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the "Vox Clamantis" in Latin, and the "Confessio Amantis" in English. The "Confessio Amantis," or "Lover's Confession," is a dialogue between a lover and a priest of Venus. It is written in smooth iambic tetrameter verse, and contains, somewhat after the manner of the "Decameron," a succession of tales drawn from Ovid, French "Chansons de Geste," the Bible, Boccaccio, and other sources. "Gower had some effect," says Hallam, "in rendering the language less rude, and exciting a taste for verse; if he never rises, he never sinks low; he is always sensible, polished, perspicuous." In the original prologue, Gower tells us that the poem was written at the request of Richard II., who met him while rowing on the Thames :
"And so befell as I came nigh
The language of Wycliffe's version of the Bible and of Gower's "Confessio Amantis" is in the Mercian dialect, or in the language spoken in central England. Chaucer wrote in the same dialect. It was largely through the influence of these three great writers, together with the influence of Oxford and Cambridge, that the language of central England gained the ascendency over the dialect of northern and southern England, and became the mother of Modern English.
ABOVE all his contemporaries of the fourteenth century stands the figure of Geoffrey Chaucer. Among all the writers that we have considered, he is the first to show the spirit and freedom of the modern world. Two recent poets have accorded him generous recognition and praise. In his "Dream of Fair Women," Tennyson calls him "the morning star of song,"
"Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath
The spacious times of great Elizabeth
In a sonnet on Chaucer, Longfellow says:
"He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote
The Canterbury Tales, and his old age
Of lark and linnet, and from every page
Like Homer in Greece, Chaucer stands preeminent in the early literature of England; and among the great English poets of subsequent ages, not more than three or four Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Tennyson - deserve to be placed in the same rank.
As with some other great writers, comparatively little is known of Chaucer's life. The most painstaking investigations have been comparatively fruitless in details. He was
born in London about 1340. His father was a vintner, and it is not improbable that Geoffrey sometimes lent him assistance. In the "Pardoner's Tale" there is an interesting passage which shows Chaucer's acquaintance with the different French and Spanish wines, and which contains a warning against the dangers of drunkenness:
"A lecherous thing is wyne, and dronkenesse
Nothing definite is known in regard to his education. The opinion formerly held that he studied at Cambridge or Oxford is without satisfactory foundation. Yet his works show that he was a man of learning. Besides his knowledge of French and Italian, he was acquainted with the classics, and with every other branch of scholastic learning current in his day.
In the year 1357 an authentic record shows him attached to the household of Lady Elizabeth, wife of Prince Lionel, in the capacity of a page. This position was highly favorable to his general culture. It gave him "the benefit of society of the highest refinement, in personal attendance on a young and spirited prince of the blood. He had his imagination fed by scenes of the most brilliant court festivities, rendered more imposing by the splendid triumphs with which they were connected." It secured him throughout his long career the advantage of royal patronage.
About the time he attained his majority, he fell in love with a lady of the court above his rank. His passion was not requited a fact that inspired his earliest poem, "The Compleynte unto Pite." For several years he dared not reveal his affection; and when at last he did so, he found
pity dead in the lady's heart. But still he pleads for love, and vows a lasting fidelity:
"Let som streem of your light on me be sene
For goddes love, have mercy on my peyne."
In 1359 he accompanied Edward III. in an invasion of France; and having been captured by the French, he was ransomed by the English king for sixteen pounds. He was long attached to the court; he filled various public offices, and served on no fewer than seven diplomatic embassies to the Continent. Among other positions, he filled the office of comptroller of customs in the port of London; but, like many others of strong literary bent, he appears to have felt the irksomeness of his routine duties. In an autobiographic touch in the "Hous of Fame," we read:
"For whan thy labour doon al is,
Thou sittest at another boke,
Til fully daswed1 is thy loke,
And livest thus as an hermyte,
Although thyn abstinence is lyte." 2
Before going to Italy on a diplomatic mission in 1378, Chaucer appointed Gower as one of his trustees to represent him in his absence. This fact seems to prove the existence of intimate relations between the two poets. If 2 Little, small.
we may trust Gower's statement in a passage of the "Confessio Amantis," Chaucer was his disciple-though certainly greater than his master.
"And grete well Chaucer, when ye mete,
As my disciple and my poete.
Above all other I am most holde." 1
The time and circumstances of Chaucer's marriage are involved in obscurity, though it is tolerably certain that his domestic life was unhappy. At all events, his references to marriage in his earlier writings are decidedly cynical. In the "Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton," he warns his friend,
"But thou shalt have sorowe on thy flesh, thy lyf,
And been thy wyves thral."
In the "Tale of the Wyf of Bathe," the knight, after a year's inquiry and consideration, returns to the queen, and
"My lige lady, generally,' quod he,
As wel over hir housbond as hir love,
And for to been in maistrie him above.""
But elsewhere he calls marriage a "great sacrament," and declares that
"A wyf is Goddes gifte verrayly."
1 "Confessio Amantis," Bk. VIII.