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It is equally certain that no one but a close and accurate observer of men could have gathered and shaped the abundant wisdom that adorns his pages. Experience alone teaches truths like the following:

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His gentle blood is often evident. He bids us remember that

“He is gentil that doth gentil dedes”;

and one who could define a gentleman as well as he must have been worthy of the name himself:

“ Loke who that is most vertuous alway
Prive and apert, and most entendeth ay [discreet and open]
To do the gentil dedes that he can,

And take him for the greatest gentilman.” He is moral and high-minded, too. Few of our poets have risen to a higher ethical plane than he in the line:

"Truth is the highest thing that man.may keep."

We learn from the “Canterbury Tales " that he was modest, and, like various other bards of earlier and later days, inclined to be fat. Like other portly people, he was blessed with a charitable heart, a fondness for good eating and drinking, and an inexhaustible fund of witty stories and pungent epigrams. He dwells with peculiar relish on the description" of mighty ale a large quart,” on the Wyf of Bath“ with her jolie whistle wel ywette," and on the need of a man to have a long

spone, if he wold eat with a fend." His simple and joyous nature



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is shown by his cordial love of flowers. He is especially fond of the daisy.

“Of all the floures in the mede,
Than love I most these floures white and rede,

Soch that men callen daisies in our toun," he says, and adds, on reflection,

* That well by reason men it callen may

The daisie, or els the eye of day.” Indeed, after all, he is glad to return to Nature, and gives, in a truly devout spirit, a reason that may perhaps account for his devotion to her when he characterizes her as

' Nature, the vicar of the Almighty Lord.” Chaucer's works may be divided into three bundles corresponding roughly with three periods in his life. In his youth and early manhood he was much in France, in early middle life not a little in Italy, and so far as we know during the whole of his later days in England. The first bundle will contain “ The Romaunt of the Rose,' Complaint to Pity,” “ The Book of the Duchess,” and some minor poems, which are all directly or closely translated or imitated from the French and are French in form. In the second will be “ Troilus and Criseyde," “ The Knight's Tale,” and “The Legend of Good Women,” for which Chaucer was indebted more or less to the Italian Boccaccio. The third will include “ The Prologue” to the “ Canterbury Tales” and a large share of the tales themselves, which are intensely English.

Throughout the French period Chaucer appears as an imitator; he was teaching himself to write, as James Russell Lowell finely says, as a child learns to speak, by watching the lips of those who can speak better than he. In the Italian period, to adopt the words of George Saintsbury, though his themes are still borrowed and though he still embroiders rather than weaves, he has become an individual, if not yet a consummate, poet. In the third or English period he is original both in matter and in manner. “Here," as Dryden said, “ is God's plenty."

Chief among the works of this final period is that unrivalled collection of stories known as “ The Canterbury Tales"; and it is on these tales and the matchless narrative that connects them that Chaucer's reputation chiefly rests. They entitle him to be considered not only the first but perhaps the best of English writers of short stories. The best of them are the product of a mind prepared by long familiarity with men and things for its work, a mind mellowed and ripened by life but not yet soured or impaired by age. The versification, as Matthew Arnold says, is divinely liquid. The sly numor, the sympathy with common things, the easy style, and the frequent flashes of perfect poetry grow more fascinating with each perusal.

The “ Canterbury Tales” were evidently left unfinished by the author. Of the plan outlined in the Prologue but little more than a fourth is comprised in the poem as it has come down to us. Even of those tales which we have a part are fragmentary. Links, too, are lacking here and there; verses are gone; and the manuscripts differ on many points. Some entire tales have been lost and some have been inserted.

Though the plan may have been suggested to Chaucer by that of Boccaccio's “Decameron," it had certainly been used by several earlier poets. He himself on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas à Becket, at Canterbury, meets at the Tabard Inn, in Southwark, London, as any traveller might, with a mixed company bound upon a similar errand. Their host, Harry Bailey, a jolly fellow, proposes to accompany them to Canterbury; and suggests that it would be well to beguile the tedium of the way with stories, he who shall be adjudged to have told the most amusing tale to be treated on their return to the Tabard to a supper at the expense of the party. Although the shrewd inn-keeper's eye to business is clearly apparent in this proposal, it is accepted with alacrity. Chaucer, in the meantime, has been getting acquainted with the company, and he gives us the results of his observations in the series of portraits that compose the bulk of the “ Prologue.” It is agreed that each person shall tell four tales, two going and two returning.

In the tales as we have them there are 17,325 lines and 24 stories told by 23 people. The “Iliad ” contains about 15,000 lines, “ Paradise Lost ” about 10,000, the “ Æneid ” about 10,000. If the full

plan had been carried out there would have been 136 tales, as in the company there are in reality 34 persons. The stories were not composed expressly for the Canterbury pilgrimage; Chaucer composed the pilgrimage to fit the stories. The manuscripts are so incomplete and fragmentary that it is evident the tales did not receive Chaucer's final revision. The characters of the pilgrims are as true to life as Shakespeare's. All say and do exactly what would be expected of

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THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS An illustration from Caxton's second edition of "The Canterbury Tales," printed about 1488.

How many of the pilgrims do you recognize?

real men and women under the same circumstances. This is really the great charm of the tales. Chaucer seems purposely to choose his characters from the middle classes. In the" Canterbury Tales "there are no lords, no beggars, and no ladies. There are three womenthe Nonne Prioresse, the Attendant Nonne, and the Wyf of Bath. The men fall roughy into five classes. The Knighte and his son, the Young Squyer, represent chivalry; the Clerk of Oxenford, the Man of Lawe, and the Doctor of Phisik, learned laymen; the Frankelyn, the Ploughman, and the Reeve, countrymen; the Monk, the Frerc, the three Priests, the Persoun, the Sompnour, and the Pardoner, nine in all, the church; the Schipman, the Coke, and twelve others different mechanical pursuits.

From the Tabard Inn the distance to Canterbury was 56 miles. It is now possible to make the journey in a trifle more than one hour. In Chaucer's day it was necessary to ride four days through morasses and woods. The roads, which were as a rule little more than bridle paths, usually ran along the tops of the ridges in order to avoid as far as possible the quagmires resulting from the total lack of drainage.

The stories told on the first day were those of the Knight, the Miller, the Reeve, and the Coke.

The Knight's Tale, which is 2249 lines long, is in brief as follows:

THE KNIGHT'S TALE Theseus, Duke of Athens, on his way home after conquering and wedding Ipolita, queen of the Amazons, was met, when almost at the gates of his own city, by a company of ladies, clad all in black, who knelt two by two in the highway and made a great cry and woe. When he enquired why they perturbed so his triumph with crying, the oldest lady of them all informed him that they were the widows of Theban noblemen who had been put to death by the tyrant Creon, who now held sway in that city and refused burial to the bodies of their slain lords. They prayed him therefore to ride forth to Thebes and take suitable vengeance on Creon. Their sorrow so sank into his heart that, without entering Athens or stopping half a day to take his ease, he set out for Thebes, fought and slew Creon, won and razed the city, and restored to the ladies the bones of their husbands that were slain.

After the battle and discomfiture, there were found, in a pile of dead, two young knights of royal blood, Palamon and Arcite. Both were grievously wounded and both were carried prisoners to Athens, where for several years they were confined, Theseus refusing all terms of ransom.

“This passeth yeer by yeer and day by day
Til it fell once upon a morn in May
That Emelie, that fairer was to seene
Than is the lily in her stalkës greene,
And fresher than the May with flowres newe-

For with the rose colour strof her hewe-" came before daybreak into the garden which adjoined the tower where the two noble kinsmen were confined This Emelie was the sister of Queen Ipolita. It so chanced that, while she gathered flowers and “hevenly song, she was seen from his prison window by Palamon, who therewithal blent and cried “a!” as that he " strongen were unto the herte.” When Arcite set his eyes upon her he too fell straightway in love; her beauty hurt him so

That if that Palamon is wounded sore
Arcite is hurt as much as he, or more.”

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