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through whose influence he obtained the favor both of King Edward III, and his successor Richard II. His prosperity was clouded for a short time during the early part of Richard's reign by his connexion with the followers of Wickliffe; but his old age was passed in uninterrupted ease. He was interred in Westminster Abbey.
Chaucer excels in the description both of human character and of natural scenery. His descriptions of character and manners are distinguished for their rich humour, and for their minute and graphic delineation. They seem like pictures drawn from real life, rather than inventions of fancy. His descriptions of natural objects are fresh and beautiful. His poetry sometimes exhibits sublimity and true pathos. Yet its moral tendency is too generally sensual and degraded; insomuch that we may rejoice, notwithstanding its various excellence, that its obsolete dialect and its frequently tedious prolixity, remove it from the perusal of any persons, whose taste and moral principles are not firmly established, or whose susceptible minds might be injured by its influence.
CHARACTER of a good pARSON.*
A GOOD man ther was of religioun,
That was a pourè1 Persone2 of a toun:
But riche he was of holy thought and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Christès gospel trewèly wolde preche.
His parishens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitie ful patient;
And swiches he was ypreved1 often sithes.5
Ful lothe were him to cursen for his tithes,
But rather wolde he yeven6 out of doute
Unto his pourè parishens aboute
Of his offring, and eke of his substance.
He could in litel thing have suffisance.
Wide was his parish, and houses fer asonder,
But he ne left nought, for no rain ne thonder,
In sickness and in mischief to visite
The ferrest in his parish, moche10 and lite,8
Upon his fete, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf
T first he wrought, and afterward he taught.
Out of the gospel he the wordès caught,
* In this extract the vowels marked with the accent are to be pronounced as separate syllables in reading; otherwise the measure is imperfect.
¡Poor. 2Parson. 3Such. 4Proved. 5Times. 6Given. 7Most distant. 8Little. 9Gave. 10Much, in the sense of great.
And this figure he added yet therto-
That if gold rustè, what should iren do?
For if a preest be foule, on whom we trust,
No wonder is a lewèd9 man to rust.
Wel ought a preest ensample for to yeve,1
By his clenenessè, how his sheepe should live.
He settè not his benefice to hire
And lette his shepe accombred2 in the mire
And ran unto London, unto Seint Poules,
To seken him a chanterie for soules,
Or with a brotherhede to be withhold:
But dwelt at home, and keptè wel his fold,
So that the wolf ne made it not miscarrie.
He was a shepherd, and no mercenarie.
And though he holy were, and vertuous,
He was to sinful men not dispitous,3
Ne of his spechè dangerous4 ne digne,5
But in his teching discrete and benigne.
To drawen folke to Heven with fairinesse,
By good ensample, was his besinesse;
But it were any persone obstinat,
What so he were of high or low estat,
Him wolde he snibben6 sharply for the nones.7-
A better preest I trow that nowhers non is.
He waited for no pompe ne reverence,
Ne maked him no spiced conscience;
But Christès love, and his Apostles twelve
He taught, but first he folwed it himselve.
Born 1553-Died 1599.
SPENSER was born at London, of an ancient and honorable family, and was educated at the university of Cambridge. He was the friend of Sir Philip Sidney, and through his influence, together with that of his other patrons, Lord Grey and the Earl of Leicester, obtained from Queen Elizabeth, in 1582, a large grant of land in Ireland. His residence there was romantic and pleasant. He was visited in his retreat by Sir Walter Raleigh, to whom he recited his poetical compositions, and by whom he was accompanied to London, introduced to Queen Elizabeth, and persuaded immediately to publish the
1Give. 2Be encumbered. 3Angry or unmerciful. 4Rash. 5Disdainful. 68nub, reprove. 7For the occasion. 8Nowhere. 9A common man, one of the populace.
first books of the Fairy Queen. In 1597 he was compelled by an Irish rebellion to fly from his house, and in the hurry and confusion, one of his children being unfortunately left behind, perished in its conflagration. He died in London, two years after this melancholy event, broken-hearted it is to be feared, and comparatively poor.
Spenser displays in his poetry an invention almost endless, and a fancy extremely exuberant and gorgeous. His versification is rich, flowing, and harmonious, to a degree which perhaps no succeeding poet has surpassed. His imagery is luxuriant and romantic. In personification and allegory he is occasionally sublime. His poetry is sweet in its sentiment, enchanting in its melody, and exceedingly delightful for the vein of pensive tenderness and pathos, which runs though the whole of it.
'Of the manners, conversation, and private character of Spenser,' says Dr Aikin, 'we have no information from contemporaries; our conclusions must therefore be only drawn from his writings, and the few known events of his life. To the intimate friend of Sidney and Raleigh, especially of the former, it is reasonable to attribute virtue as well as genius. His works breathe a fervent spirit of piety and morality; and it would be difficult to conceive anything base or dissolute in conduct, in conjunction with the dignity of sentiment, which is uniformly supported in the productions of his muse.'
The moral tendency of the Fairy Queen may be learned from the nature of its leading purpose, which was, in the words of the poet, that of 'fashioning a gentleman of noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.' This object he accomplishes by exhibiting twelve different knights, each of which, in the particular adventure allotted to him, proves an example of some different virtue, as of holiness, temperance, justice, chastity; and has one complete book assigned to him, of which he is the hero. Besides these individual examples, he exhibits Prince Arthur as his principal or general hero, in whose character he professes to pourtray, 'The image of a brave knight perfected in the twelve private moral virtues.'
UNA AND THE RED-CROSS KNIGHT.
A GENTLE knight was pricking on the plain,
Yclad in mighty arms and silver shield,
Wherein old dints of deep wounds did remain,
The cruel marks of many a bloody field;
Yet arms till that time did he never wield:
His angry steed did chide his foaming bit,
As much disdaining to the curb to yield:
Full jolly knight he seemed, and fair did sit,
As one for knightly jousts and fierce encounters fit.
But on his breast a bloody cross he bore,
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead, as living, ever him adored:
Upon his shield the like was also scored,
For sovereign hope, which in his help he had :
Right faithful true he was in deed and word,
But of his cheer did seem too solemn sad;
Yet nothing did he dread; but ever was ydrad.
Upon a great adventure he was bound,
That greatest Gloriana to him gave,
The greatest glorious queen of fairy lond,
To win him worship and her grace to have,
Which of all earthly things he most did crave;
And ever as he rode, his heart did yearn
To prove his puissance in battle brave
Upon his foe, and his new force to learn;
Upon his foe, a dragon horrible and stern.
A lovely lady rode him fair beside
Upon a lowly ass more white than snow;
Yet she much whiter, but the same did hide
Under a veil, that wimpled was full low,
And over all a black stole she did throw,
As one that inly mourned: so was she sad,
And heavy sat upon her palfrey slow;
Seemed in heart some hidden care she had,
And by her in a line a milk-white lamb she led.
So pure an innocent as that same lamb
She was in life and every virtuous lore,
And by descent from royal lineage came
Of ancient kings and queens, that had of yore
Their sceptres stretched from east to western shore,
And all the world in their subjection held;
Till that infernal fiend with loud uproar
Forewasted all their land, and them expelled,
Whom to avenge she had this knight from far compelled.
Behind her, far away, a dwarf did lag,
That lazy seemed, in being ever last,
Or wearied with bearing of her bag
Of needments at his back. Thus as they past,
The day with clouds was sudden overcast,
As angry Jove an hideous storm of rain
Did pour into the earth's green lap so fast,
That every wight to shroud, it did constrain,
And this fair couple eke to shroud themselves were fain.
Enforc'd to seek some covert nigh at hand,
A shady grove not far away they spied,
That promised aid the tempest to withstand
Whose lofty trees, yclad with summer's pride,
Did spread so broad that they heaven's light did hide,
Not pierceable with power of any star:
And all within were paths and alleys wide,
With footing worn, and leading inward far:
Fair harbour, that them seems; so in they entered are
And forth they pass with pleasure forward led,
Joying to hear the birds' sweet harmony,
Which, therein shrouded from the tempest dread,
Seemed in their song to scorn the cruel sky.
Much can they praise the trees so strait and high,
The sailing pine, the cedar proud and tall,
The vine-prop elm, the poplar never dry,
The builder oak, sole king of forests all,
The aspin, good for staves, and cypress funeral
The laurel, meed of mighty conquerors
And poets sage, the fir, that weepeth still,
The willow, worn of forlorn paramour,
The yew, obedient to the bender's will,
The birch for shafts, the sallow for the mill.
The myrrh, sweet bleeding in the bitter wound,
The warlike beech, the ash for nothing ill,
The fruitful olive and the plantain round,
The carver holme, the maple, seldom inward sound-
Led with delight, they thus beguile the way,
Until the blustering storm is overblown,
When, weening to return, whence they did stray,
They cannot find that path which first was shown,
But wander to and fro in ways unknown,
Furthest from end, then, when they nearest ween,
That makes them doubt their wits be not their own;
So many paths, so many turnings seen,
That which of them to take, in divers doubt they been.
AT length they chanc'd to meet upon the way
An aged sire, in long black weeds yclad,
His feet all bare, his beard all hoary gray,
And by his belt his book he hanging had;
Sober he seemed, and very sagely sad;
And to the ground his eyes were lowly bent,
Simple in shew, and void of malice bad;
And all the way he prayed as he went,
And often knock'd his breast, as one that did repent.