says he preferred it to all other
sports and diversions.<18> He lived within himself, neither
desirous to hear nor busy to concern himself with the affairs of
his neighbours. His course of living was temperate and regular;
he went to rest with the sun, and rose before it; and by that
means enjoyed the pleasures of the better part of the day, his
morning walk and fresh contemplations. This gave him the
advantage of describing the morning in so lively a manner as he
does everywhere in his works. The springing sun glows warm in
his lines, and the fragrant air blows cool in his descriptions; we
smell the sweets of the bloomy haws, and hear the music of the
feathered choir, whenever we take a forest walk with him. The
hour of the day is not easier to be discovered from the reflection
of the sun in Titian's paintings, than in Chaucer's morning
landscapes. . . . His reading was deep and extensive, his
judgement sound and discerning. . . In one word, he was a great
scholar, a pleasant wit, a candid critic, a sociable companion, a
steadfast friend, a grave philosopher, a temperate economist,
and a pious Christian."
Chaucer's most important poems are "Troilus and Cressida,"
"The Romaunt of the Rose," and "The Canterbury Tales." Of
the first, containing 8246 lines, an abridgement, with a prose
connecting outline of the story, is given in this volume. With the
second, consisting of 7699 octosyllabic verses, like those in
which "The House of Fame" is written, it was found impossible
to deal in the present edition. The poem is a curtailed translation
from the French "Roman de la Rose" -- commenced by
Guillaume de Lorris, who died in 1260, after contributing 4070
verses, and completed, in the last quarter of the thirteenth
century, by Jean de Meun, who added some 18,000 verses. It is
a satirical allegory, in which the vices of courts, the corruptions
of the clergy, the disorders and inequalities of society in general,
are unsparingly attacked, and the most revolutionary doctrines
are advanced; and though, in making his translation, Chaucer
softened or eliminated much of the satire of the poem, still it
remained, in his verse, a caustic exposure of the abuses of the
time, especially those which discredited the Church.
The Canterbury Tales are presented in this edition with as near
an approach to completeness as regard for the popular character
of the volume permitted. The 17,385 verses, of which the
poetical Tales consist, have been given without abridgement or
purgation -- save in a single couplet; but, the main purpose of
the volume being to make the general reader acquainted with
the "poems" of Chaucer and Spenser, the Editor has ventured to
contract the two prose Tales -- Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus,
and the Parson's Sermon or Treatise on Penitence -- so as to
save about thirty pages for the introduction of Chaucer's minor
pieces. At the same time, by giving prose outlines of the omitted
parts, it has been sought to guard the reader against the fear
that he was losing anything essential, or even valuable. It is
almost needless to describe the plot, or point out the literary
place, of the Canterbury Tales. Perhaps in the entire range of
ancient and modern literature there is no work that so clearly
and freshly paints for future times the picture of the past;
certainly no Englishman has ever approached Chaucer in the
power of fixing for ever the fleeting traits of his own time. The
plan of the poem had been adopted before Chaucer chose it;
notably in the "Decameron" of Boccaccio -- although, there, the
circumstances under which the tales were told, with the terror
of the plague hanging over the merry company, lend a grim
grotesqueness to the narrative, unless we can look at it
abstracted from its setting. Chaucer, on the other hand, strikes
a perpetual key-note of gaiety whenever he mentions the word
"pilgrimage;" and at every stage of the connecting story we
bless the happy thought which gives us incessant incident,
movement, variety, and unclouded but never monotonous
The poet, the evening before he starts on a pilgrimage to the
shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury, lies at the Tabard Inn, in
Southwark, curious to know in what companionship he is
destined to fare forward on the morrow. Chance sends him
"nine and twenty in a company," representing all orders of
English society, lay and clerical, from the Knight and the Abbot
down to the Ploughman and the Sompnour. The jolly Host of
the Tabard, after supper, when tongues are loosened and hearts
are opened, declares that "not this year" has he seen such a
company at once under his roof-tree, and proposes that, when
they set out next morning, he should ride with them and make
them sport. All agree, and Harry Bailly unfolds his scheme: each
pilgrim, including the poet, shall tell two tales on the road to
Canterbury, and two on the way back to London; and he whom
the general voice pronounces to have told the best tale, shall be
treated to a supper at the common cost -- and, of course, to
mine Host's profit -- when the cavalcade returns from the saint's
shrine to the Southwark hostelry. All joyously assent; and early
on the morrow, in the gay spring sunshine, they ride forth,
listening to the heroic tale of the brave and gentle Knight, who
has been gracefully chosen by the Host to lead the spirited
competition of story-telling.
To describe thus the nature of the plan, and to say that when
Chaucer conceived, or at least began to execute it, he was
between sixty and seventy years of age, is to proclaim that The
Canterbury Tales could never be more than a fragment. Thirty
pilgrims, each telling two tales on the way out, and two more
on the way back -- that makes 120 tales; to say nothing of the
prologue, the description of the journey, the occurrences at
Canterbury, "and all the remnant of their pilgrimage," which
Chaucer also undertook. No more than twenty-three of the 120
stories are told in the work as it comes down to us; that is, only
twenty-three of the thirty pilgrims tell the first of the two stories
on the road to Canterbury; while of the stories on the return
journey we have not one, and nothing is said about the doings
of the pilgrims at Canterbury -- which would, if treated like the
scene at the Tabard, have given us a still livelier "picture of the
period." But the plan was too large; and although the poet had
some reserves, in stories which he had already composed in an
independent form, death cut short his labour ere he could even
complete the arrangement and connection of more than a very
few of the Tales. Incomplete as it is, however, the magnum
opus of Chaucer was in his own time received with immense
favour; manuscript copies are numerous even now -- no slight
proof of its popularity; and when the invention of printing was
introduced into England by William Caxton, The Canterbury
Tales issued from his press in the year after the first English-
printed book, "The Game of the Chesse," had been struck off.
Innumerable editions have since been published; and it may
fairly be affirmed, that few books have been so much in favour
with the reading public of every generation as this book, which
the lapse of every generation has been rendering more
Apart from "The Romaunt of the Rose," no really important
poetical work of Chaucer's is omitted from or unrepresented in
the present edition. Of "The Legend of Good Women," the
Prologue only is given -- but it is the most genuinely Chaucerian
part of the poem. Of "The Court of Love," three-fourths are
here presented; of "The Assembly of Fowls," "The Cuckoo and
the Nightingale," "The Flower and the Leaf," all; of "Chaucer's
Dream," one-fourth; of "The House of Fame," two-thirds; and
of the minor poems such a selection as may give an idea of
Chaucer's power in the "occasional" department of verse.
Necessarily, no space whatever could be given to Chaucer's
prose works -- his translation of Boethius' Treatise on the
Consolation of Philosophy; his Treatise on the Astrolabe,
written for the use of his son Lewis; and his "Testament of
Love," composed in his later years, and reflecting the troubles
that then beset the poet. If, after studying in a simplified form
the salient works of England's first great bard, the reader is
tempted to regret that he was not introduced to a wider
acquaintance with the author, the purpose of the Editor will
have been more than attained.
The plan of the volume does not demand an elaborate
examination into the state of our language when Chaucer wrote,
or the nice questions of grammatical and metrical structure
which conspire with the obsolete orthography to make his
poems a sealed book for the masses. The most important
element in the proper reading of Chaucer's verses -- whether
written in the decasyllabic or heroic metre, which he introduced
into our literature, or in the octosyllabic measure used with such
animated effect in "The House of Fame," "Chaucer's Dream,"
&c. -- is the sounding of the terminal "e" where it is now silent.
That letter is still valid in French poetry; and Chaucer's lines can
be scanned only by reading them as we would read Racine's or
Moliere's. The terminal "e" played an important part in
grammar; in many cases it was the sign of the infinitive -- the
"n" being dropped from the end; at other times it pointed the
distinction between singular and plural, between adjective and
adverb. The pages that follow, however, being prepared from
the modern English point of view, necessarily no account is
taken of those distinctions; and the now silent "e" has been
retained in the text of Chaucer only when required by the
modern spelling, or by the exigencies of metre.
Before a word beginning with a vowel, or with the letter "h,"
the final "e" was almost without exception mute; and in such
cases, in the plural forms and infinitives of verbs, the terminal
"n" is generally retained for the sake of euphony. No reader
who is acquainted with the French language will find it hard to
fall into Chaucer's accentuation; while, for such as are not, a
simple perusal of the text according to the rules of modern
verse, should remove every difficulty.
Notes to Life of Geoffrey Chaucer
1. "Edmund Spenser, a native of London, was born with a Muse
of such power, that he was superior to all English poets of
preceding ages, not excepting his fellow-citizen Chaucer."
2. See introduction to "The Legend of Good Women".
3. Called in the editions before 1597 "The Dream of Chaucer".
The poem, which is not included in the present edition, does
indeed, like many of Chaucer's smaller works, tell the story of a
dream, in which a knight, representing John of Gaunt, is found
by the poet mourning the loss of his lady; but the true "Dream
of Chaucer," in which he celebrates the marriage of his patron,
was published for the first time by Speght in 1597. John of
Gaunt, in the end of 1371, married his second wife, Constance,
daughter to Pedro the Cruel of Spain; so that "The Book of the
Duchess" must have been written between 1369 and 1371.
4. Where he bids his "little book"
"Subject be unto all poesy,
And kiss the steps, where as thou seest space,
Of Virgil, Ovid, Homer, Lucan, Stace."
5. See note 1 to The Tale in The Clerk's Tale.
6. See note 1 to The Man of Law's Tale.
7. "Written," says Mr Wright, "in the sixteenth year of the reign
of Richard II. (1392-1393);" a powerful confirmation of the
opinion that this poem was really produced in Chaucer's mature
age. See the introductory notes to it and to the Legend of Good
8. The old biographers of Chaucer, founding on what they took
to be autobiographic allusions in "The Testament of Love,"
assign to him between 1354 and 1389 a very different history
from that here given on the strength of authentic records
explored and quoted by Sir H. Nicolas. Chaucer is made to
espouse the cause of John of Northampton, the Wycliffite Lord
Mayor of London, whose re-election in 1384 was so
vehemently opposed by the clergy, and who was imprisoned in
the sequel of the grave disorders that arose. The poet, it is said,
fled to the Continent, taking with him a large sum of money,
which he spent in supporting companions in exile; then,
returning by stealth to England in quest of funds, he was
detected and sent to the Tower, where he languished for three
years, being released only on the humiliating condition of
informing against his associates in the plot. The public records
show, however, that, all the time of his alleged exile and
captivity, he was quietly living in London, regularly drawing his
pensions in person, sitting in Parliament, and discharging his
duties in the Customs until his dismissal in 1386. It need not be
said, further, that although Chaucer freely handled the errors,
the ignorance, and vices of the clergy, he did so rather as a man
of sense and of conscience, than as a Wycliffite -- and there is
no evidence that he espoused the opinions of the zealous
Reformer, far less played the part of an extreme and self-
regardless partisan of his old friend and college-companion.
9. "The Commissioners appear to have commenced their
labours with examining the accounts of the officers employed in
the collection of the revenue; and the sequel affords a strong
presumption that the royal administration [under Lancaster and
his friends] had been foully calumniated. We hear not of any
frauds discovered, or of defaulters punished, or of grievances
redressed." Such is the testimony of Lingard (chap. iv., 1386),
all the more valuable for his aversion from the Wycliffite
leanings of John of Gaunt. Chaucer's department in the London
Customs was in those days one of the most important and
lucrative in the kingdom; and if mercenary abuse of his post
could have been proved, we may be sure that his and his
patron's enemies would not have been content with simple
dismissal, but would have heavily amerced or imprisoned him.
10. The salary was L36, 10s. per annum; the salary of the Chief
Judges was L40, of the Puisne Judges about L27. Probably the
Judges -- certainly the Clerk of the Works -- had fees or
perquisites besides the stated payment.
11. Chaucer's patron had died earlier in 1399, during the exile
of his son (then Duke of Hereford) in France. The Duchess
Constance had died in 1394; and the Duke had made reparation
to Katherine Swynford -- who had already borne him four
children -- by marrying her in 1396, with the approval of
Richard II., who legitimated the children, and made the eldest
son of the poet's sister-in-law Earl of Somerset. From this long-
illicit union sprang the house of Beaufort -- that being the
surname of the Duke's children by Katherine, after the name of
the castle in Anjou (Belfort, or Beaufort) where they were born.
12. Of Chaucer's two sons by Philippa Roet, his only wife, the
younger, Lewis, for whom he wrote the Treatise on the
Astrolabe, died young. The elder, Thomas, married Maud, the
second daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Burghersh, brother
of the Bishop of Lincoln, the Chancellor and Treasurer of
England. By this marriage Thomas Chaucer acquired great
estates in Oxfordshire and elsewhere; and he figured
prominently in the second rank of courtiers for many years. He
was Chief Butler to Richard II.; under Henry IV. he was
Constable of Wallingford Castle, Steward of the Honours of
Wallingford and St Valery, and of the Chiltern Hundreds; and
the queen of Henry IV. granted him the farm of several of her
manors, a grant subsequently confirmed to him for life by the
King, after the Queen's death. He sat in Parliament repeatedly
for Oxfordshire, was Speaker in 1414, and in the same year
went to France as commissioner to negotiate the marriage of
Henry V. with the Princess Katherine. He held, before he died
in 1434, various other posts of trust and distinction; but he left
no heirs-male. His only child, Alice Chaucer, married twice;
first Sir John Philip; and afterwards the Duke of Suffolk --
attainted and beheaded in 1450. She had three children by the
Duke; and her eldest son married the Princess Elizabeth, sister
of Edward IV. The eldest son of this marriage, created Earl of
Lincoln, was declared by Richard III heir-apparent to the
throne, in case the Prince of Wales should die without issue; but
the death of Lincoln himself, at the battle of Stoke in 1487,
destroyed all prospect that the poet's descendants might
succeed to the crown of England; and his family is now believed
to be extinct.
13. "Geoffrey Chaucer, bard, and famous mother of poetry, is
buried in this sacred ground."
15 Translation of the epitaph: This tomb was built for Geoffrey
Chaucer, who in his time was the greatest poet of the English. If
you ask the year of his death, behold the words beneath, which
tell you all. Death gave him rest from his toil, 25th of October
1400. N Brigham bore the cost of these words in the name of
the Muses. 1556.
16. See the Prologue to Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas.
17. See the "Goodly Ballad of Chaucer," seventh stanza.
18. See the opening of the Prologue to "The Legend of Good
Women," and the poet's account of his habits in "The House of
THE CANTERBURY TALES.
WHEN that Aprilis, with his showers swoot*, *sweet
The drought of March hath pierced to the root,
And bathed every vein in such licour,
Of which virtue engender'd is the flower;
When Zephyrus eke with his swoote breath
Inspired hath in every holt* and heath *grove, forest
The tender croppes* and the younge sun *twigs, boughs
Hath in the Ram <1> his halfe course y-run,
And smalle fowles make melody,
That sleepen all the night with open eye,
(So pricketh them nature in their corages*); *hearts, inclinations
Then longe folk to go on pilgrimages,
And palmers <2> for to seeke strange strands,
To *ferne hallows couth* in sundry lands; *distant saints known*<3>
And specially, from every shire's end
Of Engleland, to Canterbury they wend,
The holy blissful Martyr for to seek,
That them hath holpen*, when that they were sick. *helped
Befell that, in that season on a day,
In Southwark at the Tabard <4> as I lay,
Ready to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury with devout corage,
At night was come into that hostelry
Well nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry folk, *by aventure y-fall *who had by chance fallen
In fellowship*, and pilgrims were they all, into company.* <5>
That toward Canterbury woulde ride.
The chamber, and the stables were wide,
And *well we weren eased at the best.* *we were well provided
And shortly, when the sunne was to rest, with the best*
So had I spoken with them every one,
That I was of their fellowship anon,
And made forword* early for to rise, *promise
To take our way there as I you devise*. *describe, relate
But natheless, while I have time and space,
Ere that I farther in this tale pace,
Me thinketh it accordant to reason,
To tell you alle the condition
Of each of them, so as it seemed me,
And which they weren, and of what degree;
And eke in what array that they were in:
And at a Knight then will I first begin.
A KNIGHT there was, and that a worthy man,
That from the time that he first began
To riden out, he loved chivalry,
Truth and honour, freedom and courtesy.
Full worthy was he in his Lorde's war,
And thereto had he ridden, no man farre*, *farther
As well in Christendom as in Heatheness,
And ever honour'd for his worthiness
At Alisandre <6> he was when it was won.
Full often time he had the board begun
Above alle nations in Prusse.<7>
In Lettowe had he reysed,* and in Russe, *journeyed
No Christian man so oft of his degree.
In Grenade at the siege eke had he be
Of Algesir, and ridden in Belmarie. <8>
At Leyes was he, and at Satalie,
When they were won; and in the Greate Sea
At many a noble army had he be.
At mortal battles had he been fifteen,
And foughten for our faith at Tramissene.
In listes thries, and aye slain his foe.
This ilke* worthy knight had been also *same <9>
Some time with the lord of Palatie,
Against another heathen in Turkie:
And evermore *he had a sovereign price*. *He was held in very
And though that he was worthy he was wise, high esteem.*
And of his port as meek as is a maid.
He never yet no villainy ne said
In all his life, unto no manner wight.
He was a very perfect gentle knight.
But for to telle you of his array,
His horse was good, but yet he was not gay.
Of fustian he weared a gipon*, *short doublet
Alle *besmotter'd with his habergeon,* *soiled by his coat of mail.*
For he was late y-come from his voyage,
And wente for to do his pilgrimage.
With him there was his son, a younge SQUIRE,
A lover, and a lusty bacheler,
With lockes crulle* as they were laid in press. *curled
Of twenty year of age he was I guess.
Of his stature he was of even length,
And *wonderly deliver*, and great of strength. *wonderfully nimble*
And he had been some time in chevachie*, *cavalry raids
In Flanders, in Artois, and Picardie,
And borne him well, *as of so little space*, *in such a short time*
In hope to standen in his lady's grace.
Embroider'd was he, as it were a mead
All full of freshe flowers, white and red.
Singing he was, or fluting all the day;
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Short was his gown, with sleeves long and wide.
Well could he sit on horse, and faire ride.
He coulde songes make, and well indite,
Joust, and eke dance, and well pourtray and write.
So hot he loved, that by nightertale* *night-time
He slept no more than doth the nightingale.
Courteous he was, lowly, and serviceable,
And carv'd before his father at the table.<10>
A YEOMAN had he, and servants no mo'
At that time, for *him list ride so* *it pleased him so to ride*
And he was clad in coat and hood of green.
A sheaf of peacock arrows<11> bright and keen
Under his belt he bare full thriftily.
Well could he dress his tackle yeomanly:
His arrows drooped not with feathers low;
And in his hand he bare a mighty bow.
A nut-head <12> had he, with a brown visiage:
Of wood-craft coud* he well all the usage: *knew
Upon his arm he bare a gay bracer*, *small shield
And by his side a sword and a buckler,
And on that other side a gay daggere,
Harnessed well, and sharp as point of spear:
A Christopher on his breast of silver sheen.
An horn he bare, the baldric was of green:
A forester was he soothly* as I guess. *certainly
There was also a Nun, a PRIORESS,
That of her smiling was full simple and coy;
Her greatest oathe was but by Saint Loy;
And she was cleped* Madame Eglentine. *called
Full well she sang the service divine,
Entuned in her nose full seemly;
And French she spake full fair and fetisly* *properly
After the school of Stratford atte Bow,
For French of Paris was to her unknow.
At meate was she well y-taught withal;
She let no morsel from her lippes fall,
Nor wet her fingers in her sauce deep.
Well could she carry a morsel, and well keep,
That no droppe ne fell upon her breast.
In courtesy was set full much her lest*. *pleasure
Her over-lippe wiped she so clean,
That in her cup there was no farthing* seen *speck
Of grease, when she drunken had her draught;
Full seemely after her meat she raught*: *reached out her hand
And *sickerly she was of great disport*, *surely she was of a lively
And full pleasant, and amiable of port, disposition*
And *pained her to counterfeite cheer *took pains to assume
Of court,* and be estately of mannere, a courtly disposition*
And to be holden digne* of reverence. *worthy
But for to speaken of her conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,* *full of pity
She woulde weep if that she saw a mouse
Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled.
Of smalle houndes had she, that she fed
With roasted flesh, and milk, and *wastel bread.* *finest white bread*
But sore she wept if one of them were dead,
Or if men smote it with a yarde* smart: *staff
And all was conscience and tender heart.
Full seemly her wimple y-pinched was;
Her nose tretis;* her eyen gray as glass;<13> *well-formed
Her mouth full small, and thereto soft and red;
But sickerly she had a fair forehead.
It was almost a spanne broad I trow;
For *hardily she was not undergrow*. *certainly she was not small*
Full fetis* was her cloak, as I was ware. *neat
Of small coral about her arm she bare
A pair of beades, gauded all with green;
And thereon hung a brooch of gold full sheen,
On which was first y-written a crown'd A,
And after, *Amor vincit omnia.* *love conquers all*
Another Nun also with her had she,
[That was her chapelleine, and PRIESTES three.]
A MONK there was, a fair *for the mast'ry*, *above all others*<14>
An out-rider, that loved venery*; *hunting
A manly man, to be an abbot able.
Full many a dainty horse had he in stable:
And when he rode, men might his bridle hear
Jingeling <15> in a whistling wind as clear,
And eke as loud, as doth the chapel bell,
There as this lord was keeper of the cell.
The rule of Saint Maur and of Saint Benet, <16>
Because that it was old and somedeal strait
This ilke* monk let olde thinges pace, *same
And held after the newe world the trace.
He *gave not of the text a pulled hen,* *he cared nothing
That saith, that hunters be not holy men: for the text*
Ne that a monk, when he is cloisterless;
Is like to a fish that is waterless;
This is to say, a monk out of his cloister.
This ilke text held he not worth an oyster;
And I say his opinion was good.
Why should he study, and make himselfe wood* *mad <17>
Upon a book in cloister always pore,
Or swinken* with his handes, and labour, *toil
As Austin bid? how shall the world be served?
Let Austin have his swink to him reserved.
Therefore he was a prickasour* aright: *hard rider
Greyhounds he had as swift as fowl of flight;
Of pricking* and of hunting for the hare *riding
Was all his lust,* for no cost would he spare. *pleasure
I saw his sleeves *purfil'd at the hand *worked at the end with a
With gris,* and that the finest of the land. fur called "gris"*
And for to fasten his hood under his chin,
He had of gold y-wrought a curious pin;
A love-knot in the greater end there was.
His head was bald, and shone as any glass,
And eke his face, as it had been anoint;
He was a lord full fat and in good point;
His eyen steep,* and rolling in his head, *deep-set
That steamed as a furnace of a lead.
His bootes supple, his horse in great estate,
Now certainly he was a fair prelate;
He was not pale as a forpined* ghost; *wasted
A fat swan lov'd he best of any roast.
His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.
A FRIAR there was, a wanton and a merry,
A limitour <18>, a full solemne man.
In all the orders four is none that can* *knows
So much of dalliance and fair language.
He had y-made full many a marriage
Of younge women, at his owen cost.
Unto his order he was a noble post;
Full well belov'd, and familiar was he
With franklins *over all* in his country, *everywhere*
And eke with worthy women of the town:
For he had power of confession,
As said himselfe, more than a curate,
For of his order he was licentiate.
Full sweetely heard he confession,
And pleasant was his absolution.
He was an easy man to give penance,
*There as he wist to have a good pittance:* *where he know he would
For unto a poor order for to give get good payment*
Is signe that a man is well y-shrive.
For if he gave, he *durste make avant*, *dared to boast*
He wiste* that the man was repentant. *knew
For many a man so hard is of his heart,
He may not weep although him sore smart.
Therefore instead of weeping and prayeres,
Men must give silver to the poore freres.
His tippet was aye farsed* full of knives *stuffed
And pinnes, for to give to faire wives;
And certainly he had a merry note:
Well could he sing and playen *on a rote*; *from memory*
Of yeddings* he bare utterly the prize. *songs
His neck was white as is the fleur-de-lis.
Thereto he strong was as a champion,
And knew well the taverns in every town.
And every hosteler and gay tapstere,
Better than a lazar* or a beggere, *leper
For unto such a worthy man as he
Accordeth not, as by his faculty,
To have with such lazars acquaintance.
It is not honest, it may not advance,
As for to deale with no such pouraille*, *offal, refuse
But all with rich, and sellers of vitaille*. *victuals
And *ov'r all there as* profit should arise, *in every place where&
Courteous he was, and lowly of service;
There n'as no man nowhere so virtuous.
He was the beste beggar in all his house:
And gave a certain farme for the grant, <19>
None of his bretheren came in his haunt.
For though a widow hadde but one shoe,
So pleasant was his In Principio,<20>
Yet would he have a farthing ere he went;
His purchase was well better than his rent.
And rage he could and play as any whelp,
In lovedays <21>; there could he muchel* help. *greatly
For there was he not like a cloisterer,
With threadbare cope as is a poor scholer;
But he was like a master or a pope.
Of double worsted was his semicope*, *short cloak
That rounded was as a bell out of press.
Somewhat he lisped for his wantonness,
To make his English sweet upon his tongue;
And in his harping, when that he had sung,
His eyen* twinkled in his head aright, *eyes
As do the starres in a frosty night.
This worthy limitour <18> was call'd Huberd.
A MERCHANT was there with a forked beard,
In motley, and high on his horse he sat,
Upon his head a Flandrish beaver hat.
His bootes clasped fair and fetisly*. *neatly
His reasons aye spake he full solemnly,
Sounding alway th' increase of his winning.
He would the sea were kept <22> for any thing
Betwixte Middleburg and Orewell<23>
Well could he in exchange shieldes* sell *crown coins <24>
This worthy man full well his wit beset*; *employed
There wiste* no wight** that he was in debt, *knew **man
So *estately was he of governance* *so well he managed*
With his bargains, and with his chevisance*. *business contract
For sooth he was a worthy man withal,
But sooth to say, I n'ot* how men him call. *know not
A CLERK there was of Oxenford* also, *Oxford
That unto logic hadde long y-go*. *devoted himself
As leane was his horse as is a rake,
And he was not right fat, I undertake;
But looked hollow*, and thereto soberly**. *thin; **poorly
Full threadbare was his *overest courtepy*, *uppermost short cloak*
For he had gotten him yet no benefice,
Ne was not worldly, to have an office.
For him was lever* have at his bed's head *rather
Twenty bookes, clothed in black or red,
Of Aristotle, and his philosophy,
Than robes rich, or fiddle, or psalt'ry.
But all be that he was a philosopher,
Yet hadde he but little gold in coffer,
But all that he might of his friendes hent*, *obtain
On bookes and on learning he it spent,
And busily gan for the soules pray
Of them that gave him <25> wherewith to scholay* *study
Of study took he moste care and heed.
Not one word spake he more than was need;
And that was said in form and reverence,
And short and quick, and full of high sentence.
Sounding in moral virtue was his speech,
And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.
A SERGEANT OF THE LAW, wary and wise,
That often had y-been at the Parvis, <26>
There was also, full rich of excellence.
Discreet he was, and of great reverence:
He seemed such, his wordes were so wise,
Justice he was full often in assize,
By patent, and by plein* commission; *full
For his science, and for his high renown,
Of fees and robes had he many one.
So great a purchaser was nowhere none.
All was fee simple to him, in effect
His purchasing might not be in suspect* *suspicion
Nowhere so busy a man as he there was
And yet he seemed busier than he was
In termes had he case' and doomes* all *judgements
That from the time of King Will. were fall.
Thereto he could indite, and make a thing
There coulde no wight *pinch at* his writing. *find fault with*
And every statute coud* he plain by rote *knew
He rode but homely in a medley* coat, *multicoloured
Girt with a seint* of silk, with barres small; *sash
Of his array tell I no longer tale.
A FRANKELIN* was in this company; *Rich landowner
White was his beard, as is the daisy.
Of his complexion he was sanguine.
Well lov'd he in the morn a sop in wine.
To liven in delight was ever his won*, *wont
For he was Epicurus' owen son,
That held opinion, that plein* delight *full
Was verily felicity perfite.
An householder, and that a great, was he;
Saint Julian<27> he was in his country.
His bread, his ale, was alway *after one*; *pressed on one*
A better envined* man was nowhere none; *stored with wine
Withoute bake-meat never was his house,
Of fish and flesh, and that so plenteous,
It snowed in his house of meat and drink,
Of alle dainties that men coulde think.
After the sundry seasons of the year,
So changed he his meat and his soupere.
Full many a fat partridge had he in mew*, *cage <28>
And many a bream, and many a luce* in stew**<29> *pike **fish-pond
Woe was his cook, *but if* his sauce were *unless*
Poignant and sharp, and ready all his gear.
His table dormant* in his hall alway *fixed
Stood ready cover'd all the longe day.
At sessions there was he lord and sire.
Full often time he was *knight of the shire* *Member of Parliament*
An anlace*, and a gipciere** all of silk, *dagger **purse
Hung at his girdle, white as morning milk.
A sheriff had he been, and a countour<30>
Was nowhere such a worthy vavasour<31>.
An HABERDASHER, and a CARPENTER,
A WEBBE*, a DYER, and a TAPISER**, *weaver **tapestry-maker
Were with us eke, cloth'd in one livery,
Of a solemn and great fraternity.
Full fresh and new their gear y-picked* was. *spruce
Their knives were y-chaped* not with brass, *mounted
But all with silver wrought full clean and well,
Their girdles and their pouches *every deal*. *in every part*
Well seemed each of them a fair burgess,
To sitten in a guild-hall, on the dais. <32>
Evereach, for the wisdom that he can*, *knew
Was shapely* for to be an alderman. *fitted
For chattels hadde they enough and rent,
And eke their wives would it well assent:
And elles certain they had been to blame.
It is full fair to be y-clep'd madame,
And for to go to vigils all before,
And have a mantle royally y-bore.<33>
A COOK they hadde with them for the nones*, *occasion
To boil the chickens and the marrow bones,
And powder merchant tart and galingale.
Well could he know a draught of London ale.
He could roast, and stew, and broil, and fry,
Make mortrewes, and well bake a pie.
But great harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That, on his shin a mormal* hadde he. *ulcer
For blanc manger, that made he with the best <34>
A SHIPMAN was there, *wonned far by West*: *who dwelt far
For ought I wot, be was of Dartemouth. to the West*
He rode upon a rouncy*, as he couth, *hack
All in a gown of falding* to the knee. *coarse cloth
A dagger hanging by a lace had he
About his neck under his arm adown;
The hot summer had made his hue all brown;
And certainly he was a good fellaw.
Full many a draught of wine he had y-draw
From Bourdeaux-ward, while that the chapmen sleep;
Of nice conscience took he no keep.
If that he fought, and had the higher hand,
*By water he sent them home to every land.* *he drowned his
But of his craft to reckon well his tides, prisoners*
His streames and his strandes him besides,
His herberow*, his moon, and lodemanage**, *harbourage
There was none such, from Hull unto Carthage **pilotage<35>
Hardy he was, and wise, I undertake:
With many a tempest had his beard been shake.
He knew well all the havens, as they were,
From Scotland to the Cape of Finisterre,
And every creek in Bretagne and in Spain:
His barge y-cleped was the Magdelain.
With us there was a DOCTOR OF PHYSIC;
In all this worlde was there none him like
To speak of physic, and of surgery:
For he was grounded in astronomy.
He kept his patient a full great deal
In houres by his magic natural.
Well could he fortune* the ascendent *make fortunate
Of his images for his patient,.
He knew the cause of every malady,
Were it of cold, or hot, or moist, or dry,
And where engender'd, and of what humour.
He was a very perfect practisour
The cause y-know,* and of his harm the root, *known
Anon he gave to the sick man his boot* *remedy
Full ready had he his apothecaries,
To send his drugges and his lectuaries
For each of them made other for to win
Their friendship was not newe to begin
Well knew he the old Esculapius,
And Dioscorides, and eke Rufus;
Old Hippocras, Hali, and Gallien;
Serapion, Rasis, and Avicen;
Averrois, Damascene, and Constantin;
Bernard, and Gatisden, and Gilbertin. <36>
Of his diet measurable was he,
For it was of no superfluity,
But of great nourishing, and digestible.
His study was but little on the Bible.
In sanguine* and in perse** he clad was all *red **blue
Lined with taffeta, and with sendall*. *fine silk
And yet *he was but easy of dispense*: *he spent very little*
He kept *that he won in the pestilence*. *the money he made
For gold in physic is a cordial; during the plague*
Therefore he loved gold in special.
A good WIFE was there OF beside BATH,
But she was somedeal deaf, and that was scath*. *damage; pity
Of cloth-making she hadde such an haunt*, *skill
She passed them of Ypres, and of Gaunt. <37>
In all the parish wife was there none,
That to the off'ring* before her should gon, *the offering at mass
And if there did, certain so wroth was she,
That she was out of alle charity
Her coverchiefs* were full fine of ground *head-dresses
I durste swear, they weighede ten pound <38>
That on the Sunday were upon her head.
Her hosen weren of fine scarlet red,
Full strait y-tied, and shoes full moist* and new *fresh <39>
Bold was her face, and fair and red of hue.
She was a worthy woman all her live,
Husbands at the church door had she had five,
Withouten other company in youth;
But thereof needeth not to speak as nouth*. *now
And thrice had she been at Jerusalem;
She hadde passed many a strange stream
At Rome she had been, and at Bologne,
In Galice at Saint James, <40> and at Cologne;
She coude* much of wand'rng by the Way. *knew
Gat-toothed* was she, soothly for to say. *Buck-toothed<41>
Upon an ambler easily she sat,
Y-wimpled well, and on her head an hat
As broad as is a buckler or a targe.
A foot-mantle about her hippes large,
And on her feet a pair of spurres sharp.
In fellowship well could she laugh and carp* *jest, talk
Of remedies of love she knew perchance
For of that art she coud* the olde dance. *knew
A good man there was of religion,
That was a poore PARSON of a town:
But rich he was of holy thought and werk*. *work
He was also a learned man, a clerk,
That Christe's gospel truly woulde preach.
His parishens* devoutly would he teach. *parishioners
Benign he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversity full patient:
And such he was y-proved *often sithes*. *oftentimes*
Full loth were him to curse for his tithes,
But rather would he given out of doubt,
Unto his poore parishens about,
Of his off'ring, and eke of his substance.
*He could in little thing have suffisance*. *he was satisfied with
Wide was his parish, and houses far asunder, very little*
But he ne left not, for no rain nor thunder,
In sickness and in mischief to visit
The farthest in his parish, *much and lit*, *great and small*
Upon his feet, and in his hand a staff.
This noble ensample to his sheep he gaf*, *gave
That first he wrought, and afterward he taught.
Out of the gospel he the wordes caught,
And this figure he added yet thereto,
That if gold ruste, what should iron do?
For if a priest be foul, on whom we trust,
No wonder is a lewed* man to rust: *unlearned
And shame it is, if that a priest take keep,
To see a shitten shepherd and clean sheep:
Well ought a priest ensample for to give,
By his own cleanness, how his sheep should live.
He sette not his benefice to hire,
And left his sheep eucumber'd in the mire,
And ran unto London, unto Saint Paul's,
To seeke him a chantery<42> for souls,
Or with a brotherhood to be withold:* *detained
But dwelt at home, and kepte well his fold,
So that the wolf ne made it not miscarry.
He was a shepherd, and no mercenary.
And though he holy were, and virtuous,
He was to sinful men not dispitous* *severe
Nor of his speeche dangerous nor dign* *disdainful
But in his teaching discreet and benign.
To drawen folk to heaven, with fairness,
By good ensample, was his business:
*But it were* any person obstinate, *but if it were*
What so he were of high or low estate,
Him would he snibbe* sharply for the nones**. *reprove **nonce,occasion
A better priest I trow that nowhere none is.
He waited after no pomp nor reverence,
Nor maked him a *spiced conscience*, *artificial conscience*
But Christe's lore, and his apostles' twelve,
He taught, and first he follow'd it himselve.
With him there was a PLOUGHMAN, was his brother,
That had y-laid of dung full many a fother*. *ton
A true swinker* and a good was he, *hard worker
Living in peace and perfect charity.
God loved he beste with all his heart
At alle times, were it gain or smart*, *pain, loss
And then his neighebour right as himselve.
He woulde thresh, and thereto dike*, and delve, *dig ditches
For Christe's sake, for every poore wight,
Withouten hire, if it lay in his might.
His tithes payed he full fair and well,
Both of his *proper swink*, and his chattel** *his own labour* **goods
In a tabard* he rode upon a mare. *sleeveless jerkin
There was also a Reeve, and a Millere,
A Sompnour, and a Pardoner also,
A Manciple, and myself, there were no mo'.
The MILLER was a stout carle for the nones,
Full big he was of brawn, and eke of bones;
That proved well, for *ov'r all where* he came, *wheresoever*
At wrestling he would bear away the ram.<43>
He was short-shouldered, broad, a thicke gnarr*, *stump of wood
There was no door, that he n'old* heave off bar, *could not
Or break it at a running with his head.
His beard as any sow or fox was red,
And thereto broad, as though it were a spade.
Upon the cop* right of his nose he had *head <44>
A wart, and thereon stood a tuft of hairs
Red as the bristles of a sowe's ears.
His nose-thirles* blacke were and wide. *nostrils <45>
A sword and buckler bare he by his side.
His mouth as wide was as a furnace.
He was a jangler, and a goliardais*, *buffoon <46>
And that was most of sin and harlotries.
Well could he steale corn, and tolle thrice
And yet he had a thumb of gold, pardie.<47>
A white coat and a blue hood weared he
A baggepipe well could he blow and soun',
And therewithal he brought us out of town.
A gentle MANCIPLE <48> was there of a temple,
Of which achatours* mighte take ensample *buyers
For to be wise in buying of vitaille*. *victuals
For whether that he paid, or took *by taile*, *on credit
Algate* he waited so in his achate**, *always **purchase
That he was aye before in good estate.
Now is not that of God a full fair grace
That such a lewed* mannes wit shall pace** *unlearned **surpass
The wisdom of an heap of learned men?
Of masters had he more than thries ten,
That were of law expert and curious:
Of which there was a dozen in that house,
Worthy to be stewards of rent and land
Of any lord that is in Engleland,
To make him live by his proper good,
In honour debtless, *but if he were wood*, *unless he were mad*
Or live as scarcely as him list desire;
And able for to helpen all a shire
In any case that mighte fall or hap;
And yet this Manciple *set their aller cap* *outwitted them all*
The REEVE <49> was a slender choleric man
His beard was shav'd as nigh as ever he can.
His hair was by his eares round y-shorn;
His top was docked like a priest beforn
Full longe were his legges, and full lean
Y-like a staff, there was no calf y-seen
Well could he keep a garner* and a bin* *storeplaces for grain
There was no auditor could on him win
Well wist he by the drought, and by the rain,
The yielding of his seed and of his grain
His lorde's sheep, his neat*, and his dairy *cattle
His swine, his horse, his store, and his poultry,
Were wholly in this Reeve's governing,
And by his cov'nant gave he reckoning,
Since that his lord was twenty year of age;
There could no man bring him in arrearage
There was no bailiff, herd, nor other hine* *servant
That he ne knew his *sleight and his covine* *tricks and cheating*
They were adrad* of him, as of the death *in dread
His wonning* was full fair upon an heath *abode
With greene trees y-shadow'd was his place.
He coulde better than his lord purchase
Full rich he was y-stored privily
His lord well could he please subtilly,
To give and lend him of his owen good,
And have a thank, and yet* a coat and hood. *also
In youth he learned had a good mistere* *trade
He was a well good wright, a carpentere
This Reeve sate upon a right good stot*, *steed
That was all pomely* gray, and highte** Scot. *dappled **called
A long surcoat of perse* upon he had, *sky-blue
And by his side he bare a rusty blade.
Of Norfolk was this Reeve, of which I tell,
Beside a town men clepen* Baldeswell, *call
Tucked he was, as is a friar, about,
And ever rode the *hinderest of the rout*. *hindmost of the group*
A SOMPNOUR* was there with us in that place, *summoner <50>
That had a fire-red cherubinnes face,
For sausefleme* he was, with eyen narrow. *red or pimply
As hot he was and lecherous as a sparrow,
With scalled browes black, and pilled* beard: *scanty
Of his visage children were sore afeard.
There n'as quicksilver, litharge, nor brimstone,
Boras, ceruse, nor oil of tartar none,
Nor ointement that woulde cleanse or bite,
That him might helpen of his whelkes* white, *pustules
Nor of the knobbes* sitting on his cheeks. *buttons
Well lov'd he garlic, onions, and leeks,
And for to drink strong wine as red as blood.
Then would he speak, and cry as he were wood;
And when that he well drunken had the wine,
Then would he speake no word but Latin.
A fewe termes knew he, two or three,
That he had learned out of some decree;
No wonder is, he heard it all the day.
And eke ye knowen well, how that a jay
Can clepen* "Wat," as well as can the Pope. *call
But whoso would in other thing him grope*, *search
Then had he spent all his philosophy,
Aye, Questio quid juris,<51> would he cry.
He was a gentle harlot* and a kind; *a low fellow<52>
A better fellow should a man not find.
He woulde suffer, for a quart of wine,
A good fellow to have his concubine
A twelvemonth, and excuse him at the full.
Full privily a *finch eke could he pull*. *"fleece" a man*
And if he found owhere* a good fellaw, *anywhere
He woulde teache him to have none awe
In such a case of the archdeacon's curse;
*But if* a manne's soul were in his purse; *unless*
For in his purse he should y-punished be.
"Purse is the archedeacon's hell," said he.
But well I wot, he lied right indeed:
Of cursing ought each guilty man to dread,
For curse will slay right as assoiling* saveth; *absolving
And also 'ware him of a significavit<53>.
In danger had he at his owen guise
The younge girles of the diocese, <54>
And knew their counsel, and was of their rede*. *counsel
A garland had he set upon his head,
As great as it were for an alestake*: *The post of an alehouse sign
A buckler had he made him of a cake.
With him there rode a gentle PARDONERE <55>
Of Ronceval, his friend and his compere,
That straight was comen from the court of Rome.
Full loud he sang, "Come hither, love, to me"
This Sompnour *bare to him a stiff burdoun*, *sang the bass*
Was never trump of half so great a soun'.