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appropriated his rents.” Perhaps it was at this time he addressed these verses to his purse:
“ TO MY PURSE.
Complain I, for ye be my lady dere;
Be heavy again, or else mote I die." Literature had been confined to the monasteries, but Chaucer was a good-humored man of the world, a traveller, courtier, and scholar, and brought it to the market. The best part of his life was given to the translation of poems from the French and Italian, and it was not until the age of sixty that he commenced the “Canterbury Tales,” to which he owes his fame. They were never finished, but the story-tellers are talking yet, and their voices, echoing from the past, tell us how the Englishman of the fourteenth century spoke, dressed, and acted, giving, with more fidelity than any painting, the follies, vices, and customs of the age.
“Old England's fathers live in Chaucer's lay
Fresh beings, fraught with time's imperishable hue." Chaucer's plan was to describe in narrative poetry the men and manners of his day. This he does in his rugged tongue, with much quiet humor and keen satire, marred at times by the coarseness then too common.
Lowell says of him : “His narrative flows on like one of our inland rivers, sometimes hastening a little in its eddies, seeming to run sunshine — sometimes gliding smoothly, while here and there a beautiful, quiet thought, a pure feeling, a golden-hearted verse, opens as quietly as a water-lily, and makes no ripple.”
He represents a company of pilgrims on a visit to the shrine of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. They all happen to lodge at the Tabard Inn, at Southwark-strangers to each other, thirty-two in number, if we include the story-teller himself, and the jolly, corpulent host of the Tabard, Harry Bailey, who, having often travelled the road before, proposes to go with them as guide, and at the same time suggests that the journey would seem less tedious if each were to tell a story as they ride—a supper to be given on their return to the one who had been most enter. taining
In Southwark, at the Tabard as I lay,
and twenty in a compayne
That toward Canterbury wolden ryde.” This simple plot is the string upon which these pleasant stories are strung, and the number of personages in
this motley but attractive cavalcade gave the poet a fine opportunity to describe the various classes of society. Every member of the party has a separate and individual interest, each character is a perfect picture in itself, each traveller represents a class, and in the entire company the whole society of that age stands again before us just as it was.
The Tabard Inn, under the name of Talbot, is still pointed out in London, opposite Spurgeon's Tabernacle, as the very place where these pilgrims met five hundred years ago. But this seems rather improbable, as I write it, so I will add “they say," and a hope that you and I may some day see that venerable “ hostelrie."
As examples of our poet's humor, satire, and power, we have here a lawyer described as the busiest of mortals, with the sly addition,
“And yet he seemed besier than he was;"
and, after an imposing list of the doctor's medical authorities, a droll line tells us that his study was but “ litel on the Bible.” But his severest satire is reserved for the monks and priests, with whom he is no more in love than when he beat the friar in Fleet Street, and their hypocrisy and lack of spirituality are described with zest.
He tells us of a "gentil pardonere" or seller of indulgences, who, brimful of pardons, came from Rome all hot, who carried in his wallet the Virgin Mary's veil, and a part of the sail of St. Peter's ship, and in a glass he had "pigges bones” for relics, and with these he made more money in a day than the poor parson did in two months.
His description of the parson, a simple man of God, is considered one of the best ::
“A good man there was of religion,
He was also a learned man, a clerk,
I would like to give you the whole description of the pretty Prioresse
“That of her smiling was full simple and coy."
Entuned in her nose full sweetly.
At meate was she well y-taught withal,
But for to speaken of her conscience,
Though she had renounced the world and its pleasures, she had not given up all womanly love for ornaments, for
“Of smale corall about hire arm she bare
And after, Amor vincit omnia." How different is his description of the wife of Bath, a plain, vulgar, full-faced, well-dressed dame, who rode her horse like a man; had spurs on her feet, and a hat on her head as “broad as a buckler :"
“In all the parish, wif ne was there none
Husbands at chirche dore, had she had five.” But of course I do no justice to these mental photographs by clipping here and there, and you will enjoy looking up these shrewd and skilful pictures. The original plan of Chaucer would have required at least sixty tales, with prologues, interludes, local descriptions, and sidescenes. Only twenty-four stories were completed; these contain 17,000 lines, and his other works exceed this number. It may give a better idea to mention that “Paradise Lost” contains but 10,575 lines, and the whole of Virgil but 12,497. The Tales are written both in prose and poetry, are both serious and comic, to suit the person from whom they came. “The Clerke's Tale” is perhaps the best of all, which Chaucer owned he had taken from Petrarch, and