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In 1390 Chaucer superintended the erection of scaffolds in Smithfield for the use of the king and queen in viewing the tournament which took place there that year. He was no doubt present at the festivities. These facts will explain to us the minute acquaintance with the manner of conducting tournaments which the poet displays in the “ Knight's Tale.” Some of the details there given may be taken from the Smithfield lists:
But his political career was not one of uninterrupted prosperity. In 1386 he was elected a member of Parliament for the shire of Kent; but the same year, through a change in the government, he lost his office of comptroller of customs. This incident is supposed to have inspired the ballad on “Truth":
“Flee fro the prees, and dwelle with sothfastnesse, 2
Suffyce unto : thy good, though hit be smal;
In 1399, when he was again in financial straits, he sent to King Henry IV. a complaint about his poverty. It is entitled, “A Compleynt to his Purs":
“To you, my purse, and to non other wight Complayne I, for you be my lady dere! I am so sorry, now that ye be light;
3 Be content with. 2 Truth.
4 Instability. • Happiness fails everywhere.
For certes, but ye make me hevy chere,
Beth hevy ageyn, or elles mot I dye." This serio-comic piece was not fruitless, and four days afterward the king doubled the poet's pension.
In 1391 Chaucer prepared a prose treatise on the use of the astrolabe for his ten-year old son Lewis, who is supposed to have died not long afterward. In the preface he apologizes for the use of English, to which, however, his partiality is evident: “And Lewis, yif so be that I shewe thee in my lighte English as trewe conclusions touching this matere, and naught only as trewe but as many and as subtil conclusions as ben shewed in Latin in any commune tretis of the Astrolabie, con me the more thank."
Chaucer died in circumstances of comfort and peace Oct. 25, 1400. His body lies in Westminster Abbey, where his tomb is an object of tender interest in the famous Poets' Corner.
In the "Prologue to Sir Thopas," the host of the Tabard and the leader of the Canterbury pilgrims draws the poet's portrait. After a most pathetic tale related by the prioress, Harry Bailly was the first to interrupt the silence :
66 And than at erst he loked upon me, And seyde thus, 'what man arthow,' quod he ; • Thou lokest as thou woldest finde an hare, For ever upon the ground I see thee stare. Approache neer, and loke up merily. Now war you, sirs, and let this man have place; He in the waast is shape as wel as I;
This were a popet 1 in an arm t'embrace
For unto no wight dooth he daliaunce." While the outward circumstances of Chaucer's life are so imperfectly known, we have abundant means to judge of his character and attainments. He is revealed to us in his writings. While associated with the court life of his time, he did not surrender himself to its vices and empty frivolities. He was not indifferent to the enjoyments of social life, but, at the same time, he set his heart on higher things. He recognized true worth wherever he found it, regardless of the accident of birth or wealth. He seems in no small measure to have embodied the integrity and gentleness which he bravely ascribes to the character of the gentleman in the “Tale of the Wyf of Bathe ” :
“ But for ye speken of swich gentillesse
As is descended out of old richesse,
Nat of our eldres for hir old richesse." Though a man of large attainments, Chaucer was not overborne by the weight of his learning. His individuality had free play. In common with many other great poets, he was a prodigious borrower, using his lofty genius, not in the work of pure invention, but in glorifying ma
? If this is spoken ironically, as seems to be the case, it indicates corpulency.
terials already existing. He is a striking illustration of the personal element in literature. Gower and Langland worked in the presence of the abundant literary materials of the fourteenth century; but only Chaucer had the ability to lay hold of it and mould it into imperishable popular forms.
He spent much time in reading and writing. In the " Legend of Good Women,” he says: –
“ And as for me, though that I can but lyte,
On bokes for to rede I me delyte,
And, as we read in the “ Hous of Fame,” he set his wit,
“ To make bokes, songes, dytees,
In ryme, or elles in cadence,"
and in his ardor of composition,
66 Thou wolt make
Chaucer's love of nature was remarkable, and rivalled his passion for books. He tells us that there is nothing can take him from his reading, —
“ Save certeynly, whan that the month of May
Is comen, and that I here the fowles singe,
His poetic nature responded to the beauties of the morning landscape, the matin carols of the birds, and the glories of the rising sun. The May-time, as may be seen from the prologue to the "Legend of Good Women," was his favorite season; and long before Burns and Wordsworth, he loved and sang of the daisy. The sight of this flower, as it opens to the sun, lightened his sorrow:
“ And down on knees anon right I me sette,
And, as I coude, this fresshe flour I grette ;
Chaucer's treatment of women in his works is full of interest. He is fond of satirizing the foibles supposed to be peculiar to their sex, and no pen was ever sharper. But he is not lost to chivalrous sentiment, and nowhere else can we find higher and heartier praise of womanly patience, purity, and truth. He appears to have written the "Legend of Good Women” as a kind of amends for the injustice done the sex in his earlier writings. And his real sentiments, let us hope, are found in the following lines :
“Alas, howe may we say on hem but well,
There are passages in his works that are very offensive to modern taste; but they are not to be charged so much to Chaucer's love of indecency as to the grossness of his age and to his artistic sense of fitness. This is his own